Native American tribes suffer many problems stemming from the theft of their land, languages, and cultures. Lakota Immersion Childcare works off a simple theory that we've seen proven time and again: if you teach kids their native language, and give them pride in their past, they'll be ready to face the future, and pursue their dreams.
Here's how we do it:
WHO WE ARE & WHAT WE’RE ABOUT
We at Iyápi Glukínipi / Lakota Immersion Childcare (www.lakotalearners.com) are attempting to raise funds for our "language nest"-style immersion daycare program here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Our mission is to teach children on the Pine Ridge Reservation Lakota as a first language, in a nurturing and enriched childcare setting, as a basis for continued fluency throughout their lives, to be full participants in the revitalization of their heritage language. We opened our doors in November, 2012, and currently serve seven children and their families. Our policy is to accept children no later than their second birthday, in order start them at a pre-verbal age.
Our language nest is the first full-immersion early childhood daycare in Lakota Country. In future years, we plan to expand our program upward as the initial cohort reaches elementary school age, in order to include an elementary school curriculum (all in Lakota). The early childhood component will be retained permanently, in order to prepare first-language Lakota speaking children for the immersion school component. Our program also works with the parents of the enrolled children - none of whom are fluent speakers themselves - in order to increase their proficiency so that they can support their children's language use in the home as well.
The Lakota language has plunged over the past 40-50 years, and is now in dire straits. Here on the Pine Ridge Reservation, fewer than 10% of tribal members are fluent Lakota speakers. The average age of a Lakota speaker is 68 years old – significantly older than the average reservation life expectancy. Furthermore, there are almost no fluent speakers of the language below the age of forty, and fluent-speaking children especially are essentially nonexistent. For those of us who consider ourselves language activists, our work is a constant struggle to keep the flame of hope burning.
Furthermore, the reservation in which we live is a place of extreme poverty. Shannon County, which encompasses the majority of reservation land, is the second-poorest county in the entire United States, with a per capita annual income of just $6,236. Eighty percent of reservation residents are unemployed (compared to 7.4% for the rest of the country, in the midst of one of the worst recessions of modern history). Half of our neighbors live below the federal poverty level, including 61% of children under the age of 18.
Being a child growing up on the reservation is hard. It seems that drugs, alcoholism, violence, broken families, and gangs are everywhere you look. In recent years, an epidemic of youth suicide has gripped this already-troubled community. Local organizations that deal with young people must work hard to give our boys and girls a sense of self-worth, individual and cultural pride, and hope that things can and will get better in the future.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Our aim here, however, is not to depress you with bleak statistics – that is simply the reality here on the reservation, and the backdrop of the place where we hope our dream will take root.
We know how important the Lakota language is to the overall wellbeing of our communities. When the U.S. government and affiliated groups worked for over a century to stamp out Native American languages in the name of assimilation (Google “Native American boarding schools”), they were tearing the heart out of cultures that had existed for thousands of years. In looking at the social issues that we deal with on a daily basis on the reservation, the elders and others in the community are in agreement that the loss of the language is both a symptom and a cause of the collapse of a strong, functional Lakota society.
We believe that the language revitalization movement is important not just to save a language that could otherwise vanish from the face of the Earth, as so many Native languages on this continent have already. But it is also key to a sense of self for the young people; a sense of pride in one’s heritage, and a foundation on which to build a solid inner fortress of emotional wellbeing.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Finding funding for our program is an ongoing task. We have been relying primarily on grants and private donations, but they are harder to come by during these days of a slow economy. Many grant-making organizations are phasing out or reducing their grant programs, and people are donating less to charitable causes then they were a decade ago.
The funds we are looking to raise through this campaign are just part of our overall budget, but it will help us reach a critical amount needed to keep our doors open through the end of the year. Thank you to everyone who helps us reach our goal…we would love to exceed our ask amount, and get even closer to what we will need to raise for our overall budget!
Every day we spend with the kids gets them closer to fluency. We believe in the work we are doing so much, but we need others to believe in us. Can you help us to make our dream a reality?
NOTE: DUE TO A FISCAL SPONSORSHIP BY THUNDER VALLEY CDC, A LOCAL NON-PROFIT, ALL CONTRIBUTIONS ARE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE.
Darrel Kipp, indigenous language revitalization activist:
“Here’s a story: Parents did not teach the language because they loved us and they didn’t want us to suffer, to be abused, or to have a tough life. Because our parents loved us and our grandparents loved us, they tried to protect us from the humiliation and suffering that they went through [in the days of forced assimilation and boarding schools]. If you truly love your parents and grandparents, you can reconcile that…You can demonstrate your love for them by protecting and shielding the language in a different way. You can begin to embrace it, to use it, to foster it, to renew it, to teach it to your daughters, to teach it to your sons.”
How often do we encounter an opportunity to help bring a language back from the brink; to put it back in the mouths of children, where it has not been heard on a large scale since before many of us were born? We are so excited about this endeavor, so completely dedicated to its success, and so grateful to everyone who has helped – and will help – to make it a reality.
WANT TO HELP US IN OTHER WAYS?
If you have any questions, our website gives much more in-depth information on our program, in both the short- and long-term. Go to www.lakotalearners.com.
Also, please help us spread the word by posting our campaign link to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, email, etc. Thank you! Even with modern technology, it is an added challenge to get the word out for a worthwhile project from such a remote location!
Tóna óuŋyakiyapi héči wóphila tȟáŋka uŋkéničiyape ló. – Thank you to all of you who have helped us.
-- Matt and the rest of the Lakota immersion childcare staff, Advisory Board, and families