Growing Lakȟótiyapi: How Food and Language Support Each Other

Planting season is upon us and here at Thunder Valley CDC the Food Sovereignty Initiative is busy prepping for the upcoming growing season. Classes are a major part of this process, creating hands-on opportunities for local community members to learn about cultivating their own foods. But for our Lakota Immersion Childcare Program, we want our littlest community members to learn about cultivating their own foods in their own language

After seeing success with the garden at our Lakota Language Initiative headquarters last year, we will again be planting a wide array of vegetables there in Oglala, in addition to our main gardens in Porcupine. During last harvest season, our immersion students had playful competitions seeing who could pick the most omníča tȟaŋkíŋkiŋyaŋ (green beans) and other vegetables. Through this process of experiential learning they gain new vocabulary, begin to understand where their vegetables come from, and taste fresh foods right from the earth. 

The garden will not only provide fresh foods during harvest season, but will also be preserved through canning, freezing and pureeing in order to create a food supply throughout the winter. Through just a single garden, the daycare is able to cut down on food costs while also providing fresh, healthy produce to their students. And this year the kids will also get to enjoy having nearly three dozen hens right outside the daycare, providing fresh eggs. While many of these wayáwa čík’ala (little learners) could learn any of these subjects in the classroom, the experience of seeing live chickens or picking vine-ripened tomatoes gives real-life examples of the interconnectedness of each component of our food system through the lens of the Lakota language and the worldview embedded within it. This hands-on approach also works well with adults, allowing for gardening to become a family activity. 

“Even in our classes to the general community we keep the curriculum at a 5th grade level because we really want people to feel like they can take anything they learn in class and use it at home with their families,” says Food Sovereignty Initiative Assistant, Ernest Weston. “Our Gardening 101 class alone had nearly thirty people attend, so that is helping the paradigm shift toward reconnecting with our food sources.”

The intergenerational approach is not only something that our Food Sovereignty Initiative has been utilizing. Parents and guardians of the Lakota Immersion Childcare students can also attend weekly Lakota classes every Monday night as part of our Second Language Learner Program (2LL) so that they are more equipped to speak to their children in Lakota at home. In indigenous communities across the world, revitalizing traditional foods and languages is consistently shown to improve the physical and mental health of indigenous youth. TVCDC’s Language and Food Initiatives continue to seek out best practices from other tribal nations, while also sharing what we are learning as we continue to see successes or encounter obstacles.

“As tribal communities we are all working to balance the demands of modern society while hanging on to our traditions,” says Ernest. “Ella Deloria has a quote, ‘I am not afraid, I have relatives,’ and I think that really applies to how we’re willing to share with each other and help each other learn.”

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