Md. Since 1920, the Association on American Indian Affairs
has played a major part in creating governmental laws, acts and
programs to benefit American Indian people.
recently, the AAIAs Native Language Program has written and
published more than 60 childrens books in the Dakotah language
and created an entire school language curriculum for kindergarten
through second grade.
of the language program desperately want to save the dying Native
languages of todays American Indian people.
the 155 Native languages spoken in North America, 135 are endangered.
Elders speak the majority of these languages fluently. Within the
timeframe of one more generations passing, potentially 20
Native languages are all that will remain in the
DeCoteau, director of the language program, is working to stop that.
has been working with the AAIAs Dakotah Language Preservation
project on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation since 2002. Initially,
the AAIA started an intergenerational program of instruction called
Dakotah Iapi! a two-hour weekly class held at the local community
college. The program led to increased usage of the Dakotah language
in tribal businesses and within the tribal government.
the same time, DeCoteau noticed that children left at the colleges
daycare facility during the weekly class could also benefit from
a language program. As a result, the Wakanyeja Kin Unspe (Teach
the Child) program was created by the AAIA to teach children the
2005, the AAIA continued work with Sisseton Wahpeton Community College
to create the Family Dakotah Language Learning Center to provide
language instruction for youth and adults.
elder Orsen Bernard sang to children in the Dakotah language, DeCoteau
saw the need for teaching materials in Dakotah. We realized
that no matter how much you spoke in the language, everything else
was in English. Every book, every song, every movie was in English.
So we started creating materials to view in the language programs
the program is in its infancy, in just a few years time, DeCoteaus
efforts have led to the creation of more than 60 childrens
books, videos and CDs in the Dakotah language. The program
also created a Dakotah language Scrabble game, a rap CD, computer
applications and a theatrical play.
also noted that other tribes wanting Scrabble in their Native languages
could have them created. We talked with the people at Hasbro
and they said they would be happy to work with the AAIA to create
unique and contemporary techniques for teaching Native languages
are creating such positive results that other tribes are beginning
to follow suit. She said the process is simple. Its
all on Microsoft Publisher, we send the tribe the disc, they just
delete the Dakotah language, add theirs and then print it out.
now have an agreement with one of the Ojibwe tribes and they are
translating everything into Ojibwe. We have furnished materials
to tribes across the country to look and see if that is something
they want to do. Weve just sent some material to the Cherokee
Tribe a couple of weeks ago for their language program.
said the programs curriculum teaches much more than language;
it also carries a thoughtful Native message.
as Native people know what we want our children to learn, and a
lot of times mainstream books arent teaching what we want
our children to know. The other problem is that the characters are
primarily white or black children. Very few of these books have
brown children. So we wanted to make books that not only reflect
our thinking, but reflect our children too.
DeCoteaus techniques are successful, she admits that ultimately
there is no avoiding a nonprofit agencys bottom line. In todays
questionable economic times, she worries about the continued viability
of the language program.
When the economy started failing, nonprofits started failing.
Our language program is in danger. We are barely hanging in there.
the midst of economic struggle, DeCoteau remains optimistic and
continues to work for the preservation of the Dakotah language.
We have a proposal out right now to do a preschool immersion
curriculum entirely online so that any parent in the country could
learn Dakotah with their children.
DeCoteau believes in the strength of original Native languages.
We can do anything in our language.