Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Preserves The Lakota Language


Various initiatives at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are designed to ensure the next generation of Oglala Sioux is more in touch with their Lakota heritage. A cornerstone of the heritage is the language, and multiple programs undertaken at the reservation have renewed a focus on the use of the native dialect for education and daily life. 

Avoiding the loss of a language

Lakota, like many Native American dialects, was facing a steady decline in usage and adoption by young people. This was exacerbated by a multi-decade effort to provide reservation education in English only and suppress the native tongue. In the early 2010s, a Seattle Times article estimated less than 6,000 people worldwide spoke the Lakota language, and the average age of those speakers was 60. With an aging and declining base, the possibility of the language dying out was all too real.

A grassroots effort at the Pine Ridge Reservation sought to turn the tables on over a century of decline by introducing immersive educational opportunities for young learners. 

Baby steps

To maximize the results of Lakota language instruction, one initiative, Lakota Immersion Childcare, provided a full daycare experience for children with an entire day dedicated to using and learning Lakota. Students embrace Lakota as a first language and receive full exposure to English as a second language later in the educational process to maximize results. 

Following daycare, there is the option of additional education in Lakota as initiative organizers further expand curriculum options to encompass more subject areas, including math, new technology, and even sports like baseball. 

For organizers, teaching Lakota is also a learning experience as existing materials are translated and new technologies, such as apps, are used to expand educational opportunities beyond the daycare and classroom. 

Lakota usage at Pine Ridge Reservation

To further involve residents of the reservation in Lakota usage, organizers of the education experience have also branched out to create more daily opportunities for the Lakota language in the community. From providing the vocabulary necessary to starting a Lakota news website offering the latest local and other news with typed and audio story versions, there are numerous fun, new ways for adults in the community to engage with their heritage and language.

The ultimate goal is to ensure the Lakota language is not lost and that it remains a catalyst for the tribal culture now and in the future. Through the protection of the dialect and the rich oral history, chants and songs of tribes can carry forward to new generations as they build a better life on Pine Ridge Reservation.

For more information, contact a company like Teach Them To Fish Foundation, Inc.


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