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DSU to partner with native language institute

November 19, 2018

Tammy DeCoteau didn’t expect to connect with Dakota State University when she googled “animations in South Dakota,” but the global search engine led her to the university instead of a company.

“It was my lucky day,” said DeCoteau, director of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Dakotah Language Institute (SWODLI) in Agency Village, S.D., because a partnership is now developing that will help both the organization and the university’s students.

There are only a few hundred first-language speakers among the 13,000 members of the Dakota (formerly Sioux) tribe, so their native language is considered “endangered.” SWODLI provides language learning materials to families, schools, and the community to keep their language alive. DeCoteau is hoping that videos to be created by DSU students will help their efforts.

José-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University, pointed out the importance of preserving languages.

“The world’s languages and cultures provide a richness to our communities, whether it be on our campus, our state, or our nation. Dakota State University is honored to partner with the institute to revitalize and preserve the Dakotah language.”

The first step in the partnership has been to create a memorandum of understanding, an MOU, between the two entities. The next step is to apply for funding from the Kellogg Foundation, DeCoteau said. She is also investigating other potential funding sources.

Ryan English, the assistant professor of digital arts and design who took DeCoteau’s initial call, said digital art and design students are already working on some projects as examples for SWODLI. Once funding is established, the final projects to be created will be 23-minute videos, using two- and three-dimensional art, along with audio.

English said the DSU students hope to visit with Dakota tribe members, such as tribal elders, who will provide content. They may also use the speakers’ stories for voice-overs, he added. The videos will be shown on the local public access station, and possibly shared with other Dakota tribes.

The projects will provide a professional, realistic experience for students, English said, who will create the stories and visions as they meet the needs and desires of the client. “This will teach our students to be adaptive,” he stated.

In addition, “these oral traditions are like the Dakotah stories which have been passed down through the years,” English said. These multi-digital art projects will be “a great opportunity for DSU students to work on something that will have cultural and artistic significance.”