October 25, 2021

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Rosebud program will teach 7 tribal members Lakota language

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Seven members of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate tribe will have a paid opportunity to learn the Lakota language this spring.

The Rosebud Economic Development Corporation is rolling out a new language preservation program, Lakolya Waoniya, which roughly translates to “breathing life into the Lakota language” in the coming months.

REDCO garnered startup funding through an anonymous philanthropic contribution and is now in the process of hiring a project manager and Lakota language teacher to build up the program. REDCO will pay seven Sicangu Lakota citizens a full-time salary and full benefits to learn Lakota.

While the salary amount is not yet set, REDCO CEO Wizipan Little Elk said the pay rate will be above minimum wage.


The purpose of the language revitalization program is to bring Lakota back from being functionally extinct, meaning it is not spoken conversationally in a public setting. Language is an important component of cultural preservation and celebration as well, Little Elk said.

The three-year program’s goal is for participants to become conversationally fluent in Lakota through commitment, rigor and immersion, the Rapid City Journal reported.

“Lakota is a second language because of colonization. I want to get to the point where it’s functionally alive and being used in an everyday context,” Little Elk said. ”Indigenous people are very practical. And in order for us to do what we do and to be who we are, especially when we’re practicing our spiritual and cultural traditions, it’s really important that we’re able to practice those traditions while using our language.”

Little Elk said of the 150,000 to 200,000 Lakota tribal members, there are a little less than 2,000 fluent Lakota speakers from all tribes. Most fluent speakers are older, with only two or three Rosebud Lakota speakers under the age of 30 and none under 18, Little Elk said.

On the Rosebud reservation last year, 550 fluent Lakota speakers were identified. A few months ago, that number decreased to 460. As of Sept. 15, at least four more fluent speakers have died, a trend that is expected to continue as speakers age, Little Elk said.

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