A new initiative that aims to revitalize the Lakota language and traditions made strides toward its official launch, which is set to take place this spring. Lakolya Waoniya – which can be translated to “Breathing Life into the Lakota Language” – is a holistic development opportunity that will that will pay Sicangu citizens a full-time salary for three years to dedicate themselves to becoming fluent Lakota speakers and carrying on Lakota culture.
Last week the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), who runs the program, announced the hiring of Henry Quick Bear, Sr. as the educator for the program. Quick Bear is a certified Lakota language instructor and has taught the language at multiple levels, including at the Head Start program and Saint Francis Indian School.
“Henry is a good fit for this program due to his educational and spiritual background,” said Sarah Hart, REDCO’s Human Resources Director, who has been involved in developing the program. “He is committed to teaching the language and grounding tribal members in their grass roots.”
In his role as the lead instructor, Quick Bear will work with project manager Christina Johnston to create a curriculum for the students that includes not only language instruction, but also cultural knowledge. To achieve this, REDCO has been gathering community input. “We have been reaching out to traditional and spiritual families in the community to help us incorporate Lakota lifeways into the curriculum and making sure that is the foundation.” said Johnston.
Quick Bear seconded that approach. “Cultural identity goes hand in hand with the language. This approach to revitalize the Lakota language is great. I really thank REDCO for this opportunity.”
While the instructor has been hired, the Language Learners have not yet been selected. There were 37 applicants for seven openings. The applicants will now go through a multi-step interview which will include a test to memorize 40 words, and the review of an application essay by a panel of cultural leaders. To ensure maximum fairness in who is selected to participate in the program, the seven participants will be chosen at random through a lottery.
Those who are selected will be paid a full-time salary and will attend daily lessons, Monday through Friday. Additionally, participants are asked commit to carrying on the language and lifeways to future generation beyond their three years in the program.
"Prayer is walking with this project and we are all committed to doing things in a good way for our people.”
Project leaders described a mix of emotions as the launch date grows closer and closer. Each highlighted the urgent need for the program given the dwindling number of fluent speaker but also acknowledged that it will be a challenge. “There is a big generation gap of speakers now and it’s really important to produce speakers now, more than ever,” said Quick Bear. “This is a big challenge not only for me as a Lakota language teacher but for the students as well. I believe it can be done and producing seven more fluent speakers who can pass that on is an amazing thing.”