Ryan Dixon believes he is fighting a war of attrition.
Slowly and deliberately over generations the Dakota culture was nearly wiped from existence, and with it the language those people spoke. Now, slowly and gradually, Dixon is bringing what he called new soldiers to the fight to revive that way of life.
One school year ago Dixon began teaching a Dakota language class for local students, and during the current school year that program expanded. Now Dixon, with assistance from Vanessa Goodthunder, is teaching Dakota language classes for beginning students at Redwood Valley High School and Cedar Mountain High School.
A second level course is also being offered for students at RVHS.
Those students involved in the language class were able to demonstrate what they have been learning in the first Dakota Iapi Language Bowl, which was held April 16 in the PAC at Redwood Valley schools.
In the end, one of the teams from Redwood Valley was named the champion and will hold the championship belt for the year.
During that competition, students were required to do everything from conjugating verbs to using common Dakota words in a sentence. Many of the students on the PAC stage that morning have competed in language bowl contests in the past, and, for Dixon, this becomes just one more way for the students to hone their skills as Dakota speakers.
Dixon said as a language teacher he has taken a different approach to how he presents to his students, as they are focused much more on speaking the language as opposed to reading and writing it. Dixon said the statistics he has seen demonstrate that those who focus on learning to speak a language are far more successful as they communicate it.
According to Dixon, there are few people who are able to speak Dakota, but through the classes he and Goodthunder are teaching that population is going to increase.
In addition the Lower Sioux Community is also focusing its Head Start program and early childhood education on teaching the language with the ultimate goal for a new generation of Dakota able to fluently speak the language of their people.
Next year Dixon is planning to offer an even more advanced class, adding it is his hope that some of the students also advance enough to teach what they learn to others.