Maȟpíya Lúta Owáyawa Lakȟól’iya Wičhóthi
Red Cloud Lakȟóta Language Camp

Each summer, Red Cloud hosts a language camp to give students a chance to focus exclusively on language and culture. Despite the pandemic, this year our staff worked hard to plan a camp that kept campers safe and healthy while still allowing them to learn and grow. We spoke with Tama, language teacher and camp cultural director, to learn more about this year's camp experience.

Red Cloud's Lakota Language Camp gathered in a circle

Can you tell me what your roles were in the Lakota Language Camp?
I was the Lakota cultural camp director; my role was providing the language that we would need for the day for the mentors and just ensuring that the camp ran smoothly. The thing we wanted to do with the camp was to be mentor oriented so that those that we had brought on from the high school, really had ownership and took leadership within the camp. The idea was trying to give them enough language proficiency that they can really facilitate all the activities. Amery was the culture coordinator, he provided a lot of insight with the culture, he also led the songs. We learned songs every day. He taught the kids a lot of real valuable lessons about the drum itself and how, as a society, and as Lakota people, we really tried to, you know that within that one heartbeat type thing. He gave a lot of awesome cultural experiences for the kids.

Was this your first year being in that role?
Not necessarily. I used to be the activities coordinator for the Lakota language project, which was the LLP program. And those responsibilities included the camp. In years past, we would actually have a three-to-five-day camp, depending on having availability with other staff and such. This was my first year with that title.

Was this year’s camp part of the summer school?
Not necessarily, we provided activities for the summer school students but we were a completely separate entity. We've collaborated a lot with the summer school program, providing activities and different outlets for the grade school. We try to facilitate and collaborate within the two groups.

Red Cloud's Lakota Language Camp gathered in a circle

Was there anything different from the previous years?
Yeah, this year was a lot more challenging with the pandemic [COVID-19] going on. We really tried to social distance and be aware. Regardless of that, we were outside, trying to be safe, and utilize those precautions and listen to what the CDC and the school recommended. That was a little challenging, especially with the grade school. Also, we didn't camp out at all, it was more of a of a day camp. All the activities we ran, ran from the afternoon for campers, but we facilitated things throughout the whole day with the mentors. That was different, a lot of change as far as the way we ran things in the past.

Because of those changes, did you guys have to change any of the curriculum?
Not necessarily. I mean, we still really tried to be language oriented and culture oriented. It wasn't so much changing of the curriculum as much as it was changing the practice. The curriculum wasn't necessarily different at all. Normally, in the past, what we did is, well, what I did was I tried to focus on themes with the camp itself, because you only have the three to five days to really try to get involved with language. This year, we added a lot more culture, we had I think it was right around four weeks of activity to really plan for. We got to really open up the door for different ideas. We did a lot more crafts this year, which was pretty awesome. And, of course, we kept it language oriented. And then being able to add the songs daily was something that we were really excited about doing.

Red Cloud Graduate Wohpe

Did you guys any add any new activities?
We've done these things in the past, but we were able to have time with them. In the past, we've only got to do a song or maybe two songs. Our students left with at least nine songs that they learned, they also did prayer songs. They got to do a lot more cultural stuff with the crafts. Being able to hear stories with a new craft every day, I thought was something that we didn't really get to do a lot of in previous years. We got to take a couple days to really create the drums and we got to hear more about the history behind the drum, we got to break that down with more language. So I don't want to say we've got to do more activities, or like anything new, but we just got to spend a lot more time with those kinds of activities, and really dig into the trenches with that kind of work.

What do you hope the students were able to take away from the camp?
I think in all of this one thing we really wanted to emphasize was as Lakota people we’re really rich in culture and spirituality, and I think when you, when anybody takes an opportunity to really think about that, it doesn't take long to realize where language falls in all of that. One thing we're really hopeful for is that the campers really got to experience all aspects, being able to be involved with language, knowing that we're really creative people with the crafts and stuff that we did. We made drums, we made rattles, medicine, pouches, things that we’re deeply oriented in culture. Our biggest hope is that our kids take away that we're real deepened in culture, our [Lakota] people we were cognitive, our relationships with everything around us, with the people around us. And we know that for sure we have a spirituality that we really want to engulf and embrace.

Red Cloud's Lakota Language Camp gathered in a circle

What do you hope the staff were able to take away from the camp?
I think in all of that, what I hope they took home are leadership roles, for sure I want them to be aware that we are Lakota, we're deep in culture and traditions. But also I wanted the mentors to really take away their own leadership. I think that around here, a lot of times, leadership is looked at in an athletic way. You know, if you're good at athletics – you’re a great leader. I think it's important that we highlighted that it's more than that, to be a leader. You have to be cognitive of who you are as a person and in order to do that you really need to know where we are as a culture. I think that's one thing we really wanted to emphasize with our dialogue as mentors. What makes them great leaders is the experiences they have to share with that and hopefully everything they've done they've gained a little bit more experience.

Did you have any comments or anything that you wanted to make about the camp?
I think just that it was really awesome to hear the feedback from parents and even the administration, when they were talking with some of the students at home were always excited about camp, like, “Oh, I can't miss tomorrow, because we're doing this [activity] at camp!” It wasn't about missing school but it was it was the idea that “Oh, man, I'm going to miss out on the learning opportunity with camp, learning about culture and learning about language.” And I thought that was that was a huge plus and then in visiting with some of the parents, I mean, it was exciting. As far as you know, our kids really insisted that they really wanted to be a part of the language, but the camp, it was deeper. I feel as though it was really like self-identifying for them and being able to say, this is why we do it. And this is just what we do as Lakota people. I think that was the ultimate goal of it all. And I think in listening to parents and listening to some administration, I feel as though that was kind of achieved.


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