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Students earn credit for American Indian language classes

The Stroud and Shawnee school districts are offering students a chance to learn Sauk, the language once native to the Sac and Fox tribe, and one called endangered by linguists.
BY HENRY DOLIVE Modified: December 25, 2013 at 11:00 pm •  Published: December 24, 2013

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.

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