RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) -- Lakota language students and educators took center stage this weekend as 15-year-old effort effort to save and spread the Native language takes on new momentum from reservation to reservation -- and all the way to Pierre.
A decade and a half ago the Lakota Language Consortium set out to develop materials for educators looking to preserve a dying native language. The fruits of the effort were on display in Rapid City over the weekend as the native language revitalization movement picks up steam.
Case in point? The first Lakota immersion school is launching later this month on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
"I've seen it on other reservations, Standing Rock, Pine Ridge and we're ready for it on Cheyenne River," said Manny Iron Hawk who is principal of the Lowi School that will offer the immersion classes for kindergarten students.
Weekend classes served beginning and intermediate students as well as a class for immersion instructors. And why the focus on saving the language? The reasons, say advocates, are far from academic.
"A lot of these kids in middle school are having identity issues," said Rhonda Yankton, who run a Lakota immersion day care in Rapid City. "And suicide is such a big problem especially in middle school. When they're learning Lakota it's like filling their heart. Right now they're empty; they don't know who they are. So with us teaching Lakota it says, 'Hey, I'm somebody. I'm a Lakota. You know, I'm someone.'"
And the movement is gathering proponents in Pierre where a bill to recognize the language and dialects of the Great Sioux Nation is scheduled for a hearing on the senate floor Tuesday.
"My only regret is that I haven't brought this bill sooner," said Sen. Troy Heinert who introduced the bill, Senate Bill 126, in the Senate. "And we could be the very first state in the continental United States to pass indigenous language legislation. So, that could be huge for us."
And help boost efforts to teach the language to today's youth.
"Because these little people, we're not saving them they're actually going to save us," said Iron Hawk.