Cultural Survival and Sac and Fax Language Department Revitalize Sauk Language

Until a few years ago, only a few members of the Sac and Fox Tribe in Oklahoma could speak the Tribe’s native language, Sauk, fluently, and all of these people were older than 70 years of age. Although the Tribe had offered language classes and produced language materials for the past 30 years, the Sauk language continued to disappear.

In 2009, the Sauk Language Department of the Sac and Fox Tribe teamed up with Cultural Survival, Inc., a non-profit that works to preserve Native languages, to implement a project the Tribe’s language department designed, called “Thakiwaki peminamoka enatoweyakwi: Making a Home for Our Language,” with the support of a three-year Native Languages Preservation and Maintenance grant from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA).

The two organizations determined that the best way to bridge the language gap between generations was through team-based, master-apprentice (M-A) methodology. This approach connected master speakers with language learners (apprentices) in a small group immersion setting for 20 hours per week in order to develop the apprentices’ fluency and train them to teach Sauk to future generations.

The program achieved several milestones:

  • Over the course of the project, apprentices received 1,052 hours of professional development in teaching methodology, technology, and linguistics
  • By the end of the three-year project in 2012, the program had provided nearly 3,000 hours of immersion instruction to the apprentices with the assistance of four Elders
  • Five young adults have gained fluency and have gone on to teach Sauk to Tribal and community members.
  • The apprentice speakers have taught community language classes, with a total attendance of 972 people over the three-year period.

In addition, the Tribe is piloting an elective Sauk I course at a local high school for 27 students, with a Sauk II course planned for the 2013-14 school year. The Tribe plans to begin a Sauk I elective course at a second high school for the fall of 2013. These high school courses are the foundation of a Sauk language teacher training strategy, whereby high school students will be recruited into a Native Languages college program developed by the Sauk Language Department and the American Indian Studies Program at Bacone College. The program will graduate Sauk language teachers, who will pass on the language to future generations.

When asked about the project’s effectiveness, one member of the language department staff said, “[The] proof is in the pudding.”

ANA promotes self-sufficiency for Native Americans by providing discretionary grant funding for community-based projects, and training and technical assistance to eligible tribes and native organizations. It believes language revitalization and continuation are two of the first steps taken in preserving and strengthening a community’s culture, and it provides funding opportunities to assess, plan, develop and implement projects to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of native languages.