Oglala daycare works to revitalize Lakota language

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It is a sound that has existed in the Black Hills for ages.
And in a small building on the Pine Ridge reservation, a diverse team is working together to prevent that sound from going silent.

It is believed to be the only Lakota Language Immersion Childcare in the entire state of South Dakota. We found it: "A Long the Way": in Oglala.

The sound of kids singing 'Heads and Shoulders Knees and Toes' in Lakota fills the air..

As heads and shoulders, knees and toes are vital to a body, so are words and language to a culture.

That's why just past the red school bell, inside these doors, English is not allowed.

Tamatane I'atala speaks a few words in Lakota. I asked him what he said and he told me, "Hi my name is Tama I live in Pine Ridge."

Tamatane I'atala is the Education Director here.

I'atala says, "So we do numbers, we do shapes, we do colors, we start with family member terms and just vocabulary, introductions, but everything is within the language, everything."

Gloria Warrior counts out load from 1 to 10 in Lakota.

She was born and raised here in Oglala.

Gloria Warrior says,"We hope to teach all the young little kids the Lakota language so they can carry it on as they grow older."

But as time has rolled on, here on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the sound of that language is fading.

Tamatane I'atala says,"There's roughly over 40 thousand tribal enrolled members. Of that, I'd say less than 10 percent are fluent speakers."

Gloria Warrior says, "All my life, ever since I was born, spoke Lakota since the day I was born"

Gloria was raised by her 2 grandmothers, who taught her the language.

Tamatane says, "The average age of that speaker is 68, so the language is in dire straits."

I'atala has 6 children with his Lakota wife Nakina. His 4 year old son is part of the daycare. And I'atala understands what it's like to lose a language.

I'atala says, "In my own upbringing, English isn't my 1st language. American Samoan is. I moved to the states when I was about 6 years old and I lost my language and that was something that I didn't want my children to experience ever so"

So, he's chosen to be part of the solution.

Before turning his focus to the daycare, he was a teacher at Red Cloud Indian School where he remains the Varsity Head Football Coach.
Clearly, he coaches differently at the daycare.

Peter Hill is a former Lakota Language teacher at Red Cloud. He's now the Language coordinator here. Hill founded this program in 2012 with only 5 kids including his daughter.

Peter Hill says,"There was and is a big hole in the local language revitalization movement. where there really wasn't anything for kids below school age."

The sound of the kids singing the "Hokey Pokey" song in Lakota fills the room.

I'atala says, "Lakota language resources are extremely limited, it was actually because of the limited, limitations within the resources that we decided to develop our own. So we started with children's books."

And they're making progress.

I'atala says, "We've got over 75 books that are translated, we have the 10 that are published and readily available, so our goal is to create 55 books by June."

But that's just one step toward reaching their final goal.

Warrior says, "My hope is that every generation gets to speak their Lakota language first and then the English which in some cases it's the other way around."

Because as heads and shoulders, knees and toes are vital to a body,
so are words and language to a culture.

And they're not stopping with a daycare.

Next year, there will be an immersion Kindergarten at Red Cloud, for the first graduates of the daycare.

As the kids move up, they'll add a full Lakota Immersion 1st through 4th grade as well.