BENEFITING: THUNDER VALLEY COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
The Lakota language is in dire straits. According to figures from the 2010 U.S. Census, there are fewer than 6,000 Lakota speakers in existence anywhere. The average age of a Lakota speaker is 65 years old – more than ten years older than the average reservation life expectancy – and there are almost no fluent speakers of the language below the age of thirty. 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 8.2% 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.
Note: If you have not seen this month’s National Geographic cover story on the reservation, it is an interesting read. It may be found at the following links:
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
Our funding needs for the first year are simple, but out of our individual reach. We need to be able to pay 2 ½ staff members: two full-time caregivers (one female and one male – Lakota includes gender differences in speech) and one part-time administrator. All other costs – food, toys, Pack-and-Play cribs, etc. – we believe that we can be reimbursed for through South Dakota’s Child Care Assistance Program.
This has been an obstacle to finding funding from some grant sources, as many institutions do not prioritizing funding salaries. But that is our single greatest need. Our fluent caregivers will be the heart and soul of our immersion. Without them, we cannot function, and in a community with so much need, we cannot simply expect people to volunteer full-time.
The part-time administrator will fulfill such tasks as helping us secure ongoing funding, preparing for years ahead (our eventual expansion to include a full-immersion elementary school), creating Lakota language curriculum for future years, and facilitating programs outside of school hours to help immersion parents learn alongside their children.
We will eventually need to raise $75,000: two $30,000 salaries for the caregivers, and a $15,000 salary for the administrator. In this campaign, we are attempting to raise two fifths of our total costs. Thank you to everyone who helps us reach our goal…we would love to exceed our minimum, and get even closer to what we will need to raise!
We were hoping to open our doors in August, but lack of funds has forced us to push this date back indefinitely. Can you help us to make our dream a reality?
NOTE: DUE TO A FISCAL SPONSORSHIP BY 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.
-- Peter, Matt, and the rest of the Lakota immersion childcare steering committee