STROUD — Emily Nanaeto, Christian Wright and 14 of their Stroud High School classmates begin their school day talking about everyday things — not in English, but in Sauk, the language once native to the Sac and Fox tribe.
The introductory Sauk class is being taught this semester at Stroud and Shawnee high schools in cooperation with the Sac and Fox Nation's Sauk Language Department.
The class is offered at Stroud High School for the first time this year and will continue in the spring semester, said Terrie Kinsey, Sauk Language Department coordinator for the Sac and Fox Nation. The class was launched last year at Shawnee High School.
Oklahoma's American Indian tribes and the state Education Department are striving to keep native languages from becoming extinct.
“It's a dying language,” said Scott Baade, Stroud High School principal. “If something is not done it will be gone.”
Katie Grant, a Sac and Fox Nation employee who is certified by the state Education Department as a Sauk instructor, said her goal for her Stroud students is for them to understand basic questions and to carry on a conversation in Sauk. Sixteen students were enrolled in the first-semester class, and most will continue in the spring.
“I want my students to focus more on words and speaking than to memorize patterns or grammar of the language,” Grant said.
Sauk is a relatively slow language, she said, and “has a rhythm to it.”
“It's very complex, and focuses mostly on verbs,” she said. Several syllables from different words would be combined to form a new word, Grant said. The language is difficult at first for students to grasp, even those who have been exposed to it in family life.
“You have to kind of get the mouth for it. It's very different from English.”
Nanaeto, 14, is a sophomore and is Grant's cousin. She is a member of the Sac and Fox nation and has grown up hearing Sauk, but wasn't able to speak it fluently.
“I wanted to know more about how to speak it and to feel more comfortable with it,” she said. She has younger sisters at home and wants to help familiarize them with the language.
Christian, 17, is a senior and said he hopes greater familiarity with spoken Sauk will help him after graduation, both in obtaining a scholarship and in relations with the Sac and Fox Nation. He plans to attend Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., and wants to be a physician or physician's assistant.
Christian said he has learned how to say the names of colors, animals, types of food and utensils, and to speak in complete sentences.
Kinsey said the tribe hopes to instill pride in preserving the language and hopes the students will be able to teach the language to future generations.
“As of today, there are only three fluent Sauk speakers, and all are over the age of 75,” Kinsey said.
Sauk is among the American Indian languages that are considered endangered, said Desa Dawson, director of World Language Education for the state Education Department.
“Many of the tribes have worked diligently to preserve and revitalize their languages. We are trying to support that effort,” Dawson said.
Kinsey said Grant and Mosiah Bluecloud, the Sauk instructor at Shawnee High School this semester, have completed more than 1,280 hours in Sauk language acquisition. They also completed more than 1,500 hours in curriculum development, classroom management and other teaching skills to acquire certification to teach the language.
Kinsey said the Sac and Fox Nation created its language department in 2005. The program has been developed under the guidance of Department Director Jacob Manatowa-Bailey, the remaining Sauk speakers and the Sac and Fox Nation Business Committee.
Grant, 22, said the teaching experience has been rewarding.
“Luckily for me, the students have been very cooperative and understand that not only are they learning from me but I am learning from them.
“All of my students are doing great; they are learning faster than I expected.”