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Students Learn Lakota At USD

January 24, 2014, 10:15 PM by Stephanie Gregory

Students Learn Lakota At USD

There are approximately 6,000 fluent Lakota language speakers worldwide, that is according to The University of California. The average age of a fluent Lakota language speaker is now 65 years old, but that's not true in one University of South Dakota classroom.

Armik Mirzayan is the Lakota language instructor at USD. It's his third year on the job. With every class he teaches, he hopes to bring the Lakota language back mainstream.

"I'm kind of involved with this whole project of trying to help as much as I can, as much as possible as a linguist, to bring the language into a more vital state where it is used more and spoken more," Mirzayan said. 

Mirzayan says students are signing up for the classes because they are interested in the Native American culture.

"They want to learn the language, they want to pass it on to their children, they want it to live again. It's a small part of the effort to keep the language going and hopefully make it strong again," Mirzayan said.

Jackie Hendry is double majoring in journalism and native studies.  She came to USD from Illinois, specifically for the Lakota language and native studies program.

"It's been so different than what I expected. It's a lot more challenging than what I even thought of, but it has been so rewarding," Hendry said.

Hendry was exposed to the Lakota culture on a family vacation to South Dakota when she was younger.

"I think largely it is something we hear so little about and it is such an enormous part of our countries history so why is that? Why don't we talk about this?" Hendry said.

Mirzayan says Hendry is just one example of students who want to help bring the language back.

"I was just skimming though it and at the bottom was Lakota and I'm like, "Wow, that's really cool. Where else are you going to find that." I [wanted to be] signed up. I wanted to hear more about this," freshman Levi Gutz said.

"We have students from all over interested in the Lakota language and I think that will make a big different for the revitalization of the Lakota language," Mirzayan said.

Non-traditional students are also signing up for the classes, including Mike McFarland.

"To me it's just a responsibility of people here, especially in South Dakota. 10 percent of our population is native," McFarland said.

McFarland wants to take what he learns at USD and share that knowledge with others.

"My intent is to go on and teach and do something with what I've learn," McFarland said.

The students who take these classes say the state is immersed in the culture, which helps them learn even more about the Lakota language.

"I'm from South Dakota so it's really a part of my history as a South Dakotan so I like learning about the history of the Native Americans and I find it great that we have it here at USD," senior Alyssa LaFramboise said.

That kind of excitement gives Mirzayan hope for the future of the Lakota language.

The Lakota language classes are not only offered at USD. Students at SDSU also take the same classes through video conference calls.

For more information on the native studies, click here.

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