The Lakota Language Project at Red Cloud Indian School

Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is a private K-12 institution with a total student population of approximately 550 students. The school has long had a commitment to strengthening Lakota identity and culture, and since 1969 has provided instruction in the Lakota language. However, because there was no standardized curriculum and classroom content was left up to individual instructors, student language acquisition was inconsistent and fell far short of fluency. To address those concerns, the school formed a partnership with the American Indian Studies Research Institute (AISRI) at Indiana University to develop the first comprehensive K-12 curriculum in the Lakota language. The curriculum was developed over a six-year period, with several grades piloting the materials each year and the curriculum subject to extensive revisions made by teachers and community members.

Since 2010, RMC Research has conducted an evaluation of the Lakota Language Project. Using both quantitative and qualitative measures, the evaluation sought to answer research questions about the curriculum’s impact on students’ cultural and tribal identity, academic engagement, and relationships with peers, family members, and teachers. Several key findings from the evaluation were that students perceived the language classes increased their interest in learning about Lakota history, culture, and spiritual practices and positively affected their relationships with family members and friends. Administrators strongly agreed that involvement in language classes had beneficial impacts on students’ behavior as well as academic engagement.