One critical best practice for endangered language revitalization is effective teacher training. Over the past several years, the Language Conservancy and its partner organizations have established robust summer institutes to bring indigenous language teachers the best skills available today for second-language and immersion language education.
The Lakota Summer Institute (LSI) is now in its 8th year, enjoying the enthusiastic support of its location host, Sitting Bull College, its primary sponsor, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and its founding partner, the Lakota Language Consortium. LSI opened in 2006 with just 18 participants taking one course, “Fundamentals of Instructional Lakota,” over three weeks. Attendance has surged every year, and in 2013 it topped 100 for the the first time. LSI now offers five classes in the morning and five in the afternoon, plus an evening language study course for families and non-teachers. Immersion teaching has become an important subject, and teachers have come from other states, and other tribes such as Mohawk, Hawaiian Native and New Zealand Maori to enrich the LSI experience.
The Crow Summer Institute opened in June 2013 as the Crow Nation initiated its own coordinated, long-term language revitalization program in partnership with the Language Conservancy. Crow teachers spent a week getting trained in how to teach their new curriculum’s Level 1 textbook. In 2014 CSI will run two weeks, and in 2015 the event will move from Sitting Bull College to its permanent home at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, MT. Like LSI and Sitting Bull, CSI and Little Big Horn will offer participants college credit for their coursework.
This summer will be the inaugural year for the MHA Summer Institute – also getting its start at Sitting Bull College — launching coordinated revitalization work for three languages: Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. These are the languages of the MHA Nation in Fort Berthold, ND. MHA teachers will get Level 1 textbooks, teaching-method training and courses in Phonology for each language. In 2015 the MHASI will move to Fort Berthold Community College.
The Language Conservancy is very proud of all the indigenous language teachers who have stepped up to the study challenges at these institutes. From the first Lakota Summer Institute in 2006, it was clear that the best result of creating such an event is the emergence of community bonds between teachers — a support network of people who understand what it is to be an indigenous language teacher: the battles and the celebrations. In 2013 the Lakota language teachers of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe took the next step and created the Lakȟól’iya Waúŋspewičhakhiyapi Okȟólakičhiye (LWO) — the Lakota Language Teachers Association, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization.
But let’s not forget all of the other indigenous language institutes out there! These are community hubs for saving and reviving endangered languages, and anchors for the teachers’ constant development.