- Native American students in South Dakota schools will be more
successful in their studies if native language and culture are
integral parts of the curriculum, a Todd County educator believes.
LeBeau is part of an effort to revive the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota
languages, both in schools and among adult Native Americans. It's
a way to connect a people with their culture, says the school improvement
coordinator and curriculum director at Todd County Schools.
the language means losing the culture,'' LeBeau said. "We need
to know who we are because it makes a difference in who our children
cites studies that suggest 90 percent of Lakota people will be unable
to speak their language within a decade.
her duties at Todd County, LeBeau recently headed a language advocacy
committee that recommended weaving the Lakota language and culture
throughout schools, whether tribal, public or private. She and other
members of her group made that recommendation during a summit on
Native American education hosted at Oacoma last week by state Education
Secretary Rick Melmer.
who are most proficient in their native language are also most proficient
in another language and other courses,'' LeBeau told the summit
participants. "When we're talking of achievement, when we're
talking of No Child Left Behind, we need to have the language. We
need to have the culture for our children to succeed.''
at some schools with a high percentage of Native American students
Smee School District near Wakpala last year added an instructor
to teach the Lakota language in each classroom. At the same time,
the school began developing a plan to integrate Lakota language
and culture into lesson plans at all grade levels, according to
Chief Executive Officer Susan Smit.
said the addition of Lakota language and culture to the routine
school day was among reasons for an enrollment increase. Parents
wanted to send their children to a school that included Lakota values
and language, she said.
Indian School hired a Lakota language teacher for the first time
this year, said Russell Leonard, elementary principal and acting
superintendent. The instructor, Redwing Thomas, is fluent in the
native language, Leonard said.
day, he goes into each of the classrooms, kindergarten through fourth
grade, and spends time on the language,'' Leonard said. "In
addition to that, once a week he does an Indian studies program
for each class, going in and talking about the culture, history,
the things these students should know.''
effort hasn't been in place long enough for a firm evaluation, but
Leonard said, "We think it's having a good effect. It's something
that looks like it will be a good idea.''
native language and culture - a relatively recent development in
K-12 schools - has been stressed at tribal colleges and universities
for several years. Stephanie Charging Eagle, head of graduate studies
at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is
a member of LeBeau's language advocacy committee. She shared the
presentation at the recent Indian education summit, saying the effort
can't be limited to schools.
schools can't do it alone,'' Charging Eagle said. "The whole
community has to get involved.''
LeBeau's ultimate goal.
should work it into everything, tribal council meetings, everything,''
summit report from LeBeau's group said there have been efforts for
30 years to introduce the Lakota language into schools. None of
those attempts produced many fluent speakers, the report said. It
also said the number of people who can speak the native language
is running out,'' the report said. "Based on current estimates,
within the next generation, the Lakota language will be beyond recovery.
Ten years ago, more than half of the population on the Pine Ridge
had no speaking knowledge of Lakota. Today, three-quarters of the
population is unable to speak Lakota. Within 10 years or less, 90
percent of the population will not be able to speak Lakota.''
most fluent speakers are older members of the tribes, their deaths
hasten the loss of the language, LeBeau said.
really sad when we lose an elder,'' she said. "They take with
them the language.''
years ago, Oglala Lakota College received a $420,000, three-year
grant from the Health and Human Services Department's Administration
for Native Americans. One of the goals of the grant is to give college
staff members an incentive to learn the language. The Native American
Languages Act of 1992 encouraged such grants. Congress passed that
law as a way to help Native Americans retain and revive their language.
part of its grant process, Oglala Lakota College researched the
loss of language among Lakota people. Part of that research showed
that in 1993, 15 percent of Lakota people spoke their native language
fluently, 25 percent had limited ability to use the language and
60 percent had little or no Lakota language ability.
research, done in 1996, predicted that by 2003, 10 percent would
speak the language, 15 percent would have limited ability and 75
percent would have little or no language knowledge. By 2013, the
college's study said, 3 percent would speak the language, 7 percent
would have limited ability and 90 percent would have little or no
ability to use the Lakota language.
in 1993, that research said, only 1 percent of Lakota people younger
than 21 were able to speak the language.
presentation that LeBeau's group made to the Indian education summit
listed several proposed courses of action for students, communities,
educators, schools, parents and education agencies. Education agencies
should provide waivers from some regulations if necessary to ensure
that students being taught in the native language weren't disadvantaged,
the report suggested. It recommended opportunities for teachers
to be certified to teach the Lakota language.
advocating increased use of Native American language in South Dakota
schools recently presented proposals during a summit organized by
Gov. Mike Rounds. Among the proposals for schools were:
sure language policies and practices in school are consistent
with the desires of parents and community.
follow-through support for local language curriculum advisory
committees and incentives for students
to participate in language programs.
aside times and places where students can practice language
skills in an immersion environment.
appropriate traditional cultural values and beliefs in all teaching.
an in-depth culture and language orientation program for all new
teachers and administrators, including
participation in an immersion
camp with local elders.
Nakota, Dakota, Lakota language courses for students in every
high school in South Dakota, especially those with native students