Red Cloud Indian School using Lakota language immersion to shape future generations

PINE RIDGE RESERVATION, S.D. — While on a tour of Pine Ridge, Rapid City leaders also got an inside look at the Lakota language immersion program at Red Cloud Indian School.

Img 0775Red Cloud’s program teaches kindergarten through fifth grade entirely in Lakota, and in 2018, they formalized an entire K-12 Lakota language curriculum.

Former teacher, Elyssa Sierra Concha, says reclaiming the Lakota language in education is important for the success of natives across generations.

“Us dismantling that traditional education system and rebuilding something based on our teaching and our language and who we are is necessary for our indigenous youth to thrive,” Concha says.

Concha says in the early stages, with a lack of Lakota language curriculum, they worked nightly to develop those lesson plans for the next day.

At Red Cloud – a former boarding school – the Lakota language program has a special significance in that it fits right in with their “Truth and Healing Initiative.”

“It is part of a reckoning for this organization, right? This used to be a boarding school,” says Tashina Banks Rama, the executive vice president at Red Cloud Indian School. “We were a boarding school starting in 1988 and we operated as a boarding school until 1980.”

Administrators at Red Cloud say one of the biggest issues they face is the lack of Lakota language speakers, with only 6,000 estimated remaining.

Training new teachers to speak Lakota isn’t a quick process, but at Red Cloud, they’re working to develop the next generation of Lakota-speaking teachers.

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