“It’s official.”

With the cutting of a red ribbon Monday afternoon (July 30), the Cansayapi Wakanyeza Owayawa Oti, Lower Sioux Dakota Immersion Early Head Start and Head Start, program officially opened.

“This is so exciting,” said Vanessa Goodthunder, who is serving as director for the Lower Sioux education program.

The mission of the school is to “raise the next generation of Dakota language speakers and to promote school readiness by enhancing the social emotional and cognitive development of the most at-risk children and families.”

Goodthunder and the rest of the staff gathered with the Lower Sioux community and the Redwood area this past Monday to celebrate the opening of the school.

“I am really excited to be here today,” said Grace Goldtooth of the Lower Sioux tribal council. “This was not done by just a couple of people. It has been a movement within the community.” 

There are less than five first language Dakota speakers left in Minnesota, and recognizing that fact, the Lower Sioux tribal council in 2012 adopted a resolution committing to doing what it could to help revitalize the language.

“A lot of hard work, patience and prayer went into this,” said Goldtooth.

The demand for the program exists, as survey after survey conducted in the community indicated the majority of the people at Lower Sioux were interested in learning more about the Dakota language and culture, and many were committed to sending their children to a program where that would be taught about being Dakota.

“What you see here today is a direct response to the community,” said Goldtooth.

According to Goodthunder, the Lower Sioux community received a $1.9 million grant to launch a Dakota Immersion Early Head Start program in September 2017, with an addition $90,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to launch a Dakota Immersion preschool.

Earlier this month funds were received from the state to offer a Head Start preschool program. The school officially opened July 30, and the first day of class was Aug. 1.

The Dakota language and life ways drive the learning environment, with members of the staff, educators, children and parents all learning the language together and learning to raise the area’s next generation.

The program has the capacity to work with 74 students, ages birth to five years of age.

According to the Office of Head Start, “Language and culture tell children where they come from and who they are. Because birth to five is the time of developing an identity and a sense of self it is essential that American Indian Head Start programs give children positive, rich, comprehensive and affirming educational experiences grounded in the unique culture and language of the children.”

According to Goodthunder, the goal of the program is for full immersion in five years, to raise the next generation of Dakota language speakers, raise healthy children to make a healthy community impact and to become a repository for Dakota language learners by creating language resources for all to learn and speak.

While located at Lower Sioux, Goodthunder said the program is open to everyone.

“Our compassion, our ways and our love for children, that’s what keeps us strong,” said Goodthunder.

To learn more contact Goodthunder at 507-697-8254.