Pine Ridge school launches new K-8 Lakota Immersion program

PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Language is the foundation of a culture, and the Pine Ridge Reservation is doing everything possible to keep its mother tongue and culture alive, and one Oglala Lakota school is making that a reality.

Interest among parents in preserving and passing on Lakota culture and language has grown in recent years, some would call it a movement. While schools within the Oglala Lakota County School District teach the language in individual classes, Rockyford Elementary is taking it a step further. The school has created a K-8 Lakota language immersion program. The program began as pre-school immersion program that has grown from 2 to nearly 30 teachers, and 3 to 45 students in just three years.

“It’s really important for students to know who they are and where they come from and have that identity, in order to strengthen their heart and their mind and their whole being to be able to be successful,” said principle Dr. Jennifer Sierra.

The school held an opening event to discuss the program and it’s importance among the Lakota people. Elders also used the time to speak about their experiences with the language, to include the forced removal for those who attended boarding schools. They described the shame they were made to feel in regards to their language, and how that has in turn affected the use of the language among natives. To help teach the language, a collection of fluent and second language learners have been employed, with a goal of restoring and normalizing the language.

“Language teachers, the second language learners, everyone is learning together,” said director of Lakota studies for the school district, Lora Catches. “So, it’s a collective effort that we’re all learning the Lakota language together, and revitalizing, restoring and renewing the language to a point of normalcy. That it’s just normal in everyday conversation.”

The curriculum would not only teach students Lakota but ensure they meet state standards. To help families not fluent in Lakota, there will also be language classes to help parents reinforce the language at home.  It is what some Lakota educators are calling a dream come true.

“I am very happy to say that I am so anxious to teach them the language, because it is our responsibility,” said pre-school immersion teacher, Dorothy Thunder Bull. “I am a grandmother, I am a great-grandmother. And I was raised my first 5 years of my Lakota language with my grandmother, and that’s all I spoke. And she also stressed that that’s who we are and to always teach it.”

The ultimate goal would be to expand to immersion programs to all reservation schools, and possibly throughout the state. The school has already been in talks with parents in Rapid City, as well as schools in Montana, Wyoming and Standing  Rock about replicating the program. 


Categories: Local News, South Dakota News