Teaching the Lakota language to the Lakota

PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION, S.D. — Dodge tumbleweeds and stray dogs. Venture down a deeply rutted dirt road. Walk into the warmth of a home heated by a wood-burning stove. There’ll be a deer roast marinating on the kitchen counter.

It is here, in a snug home that sits on the edge of nearly 3 million acres of South Dakota prairie, that you’ll find the heart of a culture. It’s here, at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where Joe Giago and Randi Boucher Giago make dinner for their two young daughters. The smaller one squirms and is gently admonished: “Ayustan,” she is told — leave it alone.

It’s here where the Lakota language is spoken, taught and absorbed in day-to-day life.

That makes the Giago home a rare find. According to the UCLA Language Materials Project, only 6,000 fluent speakers of the Lakota language remain in the world, and few of those are under the age of 65. Of the nearly 30,000 people who live on Pine Ridge, between 5 and 10 percent speak Lakota.

For the past four decades, the race to save the language has started and stuttered, taken on by well-meaning individuals and organizations whose efforts were often snuffed out by lack of funding, community support or organizational issues.

Read more: Al Jazeera America

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