Two RCHS teachers learn Lakota online

posted on June 24, 2012

High school Lakota studies teacher Roger White Eyes and outgoing high school multimedia teacher Matt Rama recently returned from a week in North Dakota, where they continued the formal language learning that they have been involved in for the past year.

The two educators are involved in a program called LLEAP (Lakota Language Education Action Program), which is a joint venture between the University of South Dakota and Sitting Bull College in North Dakota. Through this program they have been taking part in a course of study that has involved four classes per week in Lakota language, two classes per week in linguistics, and one class per week in language teaching methods.

Students who take courses through the University of South Dakota (including Rama and White Eyes) choose one of three possible tracks: a Bachelor’s of Liberal Studies which comes with a full South Dakota language teaching certification, a teaching minor in Lakota language, or a K-12 Lakota Languages Education Endorsement.

According to LLEAP promotional materials, “The Lakota/Dakota language has a good chance for surviving as a creative, personal part of the Lakota culture, but only if passionate, skilled young language teachers emerge to teach Lakota as a second language in both classrooms and in immersion programs. LLEAP courses offer intensive college-level study of the Lakota language. Graduating students will be at the forefront of educating the next generation of fluent speakers. Second-language teaching techniques taught in LLEAP are sensitive to the Lakota/Dakota language and culture, while also consistent with Second Language curricula and methods used to train teachers around the world.”

The U.S. Department of Education has provided, in the form of two separate grants, $2.4 million in funding to create 30 new Lakota language teachers by 2014. It is the first time a Native American professional development program has focused on Native language education as a career path. This is critical, because the Lakota language (along with many other Native American languages) is in dire straits.

According to figures from the 2010 U.S. Census, the amount of living fluent speaker represents less than 14% of the Lakota population of North and South Dakota. The average age of a Lakota speaker is 65 years old – older than the average reservation life expectancy – and there are almost no fluent speakers of the language below the age of thirty. These demographics collectively lead Lakota to be categorized as a highly endangered language, with a very uncertain prognosis for future survival.

Despite this, the LLEAP program is at the forefront of the modern language revitalization movement. Rama, for his part, has found the experience extremely rewarding thus far, saying; “The best thing about LLEAP is that it gives you an opportunity to speak Lakota on a daily basis, to work on the language and have your language skills critiqued every day. Whereas with self-directed study, it is easy to procrastinate and work inconsistently, without daily discipline. LLEAP has definitely helped me to improve my fluency a lot.”

For more information about Lakota language loss and revitalization, click HERE.