A new school — Wakanyeja Tokeyahci Wounspe Tipi (WT), or Children First Learning Center — opened its doors virtually last week to students on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
The school is a privately operated Lakota language immersion school with a mission to “create a better world for future generations” through its classes on Lakota language fluency, academic preparedness, holistic health and grounding in Lakota identity.
A recent Sicangu nationwide survey found only 500 fluent Lakota speakers lived on the Rosebud reservation, with the majority over 65 and none under 18, said Wizipan Little Elk, director of the Sicangu Community Development Corporation (CDC).
“Lakota language is at a crisis point here in Rosebud,” Little Elk said. “Rather than sit and do nothing, we are acting in order to save the language.”
WT grounds its education in Lakota values, culture and worldview. The school is located on the ancestral homelands of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate, part of the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation).
Students like four-year-old Carlos Iron Eagle Feather are part of the initial cohort of 10 kindergarten students who have attended virtual class since last week. He said he’s excited to go to school “because I want to learn Lakota and other things.”
“As Lakota, we believe that our children are sacred,” said Sage Fast Dog, director of the school. “The word for sacred (wakan) is actually the root word for child or children (wakanyeja). When we think about ways to create change, it always comes back to our youth.”
The school will also use a balance of individualized student-led learning and a project-based curriculum geared towards developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, Fast Dog said.
The Sicangu CDC held a socially-distant ceremonial prayer, blessing and opening remarks prior to the first day of class to commemorate the new school.