Tipiziwin Young will tell you, has the power to heal broken cultures.
Especially on South Dakota's nine Indian
reservations, where poverty, alcoholism and violence continue to
shatter lives and homes, Young is convinced that the Lakota language
can be their salvation.
"Lakota is the language our creator
gave us," Young, who wants to become a Lakota language teacher,
says from her Fort Yates, N.D., home. "There is a beauty and
power in our prayers, our songs and our words. ... that I think
can be very healing."
Officials at the University of South Dakota
in Vermillion and Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates see those possibilities,
too. That's why they are developing bachelor's-degree programs to
train teachers of Lakota as a second language.
The two schools have been awarded a four-year,
$2.4 million grant by the Department of Education to institute the
programs beginning next year and, within the initial four years,
to educate 30 new Lakota language teachers.
The grant will pay for one instructor
at each school - a Lakota linguistics expert for USD and, at Sitting
Bull, an instructor specializing in second language methodology.
The schools will be able to share the instructors, either through
distance learning or possibly some travel, officials say.
The grant also will allow 16 Native American
students at USD and 14 at Sitting Bull College to receive $2,000
a month for two years to pay their tuition, fees and living expenses
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime shot
to build an important teaching force in the state," said Wil
Meya, executive director of the Lakota Language Consortium, an Indiana-based
collaboration among tribal leaders, linguistic experts and second-language
education officials to revitalize the Lakota language.
More than 120,000 Lakota
Meya, whose consortium helped
put the grant request together and works on everything from teacher
training to textbook creation, said there are more than 120,000
potential Lakota speakers in the Northern Plains.
With the Lakota tribes having mandated
language instruction in their schools in the mid-1970s, the grant
will make possible for "the first time that a Native American
professional development program will focus on language education,"
For people such as Young, the opportunity
to teach a language she heard at her grandfather's knee is highly
"My grandpa ... he talked Lakota
to me when I was little," Young, 30, said. "He died when
I was young. Every time I hear the language, it brings me back to
a perfect time in my childhood, when I was happy and carefree and
my grandpa took care of me. When I hear the language, I feel really
Teaching neglects sentence
she has studied Lakota, "I've never found fluency in academic
settings because of the teaching methods teachers use," Young
said. "For example, every teacher teaches colors and numbers
and kinship terms from preschool all the way up to college level.
But they never teach you sentence structure or verb conjugation."
Sunshine Carlow, tribal education manager
for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said the bachelor's degrees being
offered at USD and Sitting Bull will emphasize those language structures
and provide a continuity in Lakota language education that doesn't
As students move from family member to
family member and community to community, "We've always thought,
'Wouldn't it be nice to have a common curriculum if they go to Wakpala
or Cannonball or Fort Yates?' " Carlow said. "These new
bachelor programs should standardize the training and make it easier
for students to continue their studies as they move."
The programs also will bolster a teaching
profession where the average age of Lakota speakers is older than
55, and where few fluent speakers are younger than 50, Carlow said.
Potential motivation for
At USD, Rick Melmer, dean of
the School of Education, said he hopes the program primarily motivates
tribal students to get their degrees, go back to their communities
or reservations and fuel the fires of young people there to learn
Tribal folks have told him they want that,
too, Melmer said.
In Sioux Falls, where there are 1,400
tribal youths in the public school system, the programs at USD and
Sitting Bull also could create needed teachers for courses the district
offers its Lakota and Dakota students, said Gail Swenson in the
Office of Indian and Homeless Education.
"Once we get our Lakota language
back as an accredited class in high school, we can't stretch one
person to three high schools, and continue to rotate that person
into the middles schools, too," Swenson said. "As more
Native American youth come here, we would have a need for these
kinds of teachers."
Regents approval needed
At USD at least, the program
needs approval from the Board of Regents - a stamp that Melmer said
is likely to come.
It also will need to be self-sustaining
after the grant dollars go away, paid for by students who want to
become Lakota teachers. Officials at both schools don't see that
as a problem, either.
"We wouldn't have worked on this
grant for three years if we didn't think there was a demand for
this profession," said Meya, who noted that as payback for
the financial help, graduates need to work in schools with native
students in this area.
"The Indian population there in South
Dakota is growing at three times the rate of the regular population,"
he continued. "We know the students will be there. This will
help make sure qualified teachers are there, too."