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Bill Could Preserve Native Language

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Many native American languages have been lost through forced assimilation. But a new language preservation effort before congress aims to ensure they're never forgotten.

The Lakota language is sacred to the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. But, few tribal members are fluent in their native tongue. A bill before congress could help schools preserve their language.

Students at the Lakota Language Nest speak a language that many have forgotten.

"We're committed to staying in Lakota. So, what that means is the curriculum, everything that we do is in Lakota language," says teacher Tipiziwin Young.

It's a lot like your typical pre-school class. Students make pictures and sing songs.

But these students are the building blocks for cultural preservation.

"You look at these young kids as the possibilities. They will be the future. And being that they know the language, they'll be able to converse in the language," says Michael Moore of Sitting Bull College.

The Native American Language Immersion Student Achievement Act would establish a grant program for preschool through college. And schools like these could benefit from the program.

"With the possibility of funding, there is a possibility of more teachers, there is a possibility of a space, the possibility of an expansion of a school, help with the curriculum. There are a lot of possibilities. And that's exciting," says Young.

Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault says the Lakota language is sacred. And it's a very real fear that the language could become extinct.

"Our language and our ceremony are one. So, when you speak the language, you're actually in the ceremony. So, that's the teaching behind the importance of trying to retain that language. And hopefully, when the elders are gone, the language is not," says Archambault.

Young says it's easy to feel like an outsider at spiritual events when you don't understand the language. She says she'll never be a fluent speaker, but it's been a phenomenal experience understanding and connecting to her culture.

The tribe drafted a resolution in support of the bill. But they'd like to see some changes.
Right now, the grants are competitive. They hope Congress will consider making it formula-funded, so all schools have the opportunity to expand their language programs.

 

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