Despite logistical setbacks, the board for the new Lakota Immersion School is pressing forward with plans to open the school in the fall.
Board member Art Rave said that the school has received a 3-year Administration for Native Americans (ANA) Grant of just over a million dollar for operation of the school.
Also on the board is Manny Iron Hawk and his wife Renee Iron Hawk who is a strong supporter. They said the school is a prime opportuntiy to revitalize the Lakota language.
“The school is going to be kindergarten the first year and K-1 the second, then K-3 the third,” Rave said.
M. Iron Hawk said that the best way to save the language is to speak it, and the immersion school is designed to immerse the students in the everyday Lakota langauge in the same way students are immersed in English at home and in the community.
As the private school grows, students will be taught to write in Lakota, again following a similar model to the way English is taught in public schools, with writing beginning in second or third grade, M. Iron Hawk said.
The Iron Hawks said that there has been much debate about the logistics of writing Lakota down, and some people dislike the different orthographies for various reasons.
M. Iron Hawk said he likes the LLC Orthography, especially for second language learners, as it is clear and easy to use with students.
Others feel that the tribe should create their own orthography, and M. Iron Hawk said that would be fine, but meanwhile, they need to use something.
“We should just use what we have, and then fix and replace it, but we need to start speaking it now,” said R. Iron Hawk.
The Iron Hawks said that too much time is spent arguing over which orthography to use or not use, and not enough time is spent teaching and speaking the language.
The immersion school is designed to teach the language in context so that students remembers the words and phrases and repeat them throughout the day, everyday.
The school will also immerse students in the Lakota culture and values, teaching them in Lakota the traditions and expectations of the Lakota way using the Lakota language.
The vision for the immersion school resembles that of the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque, NM.
According to the NACA website, the school is “a small school that integrates culture, wellness, language, community, family, and preparation for college into each child’s education. Our philosophy is grounded in both the Native American tradition and a rigorous, modern approach to college-preparatory education.”
The Iron Hawks said that the immersion school board and teachers want to create their own version of NACA, offering an education that begins from the perspective of a Lakota speaker, and branches out into the modern world, inspiring in youth a knowledge of their Lakota language and culture that will extend far beyond the classroom and the reservation boundaries.