Ivan Star Comes Out: Lakota immersion remains our only hope

Ivan F. Star Comes Out

Enhancing Lakota language and culture in our schools
By Ivan F. Star Comes Out

Resulting from the federal government’s prearranged obliteration of native languages and cultures, Lakota is now on its last leg as an oral language. Heedlessly, we have struggled vainly to revive our language in the classroom. It should have been realized by now that this four-decade long language transmission method did not and is not working. We have not produced any speakers.

In view of the diminished usage of Lakota language in the community, the only choice we have is to seek out a more effective method. I always revert to my experience in becoming a speaker. Nearly everybody spoke it in my home and in the community. I did not learn from a book or a computer. This ancient language transmission process is today called immersion and I believe it is our last hope.

Historically, language programs within our government schools were always detached from the core curricula, like an extracurricular activity. Our schools have always concentrated most of their time and effort on maintaining federal academic standards. We must also acknowledge the fact that far too many Lakota children “fell through the cracks” of this particular educational floor.

I am not undermining nor discrediting elementary education standards. Admittedly, we do need academics but we can do without the underlying cultural oppression that came with it and I believe many will agree with me on this view.

Anyway, since we no longer have that immersion environment in most homes as well as in the community, and even with federal government indifference, we have to create it in our schools. Eventually, I foresee a school environment similar to what I grew up in. We do not need any more of those segregated language and culture classrooms with little or no connection to the main curriculum.

To effectively create that immersion environment, language/culture and academics must be commonly accepted by everyone. This does not mean altering one to accommodate the other. We have to find ways to make this idea work. Then again, if a white or Lakota professional balks at this concept, language revival is effectively curtailed and academic achievement remains stunted.

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Academics serve to establish basic skills which allow a student to enter competitive fields later in life. Historically, Lakota student’s academic performance has been influenced not so much by an inability to learn but more so by the oppressive nature in which it is taught. In other words, a student realizes he or she comes from a lesser cultural background and eventually loses interest in school and drops out.

We have witnessed this peculiarity since the beginning of this oppressive “Indian” education process (1868). Cultural identity is crucial to Lakota youth as it influences their life values, views, fears, and worries. The ability to speak the Lakota language and to express culture provides a powerful sense of identity, purpose, and belonging.

Getting back to creating that immersion environment in the school, I present a few ideas that could enhance language revival efforts. Every school has Lakota language-speaking employees whether they are teachers, administrators, or support personnel. Imagine speaking Lakota in the dining area, in the nurse’s office, in the front office, and on the buses.

Committed administrators and school boards are vital to establishing the idea of using the language at all times by every speaker-employee in their school. At the same time, professionals will have to re-evaluate their standing values. This is highly unlikely to occur but if it can be accomplished, it will take the segregation out of transmitting Lakota language and culture and enhance academic achievement.

Ultimately, we have to reassess the standards we grew into. For example, look at the calendars that are used throughout the school as well as in the community and the nation. All of us, Lakota and whites alike, have accepted the Gregorian method without qualms. We must be open to learning and implementing the traditional method of tracking time.

Undoubtedly, Hollywood has influenced our lives. The familiar “many moons ago” still echoes in my mind. However, I learned that there is more to it than that. It is a genuine method our ancestors used that actually acknowledges thirteen 28-day cycles of the moon within the solar year. It follows nature and is thus accurate and adequate and does not require mathematics.

Attendees of the Iyapi Glukinipi / Lakota Immersion Childcare on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo from Facebook

Many contend that this method is primitive and inaccurate, but that can go both ways.

Debating it is senseless because that goes nowhere fast. This method may predate the Gregorian calendar (1582) which is calculated at 12 months alternating between 30 and 31 days with one 28-day month totaling 365 days. It has to be corrected every four years to put it back on track.

Anyway, I saw a 2014 calendar that incorporated both the traditional and Gregorian methods. It also promotes traditional ethical wisdom. Such a calendar can help to bring that immersion environment out of the segregated classroom out into the entire school. Wall posters defining this traditional time tracking method are available. Also, Lakota times of the day and cycles of the moon can be class projects.

Historically, books by native authors have always been lacking in our government school libraries. Today, there is an abundance of culturally-relevant age-appropriate works. A school committee for the purpose of evaluating library books for relevancy and stereotyping has great benefits. Lastly, such books must be a part of the main library as opposed to isolating them in the “language room.”

Although parental involvement has been lacking in our schools, meaningful involvement can be achieved by inspiring parents to read these books to their children in the evening at home. Modern scientists have recently discovered that the human brain is most receptive just prior to going to sleep. Our ancestors have always told their ohunkankan (old stories w/ moral teachings) in the evening.

The popular belief that “Indians” contributed nothing to society is worth looking into. Everyone, whites and Lakota, stand to benefit from the fact that our greatest contribution to the world is democracy. Annual employee training on stereotyping could eventually contribute to boosting the self-esteem of our students. Stereotyping is a great detriment to modern society.

Developing lesson plans for “Indian” videos can enhance learning as opposed to simply using them to occupy the student’s time and giving teachers a break. It is untested but these and other activities deal with reality and the truth, as opposed to fallacy and deceit. Please let’s end the cultural oppression of our children.

(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764, (605) 867-2448, mato_nasula2@outlook.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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