Lakota Language Program

Since language, culture and identity are intimately associated, the loss of Native languages is a dire trend for the survival and identities of entire cultures. The Lakota Language Program at Red Cloud Indian School aims to revitalize the living use of the Lakota language and, therefore, encourage strong and healthy Lakota identities among Red Cloud students and their families. We also hope to become a model for other indigenous languages to follow in the further preservation of language across the world. We envision a future in which students graduate from high school as fluent speakers of their Lakota language, with a stronger sense of self, and an everlasting connection to their heritage.

The basics

A language—any language—is a set of visual, auditory or tactile symbols people use to convey ideas and information. And while language, in its most basic form, is comprised of symbols, grammar and syntax, its complexity is derived from meaning, history and context. What’s more, language provides a sense of self to individuals, and a sense of pride, significance and tradition among families.

The Lakota language, the language of indigenous people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is as beautiful in its context as in its tradition…a tradition, unfortunately, that is almost completely lost. The loss of fluent Lakota language speakers is just one component of a much larger alarming trend of Native language loss across the United States. At one time, there were more than 600 languages spoken in the United States.

Today, there are only 192 Native languages left. Linguists now believe that roughly half these languages will be lost in the next 100 years. The University of California—Los Angeles Language Materials Project estimates that there are only a few thousand fluent speakers of the Lakota language today, and that the language is in severe danger of becoming extinct. The Lakota Language Program (LLP) at Red Cloud Indian School, Maȟpíya Lúta Lakȟól Waúŋspewičhakhiyapi, seeks to reverse the loss of Lakota language speakers. This program is an integral component of the multi-faceted educational approach that has created great successes in recent years.

Through this program, Red Cloud is helping not only to revitalize the Lakota language as the heritage language of the students it serves, but also to develop the confident, competent and committed Lakota leaders of tomorrow. This goal envisions a revitalization of the Lakota language at Red Cloud Indian School, whereby students will learn not only to speak the language, but also learn history and cultural traditions that develop a strong Lakota identity, both on the reservation and in the world.

A unique position

In 1865, the United States government began to make contracts with various missionary societies for the maintenance of Indian schools, primarily run by missionaries, on Indian reservations. These schools promoted European religion, education, culture and language. Insomuch, Native American culture, including its language and religion, was strongly repressed by the United States government. Over time, this cultural identity has been extracted, thus leaving few Native Americans who fully understand their history.

In 1978, when the Freedom of Religion Act was passed, a change occurred for many schools on reservations. Cultural studies, including language, began to emerge in the schools. Although Red Cloud Indian School was first established by English-speaking Jesuits, today, over 60 percent of the school’s faculty and staff are Lakota. Faculty and staff make a strong commitment to teaching students Lakota traditions and instilling a strong identity. And while resources and curriculum have not been fully comprehensive in the past, the new Lakota Language Program will be greatly enhanced, paralleled by a dedicated faculty. Faculty members teaching Lakota language and studies are knowledgeable in Lakota culture and history, and are wonderful role models for students.

Though a standardized curriculum and teaching resources may not have existed in the past, Lakota language faculty are creative in their instruction, and make use of various methods. Some utilize poster boards with Lakota words displayed in their classrooms, while others may try to speak only Lakota in class whenever possible. All of these faculty link Lakota language to its culture, through traditional storytelling or time-honoring songs. Best of all, faculty are flexible, and can adjust their teaching of this newly standardized curriculum through whatever method best suits their classes.

Results

The Lakota Language Program serves the 600 students, K-12, who attend the three schools that comprise Red Cloud Indian School. The following results are anticipated through the LLP:

  • Years 1-3 
    • Students and teachers will report an increase in the use of the Lakota language; 
    • Lakota students and families are engaged in the revitalization of their Native language; and, 
    • Families will begin to utilize the language both in the home and community. 
  • Year 4 and beyond 
    • An improved academic performance in the Lakota language will be realized by students; 
    • The use of the language by students and faculty will become normalized; and, 
    • Red Cloud students and families will be more proficient in the Lakota language. They will also be knowledgeable about Lakota songs, dances, prayers, and other cultural traditions to share with future generations. 

Final results will include a strategic and standardized K-12 curriculum, effective instructional materials and the development of interactive technologies.

Help champion this initiative

Contribute to the success of this initiative by making a gift online or calling our Advancement Office at 605/867-1105 ext. 300 to learn more about how your family or foundation can partner with us.

Red Cloud Indian School, 100 Mission Drive, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota 57770.
Phone 605/867-1105. © Red Cloud Indian School, 2014.

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This institution is an equal opportunity provider and employer.