Saving the Lakota Language by teaching the youth

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. (KOTA TV) - There are many efforts across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to revitalize the endangered Lakota language.

One effort involves a partnership between Thunder Valley CDC and Red Cloud Indian School that established a kindergarten class where the kids speak only Lakota.

The need for this partnership stemmed from Thunder Valley's Lakota Immersion Childcare program that started in 2012 to teach preverbal kids Lakota. With their first class heading into kindergarten they knew they had to partner with a school to continue their Lakota education.

"I think this partnership with Thunder Valley is really important,” said Red Cloud Indian School’s Executive Vice President Robert Brave Heart Sr., “not just for us but for them as well because we are both working very hard in this effort to revitalize the language and teach the language."

A sentiment echoed by Thunder Valley’s Executive Director Nick Tilsen.

“This partnership is a good example of when organizations and partners really put the children and an issue like saving the language at the center of the conversation.

The idea to partner up with the school came after Peter Hill, the language coordinator of the Lakota Immersion Childcare program, traveled the country to schools with similar programs.

“You had the immersion program situated within an existing school and then the kids could ride their buses and eat in the cafeteria and play the playground without having to create an entirely new education system,” said Hill. “They’re essentially doing everything that their mainstream peers are doing over in the regular kindergarten classrooms, except they are doing it all in Lakota. So all the math, all the language arts, all the reading is without English or English translation.”

If the partnership proves successful, they hope to continue Lakota immersion classes up to the 5th grade. Currently there are five kids in this kindergarten class with 5 more being added the next year.

“Our vision is big, our vision is to completely save the Lakota language,” said Tilsen, “which means that one day we hope that the Lakota language is spoken in every sing school, every single home."