The Standing Rock Reservation tries hard to keep the Lakota language alive through the Lakota Nest Immersion School with the help of the Lakota Summer Institute (LSI), which is co-sponsored by the Lakota Language Consortium, Sitting Bull College and the Standing Rock Reservation.
Lakȟól’iyapi Wahóȟpifor is the Lakota Nest Immersion School in the reservation. But as Sunshine Carlow, the school’s education manager explained, it is not about having elders teaching the language to children. They face the challenge of opening, running and maintaining the school, with costs that limit their capacity to admit more children.
Initially funded by a grant, the school’s fund will be exhausted by June of this year. So far, they manage to operate and pay their teachers because they charge tuition, but will not be able to hire other teachers. They are trying to raise more funds through Go Fund Me and other fund-raising projects.
Carlow said that it was challenging for them to find fluent speakers and they had to resort to a door-to-door survey and were able to find about 30 qualified speakers, most of which were already active in the LSI. The Lakota Summer Institute is a language boot camp that runs for three weeks each year. It has been operating for 9 years and had taught the Lakota language to more than 300 people. Most of the teachers at the camp are from Rosebud, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge. They also get other teachers from other reservations as well as from Minneapolis, Denver, Bismarck, Pierre, Rapid City and Sioux Falls.
Creation of new words
The education coordinator of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Nicole Walker said that the Lakota Summer Institute and the Lakota Nest had a deep connection. About 60 years ago when majority of the people still speak Lakota, new words for modern things were created almost every day. However, the number of fluent speakers today has dwindled, and conversely the creation of new words went down as well. This is where LSI comes in, as teachers and learners have the chance to come up with new words.
Another venue is a formal class. At the Sinté Gleška University, the Lakota Studies Program was founded by Ben Black Bear, whose first language is Lakota. In his Neologism class, speakers of the language work together so they could form and vote on new words. The words they develop are then passed on to schools and communities and if these were accepted and used, the words are added to their dictionary. Most of these new words are sent to the Nest and incorporated in the language the teachers and students are learning.
The LSI according to Black Bear manages to attract speakers at every level of competence. There are attendees who are non-speakers and there are those that are able to teach the language but are not speakers of the language themselves. In the boot camp’s set up, both the teachers and the learners learn together. The boot camp is also a venue where they are able to source out future Lakota language teachers. They provide intensive courses where participants could develop materials, lesson plans and language lessons. According to Black Bear, LSI teaches everyone willing to learn grammar, spelling, sentence structure, common expressions, phrases, writing and sound systems of the language, all of which must be learned, even by fluent speakers, in their effort to keep their language alive.