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MP students learn Lakota at SBC

An opportunity to learn the Lakota language is now an offering for Mobridge-Pollock High School on the Mobridge campus of Sitting Bull College.
There are five MP students currently enrolled in the program, which is a cooperative effort between the two education institutions.
Jan Brockel, site coordinator for the Mobridge campus said the Lakota I class is good for a credit in world language for the students. The class is held on Tuesday evenings so the students are spending time outside of normal school hours to take the course. Because the class is a distance learning course, it is not a course accepted by the South Dakota Department of Education as a college credit course. The high school students must pay for the course or get funding through the tribe to take the course. Sunshine Carlow teaches the class.
Lakota I is also a required course for some degrees at SBC, but for some students, once they were embroiled in the class, it took on new meaning.
Christine Turgeon of Mobridge is working on her nursing degree at SBC. She was a bit intimidated at first, but now is fully embracing what she is learning.
“It is actually really fun,” she said. “We are learning the history and the culture as well as the language.”
She said learning why Native Americans refer to others (who are not related by blood) as cousins, aunties and grandmas was a revelation for her. Cousin was used to welcome people into the camps, and auntie is a woman who may not be related, but is older than the person using the reference. When using grandma, it is a sign of respect for an elder woman.
“It was very interesting to learn and understand about my friends who have brothers and sisters who are not blood-related,” said Turgeon.
She said Carlow makes the class fun and explains everything. Although it started out as a requirement for her degree, Turgeon said she is excited to become fluent in the language as it will help her in her new career.
“Not only will it help me communicate with patients, but by learning the culture I will understand more about the people I serve,” she said.
Elijah Black Fox of Mobridge is experiencing the class with two of his children. They are part of the student contingent from MPHS.
“I want to learn more about the culture and the language,” he said. “I understand some of it because my grandmother was fluent and used to speak Lakota to her friends.”
He said listening to his grandmother has helped him with pronunciation and understanding the how words are put together.
Knowing the what, why and how to put words together to create sentences are three major components to the Lakota language. He said the most difficult part of learning the language is putting words together to create sentences, because some of the words of the language are backwards.
For instance, the word horse is made up of two words, sunka, which means dog and wakan, which means holy. Because of the nature of the language, horse is sunkawakan, but the translation is holy dog.
Black Fox said taking the course at the same time as his children allows them to work together on homework and understanding the language. He wanted to acknowledge that Carlow make learning the language easier because she is a great teacher.
Black Fox plans on taking more courses in Lakota as he want to be able to speak fluently to the elders and to help “keep the language alive” for future generations. He is teaching his five-year-old daughter how to count to five in Lakota.
It is the hope of both the administration of SBC and the MP School District to continue working on this joint effort to get more students involved. Brockel emphasized that the class is not just for Native Americans students, but like all classes at SBC, is open to anyone.
– Katie Zerr –