On Cheyenne River, elders and youth revitalize the Lakota language through children’s books

Running Strong for American Indian Youth® began our partnership with The Keya Foundation in 2016 with the selection of Annie Chasing Hawk as a Year 2 Dreamstarter and The Keya Foundation has her mentor organization.

Since that time, we have built a strong relationship, due in large part to Annie, a volunteer staff assistant for The Keya Foundation, who is continuing to pursue her dream through the foundation’s Lakota Youth Artistry Cooperative which she created.

“Teaming up with The Keya Foundation and their work with Lakota artists, I hope to bring it to the talented youth artists of Cheyenne River to help them get their start earlier in more hope for success for their futures,” Annie told us in her Dreamstarter application.

The mission of The Keya Foundation is to build organizational partnerships in underserved communities to provide knowledge, cultural renewal and social health to individuals and families, which will ensure a future of endurance, longevity and protection for people of the community.

The foundation accomplishes this mission by educating, training, hands-on learning, and developing programs that can be replicated by communities facing similar problems.

For 2019, Running Strong is supporting The Keya Foundation’s Lakota Language Children’s Book project which will consist of at least eight children’s books with stories told by Lakota elders on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

“The project will increase and help distribute the knowledge of the elders and the Lakota language through children’s books,” says Justine Kougl, director of The Keya Foundation.

“The entire community will be served through the knowledge passed on throughout the project,” she said. “This type of intergenerational programming is necessary in order to preserve the history and culture of the Native American people. The focus will be on youth learning the cultural history and taking ownership in the illustration and creation of the books that will preserve their own history.”

In the initial discussions with local elders, educators and youth, it was stressed how important it will be to reach out to all generations for teaching, but to focus on the youth and family experience as that is the way of the ancestors.

The Cheyenne River schools will be the center of project providing a safe, culturally rich environment to develop these books which will on to generation after generation.

The middle school and high school art class students will meet with Lakota elders who will teach them about the history of the Lakota people and tell a Lakota story to the youth.

The oral history will be recorded, videotaped if allowed, and transcribed by the Keya Foundation. It will then be broken out into pages for a children’s book at the 3rd-4th grade reading level.

English words will be translated into the Lakota language to support the Lakota language revitalization on Cheyenne River. The Keya Foundation will work closely with the elders and Lakota language classes at the Oglala Lakota College to preserve the sanctity of the language.

The two arts classes will then work through several class periods to illustrate the pages – est. 15-20 illustrations per book.

Each illustrated page will feature the youth artist’s picture, age and name. Each book will pay tribute to the Lakota elder who provided the historical story, and include a tribute page to those who have helped fund and organize the project. It will also include a summarized translation page with pronunciations of the Lakota words.

“The Keya Foundation is embracing the momentum from the Dreamstarter project which created the initial format and book,” said Justine. “Watching the young artists interact with elders outside their own tiyóspaye (family) is truly rewarding and opens up doors to new relationships for learning.

“The youth have ownership in their histories and these books are going to be around for generations to come. This has created a sense of importance, value and strength or each child involved.

“The Keya Foundation wants to be the inspiration for every elder of every tribe to band together with their youth, school, and communities’ members to put their histories into Native American children’s books for every person to learn from.

“It is the hope of this project to blend both the written and oral histories together and have them available through a central location (hopefully through Running Strong) in order for adults and youth alike to learn more of their language and culture.

“This project will be a combination of tribal, school, elders group and other community members coming together to teach every person the history of Native American historical culture,” said Justine.

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