SWC Initiates Language Immersion for Youngsters

May 15th, 2004 | By | Category: 15-4: Ancient Cultures Modern Technology, Tribal College News

Children will help the rest of their community to revitalize the Dakota language as Sisseton Wahpeton College (SWC, Sisseton, SD) develops its Dakota Language Immersion Project. The tribal college, in collaboration with the Association on American Indian Affairs, has initiated the project at the Siceca (Children’s Learning) Center on the SWC campus.

Dakota elders visit the early childhood education center throughout the week. While they are there, only Dakota is spoken, with the children absorbing Dakota words along with the Siceca staff. Elder visits involve both a man and a woman, which enables the children to learn Dakota correctly based on their gender.

Research has found that language revitalization projects in Indian Country have always been most successful when they involve language immersion starting at a very young age. The Siceca Learning Center currently provides care for 30 children, with plans to expand to as many as 60.  The college plans to eventually have a “language nest,” with only Dakota spoken. As the children learn Dakota, they will serve as conduits to the rest of the community, helping their parents and others learn and become fluent as well.

Language is a high priority of the tribal college president, Dr. William Harjo LoneFight, who himself speaks several Native languages. The League for Innovation in the Community College and Capella University recently recognized LoneFight’s work in Native education.

He was selected from a field of more than 70 competitive applicants demonstrating innovative accomplishments in higher education to receive a full Ph.D. scholarship for one of Capella University’s accredited online Ph.D. programs. This scholarship allows him to increase his capacity to serve the tribal community while continuing his leadership role at the college.

He earned his first Ph.D. in cultural resource management from the Kialagee Tribal Program and also is completing a doctorate in educational anthropology from Stanford University.

He authored a teaching tool to help social workers develop culturally empowering approaches to substance abuse prevention. He also developed a theory of culturally effective systemic reform in math, science, and technology to capitalize on students’ cultural backgrounds and enhance their learning process.

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