Pathways: Dakota/Lakota Youth Camps Keep Tradition Alive

Preserving Dakota Pathways supported traditional Sundance ceremonies (of which photos are not allowed). However, at the Greenwood Powwow, folks were able to witness a wakanijan (sacred little one) learn the “sneak up dance” from adult traditional dancers.

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded the Dakota Indian Foundation (DIF) a $20,000 grant in 2013 through First Nations’ Native Youth and Culture Fund to support DIF’s program called “Preserving Dakota Pathways.”  Over the past 40 years, DIF has funded numerous cultural preservation and social enhancement projects. DIF, a nonprofit organization in Chamberlain, South Dakota, began in 1971.  It supports individuals, groups and organizations dedicated to preserving Dakota culture and language.

Jerome Kills Small, a Hunkpapa elder, is a storyteller at the horse camp sponsored by the Native American Advocacy Program in south-central South Dakota. Kids are able to sleep in tipis, canoe on Ponca Creek, practice archery and crafts and pick medicinal plants.

Last summer, DIF used its First Nations grant to purchase supplies and materials for several different “culture camps” across South Dakota. More than 100 Dakota and Lakota youth participated in the camps, which focused on various cultural practices, traditions and values such as archery, agriculture, equine skills, leadership and a female rite-of-passage ceremony. In many cases, tribal elders and youth interact significantly, which builds strong inter-generational bridges.

John Beheler, DIF Executive Director

“Traditionally, elders were always recognized as the seat of wisdom.  Our ancestors always turned to the headmen of the tiospaye for sage advice or direction for the tribe,” said John Beheler, DIF executive director.  “Unfortunately, our priorities today have shifted and we see too many youth who will forget to shake an elder’s hand.  Our grant allowed us to empower elders who found a voice in the 16-minute video “Preserving Dakota Pathways,” which can be viewed on our website at”

DIF purchased seeds for high school students on the Lower Brule Indian Reservation. At camp, these students learned traditional harvesting and planting techniques. The fruits and vegetables harvested were later used to cook traditional meals that were served at the annual Lower Brule Powwow and Fair.

Flossy Drappeau is an Ihanktonwan (Yankton Sioux) elder who preserves the cultural arts through her quilt-making, and shares her knowledge with the youngsters.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe also received funding through DIF’s grantmaking program to support a summer equine camp. The purpose of this camp was to help youth understand the important role horses play in Lakota culture.  At camp, Lakota youth learned equine life skills and safety.

Further, DIF helped purchase supplies and materials for a summer camp for Dakota girls on the Yankton Indian Reservation. Specifically, these items were used to help revive the Isnati “Coming-of-Age” Ceremony. During the ceremony, female elders imparted traditional teachings to female youth.  (For more on the Isnati, see the National Public Radio article here: )

The 2013 Dakota 38+2 Wokiksuye Ride

In addition to supporting these summer camps for tribal youth, DIF also used a portion of its First Nations grant to fund several powwows, including a special powwow for high school graduates and Sundance ceremonies in Fort Thompson and Martin, South Dakota. Also, a portion of these funds were donated to Dakota 38+2 Wokiksuye Ride to support its annual horseback trek to honor the 38 men hanged in Minnesota in 1862. The horseback ride, which included youth from several different South Dakota tribes, is a reflection of traditional Dakota healing practices.  The group traveled by horseback more than 300 miles from Crow Creek, S.D., to Mankato, Minnesota, in December 2013.

Preserving Dakota Pathways is an innovative program that allows DIF to reach a number of different Lakota and Dakota tribes across South Dakota. This grantmaking program is unique because it allows each tribe to tailor their summer camp to the specific needs of their youth and their communities.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator

Cochiti Parents Follow Children’s Footsteps in Speaking Keres

Children prepare to practice the Buffalo Dance

The Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC) is a nonprofit educational organization that supports children and families of the Pueblo de Cochiti reservation in New Mexico in maintaining, strengthening and revitalizing their heritage language of Keres.  KCLC provides a culturally and linguistically rich learning environment for children ages three to six. The center uses the Cochiti Keres language for daily instruction across all areas of learning.

One of the parents' language sessions

In 2012, First Nations Development Institute awarded $14,875 to KCLC to launch a two-year language program for parents. KCLC strongly believes that parents and families play a critical role in Keres language acquisition and retention. This new program is intended to help support language acquisition at home as well as school through genuine interaction.

Mililani with her mother and grandfather

Over the past 40 years, the Keres language has diminished significantly among the citizens of Cochiti Pueblo. According to one parent, she enrolled in the parent program because she stopped speaking Keres at age seven when she began speaking English. This weekly program has helped strengthen and improve her speaking skills so that she and her seven-year-old can now speak the Keres language on a daily basis.

Essentially, parents learn the same weekly language lessons that their children learn at school. They also learn practical language skills needed for daily routines such as playing, dressing, making tortillas, etc.  The goal of this program is to encourage parents and children to use the Keres language in a natural setting.

Alice and Owa, wearing his buffalo hood

Parents and children also learn language skills and proper etiquette that will allow them to participate in traditional Cochiti celebrations and ceremonies such as Cochiti Feast Day and All Souls Day. Parents and children practice these skills in an informal setting with KCLC teachers and mentors before attending actual events.
For example, parents and children recently prepared for the buffalo dance. They learned songs, prayers and dances in class before participating in the actual dance where boys dress as buffalos and girls dress as maidens.  These activities are intended to instill a sense of pride and self-knowledge that can be passed from generation to generation.

This grant has also been used to make CD recordings of traditional stories such as “Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun,” so that families can listen and practice these stories at home.  Additionally, these funds have been used to host picnics, hikes and other field trips.  Most recently, parents and children have started to plant a community garden to learn words associated with food and agriculture.

Many Native American languages are rapidly becoming extinct. This innovative project demonstrates that both parent and youth language-immersion programs have the potential to reverse this trend by revitalizing these languages and increasing cultural pride.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator

Project Reconnects Hopi Youth, Elders, Language & Traditions

Kaya and Hospomana making piki

In northeastern Arizona, Mesa Media, Inc. works hard to revitalize the Hopi language by distributing Hopi language learning materials – created by Hopi people, for Hopi people, in Hopi communities.

With a $20,000 grant from First Nations Development Institute’s 2012-2013 Native Youth and Culture Fund application cycle, as well as with funds leveraged from other sources, Mesa Media held several youth-based trainings and workshops and worked to create a set of conversational Hopi audio CDs and workbooks based on first-hand agricultural knowledge from Hopi elders.

From July 2012 through March 2013, Mesa Media held three language classes for more than 100 community members (mostly youth) from all 13 Hopi communities and three surrounding towns. During the classes, instructors used hands-on activities to introduce the youth to a variety of subjects, from improving vocabulary to aspects of Hopi foods and agriculture.  In addition, each participant received a complete set of Mesa Media’s Hopi language CDs, DVDs and books to use at home and to share with their families.

Traditional foods workshop

During the course of the grant, Mesa Media also offered a series of five hands-on workshops for Hopi girls to learn about traditional food preparation. The workshops were primarily held in the Hopi language and taught many traditional skills, including how to make piki (a thin bread made of corn). With the aid of instructors, the girls made the piki batter, built the fire and prepared piki using the ancient technology of spreading batter to just the right thickness on hot piki stones.

As a result of the workshops, Mesa Media has recorded a Hopi language CD that teaches about piki making. On the CD, one of the youth participants uses her new Hopi language and food-preparation skills to escort the audience through many of the steps in the process to make piki.

“In order for our youth to establish a sense of place in the world, they must first know who they are and where they come from. They must have a sense of their history and why their ancestors chose to live the way they did. Sometimes these things take a lifetime to explore and the elders are instrumental for passing on this knowledge,” Mesa Media noted in a report to First Nations. “With the introduction of modern schools and wage labor, Hopi youth no longer spend extended periods with their elders. Projects like this one help to re-establish the connection between youth and elders by engaging them in cultural activities and encouraging them to speak their language. From here, Hopi youth will gain the confidence to build their skills, seek an education and share with the world the teachings of their ancestors.”

Caden shows his effort at a workshop

At First Nations Development Institute, we know that our Native youth represent the future success and well-being of our people and our communities. The Native Youth and Culture Fund makes grants annually to support Native youth and culture programs throughout Native American communities in the U.S. The fund is supported by the Kalliopeia Foundation, along with contributions from other foundation, tribal, corporate and individual supporters.