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Tribal Partnerships Enable Language Program Expansion

Participants in the Lakolya Waoniya program started their language and cultural learning journey at the Welcome Back the Thunder Beings in the He Sapa (Black Hills).

After months of planning and preparation, the Lakolya Waoniya program officially launched at the Welcome Back the Thunder Beings gathering at Hinhan Kaga in the Black Hills on March 19. The first cohort of learners, who will dedicate themselves to learning the Lakota language and traditions for the next three years, were among the hundreds from across the Oceti Sakowin who gathered in prayer.

Under the initial plan for the program developed by REDCO, the first cohort was slated to consist of seven individuals. However, a partnership with the Sicangu Nation Employment Training Program (SNETP) has allowed Lakolya Waoniya to expand, just a week into the program.

At SNETP we are always looking for ways to work with other tribal programs to provide our people with job opportunities and also with the skills they need to be successful,” said Lauri Bordeaux, SNETP Director. “When the REDCO team mentioned the language program to us, I thought it was a great opportunity to work together on a project that is vital to our people.”

Sarah Hart, the Director of Human Resources for REDCO agrees. “From the very start of the planning, we always thought of this both as a language program but also a workforce development program. Being fluent in Lakota is a valuable asset for our people, and it will help them in life.” Hart added that learning the language and lifeways can also facilitate healing and personal growth and said that this way of thinking made SNETP a logical partner.

Through the partnership, SNETP has agreed to pay the first six months of the salaries for the learners. This costs savings for REDCO has allowed them hire an additional learner. Additionally, there have been talks to add an additional four slots for the first six months of the program, but additional funding would be needed to support those individuals through the full three years of the program. “We are really grateful to SNETP for their partnership and support. With the current state of the language, every single fluent speaker matters, so being able to add an additional learner is huge,” said Hart.

SNETP isn’t the only tribal entity who is supporting the program. RST Transportation has also offered to provided rides for language learners in the case of car trouble and inclement weather.

Additionally, RST Child Care has also offered their support for the program. Their goal is to create an immersive child care facility and then work with REDCO to get additional care providers certified to be able to offer care to as many families as possible.

“The support from other tribal programs and the community has been amazing,” said Christina Johnston, Lakolya Waoniya Project Manager. Johnston and Hart have been in conversations with other tribal departments and are working to develop a plan that would allow other programs to sponsor additional participants in the future.

“We want people to know that this program isn’t just about eight people learning the language. It is about recognizing the importance of language and culture and coming together to take back what it means to be Lakota,” said Johnston. “With partners like SNETP, we can grow beyond what we initially imagined.”

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