Courtesy Lakota Language Consortium
Lakota Summer Institute attendees, teachers, staff and organizers. This year the Institute hosted around 120 participants.

10th Lakȟótiyapi Summer Institute Generates Army of Language Teachers, Learners

Lyla June Johnston

The Standing Rock Lakota Nation wrapped up its 10th anniversary Lakȟótiyapi Summer Institute for language revitalization on Friday, June 24. The three-week intensive program offered an array of in-depth explorations of Lakota/Dakota language and culture such as Intensive Lakota/Dakota for Beginners, Lakota Ethnobotany, Lakota Poetry Composition, Lakota Syntax and several professional development courses for Lakota language teachers.

“The identity of who we are as a distinct people is embedded in our languages. When we are equipped with our language, we become a positive and powerful force of energy for our people and communities,” said Tipiziwin Tolman, a Master Apprentice at the Lakota Language Nest immersion preschool in Fort Yates, North Dakota.

Iris Eagle Chasing, a fluent, first-language Lakota speaking elder, is seen here learning about local plants in an LSI Ethnobotany course. (Courtesy Lakota Language Consortium)

This year’s Summer Institute was especially impactful since two respected elders and powerful advocates of the Lakota language had passed on to the Spirit World. Mr. Milton Brown Otter, a former Standing Rock Sioux Tribe councilman, and Ms. Velia Salas, a language teacher at a nearby elementary school, had both attended the annual Institute since it’s inaugural year. An honoring ceremony was held for them during the program. Their passing reminded the community that, “we have a closing window of opportunity to do language revitalization and do it well, while our speakers and supporters are alive,” Tolman said.

The institute began primarily to teach fluent speakers how to teach others. Even though there were many speakers, they were not mobilized as teachers of the community to help sustain the language on a collective level. Since then the institute has broadened its offerings to cater to language learners of every level, in addition to professional development for Lakota language teachers. Over the years the institute has instructed hundreds of individuals from myriad reservations and even individuals who are not Lakota and are interested in supporting revitalization efforts.

A group of youth from Cheyenne River in the Intensive Lakota/Dakota for Beginners course playing a circle game. (Courtesy Lakota Language Consortium)

Allen Wilson, who has attended the summer institute for two years now, reported having ample time to actually practice speaking the language during sessions and informally during breaks. The renowned buzz, determination and fervor that is generated by the institute gave him, “hope that the languages will begin to thrive again.”

This year the institute was paid a visit by both Miss Indian World Danielle Ta’sheena Finn (a Standing Rock tribal member) and Scatter Their Own, a rising alterNative rock band from the heart of the Lakota Nation. Also in attendance was Hazel Red Bird, a 91-year-old elder who has a passion for learning her language even in her late years. “If she can attend and make LSI a priority then I believe the younger community members from anywhere and everywhere can come join in as well,” Tolman said.

Hazel Red Bird, a 91-year-old first-language speaker of Lakota and World War II Veteran. This photo was taken during the Lakota Syntax II course. Hazel shared, “When someone is trying to help us, I admire that, no matter who you are or what you are, or where you’re from. You are helping us to try to better ourselves.” (Courtesy Lakota Language Consortium)

According to Wilson it is this self-empowerment and determination that ultimately wins the race: “Learning a second language—even if it is your own—can be difficult and takes patience. Your language will not simply be acquired because you are a tribal member, but through persevering and hard work.”

The Lakȟótiyapi Summer Institute celebrates its 10th year running as a language revitalization model for Indian country. Through the inspired and unrelenting work of this collaboration between Sitting Bull College, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Lakota Language Consortium, a fresh wave of Lakota/Dakota language teachers and learners is dispatched into the community each year.

“With great love of our children, our languages, our homelands motivating us, there is a great and huge hope for the future of our languages,” Tolman said.

Scatter Their Own, an alterNative Rock group of Oglala Lakota ancestry from the Badlands of South Dakota, performing at LSI’s 10th Anniversary concert celebration. (Courtesy Lakota Language Consortium)

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