The Norman Transcript

April 21, 2013

Modina Waters using children’s story book to keep Kiowa language alive

By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — With only an estimated 100 fluent Kiowa speakers left in a tribe of 12,000 members, Modina M. (Toppah) Waters set out to preserve her tribes’ heritage.

The result is a color illustrated children’s bilingual book “Saynday Kiowa Indian Children’s Stories,” written by Waters and recently published with support from the University of Oklahoma, Sam Noble Museum of Natural History and Kiowa Kids language program with assistance from the Endangered Language Fund.

“My hope is that this book is one of the many contributions made by various people, not just myself, to share a little of the language,” Waters said. “Some of these words in here are pretty common, and if people can learn some of those terms and then go to the next level of learning the language, they could put properly structured Kiowa sentences together.”

The book began as a school project 12 years ago, Waters said, and includes three stories about Kiowa trickster, Saynday, as told by Waters’ mother, the late Kiowa elder Lucille (Ataddlety) Toppah. Since then the book has flourished to include illustrations by Sister Marcianne Kappes, theology professor at St. Gregory’s University.

Storytelling is an important part of the Kiowa culture, Waters said, and assists in linking the tribes’ generations together by maintaining language and cultural values through shared history.

In Waters’ book, the main character, Saynday, serves as a way to illustrate important Kiowa life lessons, Waters said, including themes such as romance and honesty.

Though storytelling is traditionally done orally by older generations, i.e. grandparents sharing their aged wisdom with grandchildren, Waters said she wanted to record some of the stories in the written word to make them more easily accessible as well as encourage others to learn the Kiowa language.

And, with the main body of the text written in English, with only some words used in Kiowa with the English text in parentheses, Waters said the book is relatable for all audiences, not just Kiowa tribe members.

In fact, Waters said she has been surprised by the variety of individuals and organizations that have shown interest in her book, including families, daycares, schools, libraries, cultural centers and various retail outlets.

The book made its official launch at the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair on April 1, with books donated to participants. Additional copies have been donated to various organizations including Kiowa Tribe Child Care Center, Kiowa Tribe Head Start, Kiowa Kids participant families and board/panel members, Norman Public School Indian Education and Anadarko Public School Indian Education.

Copies of the books can be purchased from A single book is $20, but bulk discounts are available starting at $17. All proceeds from sales go directly towards Kiowa Kids to promote language programs.

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