First Language Project

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2014 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund
Division of Indian Work
Start Date
January 2014
End Date
June 2015
Project Overview

-Increase knowledge for 69 American Indian youth ages 7-17 through practice of conversational Dakota
-Build the foundation for youth to grow to become fluent speakers
-Improve proficiency of Dakota language learners by the end of 12 months

About the Issue

Minnesota’s most enduring languages are in danger of disappearing. Without timely intervention,the use of Dakota and Ojibwe languages – like indigenous languages throughout the globe – will decline to a point beyond recovery.

These languages embody irreplaceable worldviews. They express, reflect, and maintain communal connections and ways of understanding the world. Deeper than the disuse of vocabulary or grammar, the loss of an indigenous language is destruction of a complex system for ordering the relationships among people and the natural world, for solving social problems, and connecting people to something beyond themselves.

 As languages are inherently inseparable from individual and communal identity, they are difficult to eradicate from a culture.  Severing the people from their lands, denying them sustenance, and forcing them into English-only boarding schools was not successful in destroying these languages.  For more than 100 years such assaults were aggressively pursued as the official policy of federal and state governments in the United States in attempt to eradicate the languages, and yet the languages of the Dakota and Ojibwe people survive.  The survival of Dakota and Ojibwe languages, however, remains threatened. Indigenous language revitalization now requires heroic measures in order for these languages to not only survive, but to thrive and to live on for future generations.

Project Details

The Division of Indian Work’s First Language Project will service youth who attend Minneapolis Public Schools. The goal of this grant is that American Indian youth, ages 7-17 will increase their knowledge and practice of conversational Dakota language. Additionally, the goal is that these students will continue to study the language after the grant cycle is over. Measurement of these goals will be determined through periodic testing of the Dakota language acquisition.

Legal Citation / Subdivision
M.L. 2013, Chp. 137, Art. 4, Sec. 2, Sub. 10 (b)
2014 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Number of full time equivalents funded
Measurable Outcome(s)

Assessment tools were developed to gauge Ojibwe language skills before the start of the winter quarter. Youth were placed into beginner or intermediate groups based on their Ojibwe language knowledge. The Ojibwe Language class schedule for both age groups for the 28 Ojibwe language sessions was planned for the remainder of the academic year. The First Language Project curriculum was developed, including power point presentations, visual and written handouts, and interactive games. An Attendance, Participation and Understanding tracking system was developed by the First Language Project Coordinator. The 7-12 yr old group attended 31 sessions during the academic school years and the teen group attended 28 sessions during the academic school year. Ojibwe lessons took place daily during ten weeks of two summer sessions. Forty-two youth ages 7-12 participated in summer programs. The First Language Project testing is broken up into three categories of scoring beginning is 13-19 points, intermediate is 20-43 points and dvanced is 44-77 points. Results from the school year: The Project Coordinator tried to start testing the youth close to the end of the school year in case some of the youth started dropping out. Eleven teens tested all togehter, their overall average test score was 42. Five teens tested in the advanced range, four teens tested in the intermediate range and two teens tested in the beginning stage. Twenty-six 7-12 year olds tested all together, their overall test score was 39. Ten 7-12 tested in the advanced range, eleven 7-12 tested in the intermediate range and three tested in the beginning range. Overall we thought these are great numbers, considering that we had a fair amouont of youth turnover resulting in new youth joining the program after the start. Results from the summer program: The second year students in the first summer session and both first and second year students inthe second summer session all had satisfactory evaluation scores. The scores for the second year students from the first session ranged from 34 as the lowest score, 47 the average score and 60 bieng the highest score out of a total of 77 points. The scores for the first year students from the second summer session ranged from 17 as the lowerst, 32 as the average score and 47 being the highest out of a total of 65 points. The scores for the second year students from the second summer session ranged from 38 as the lowest score, 50 as the average score and 61 being the highest score out of a total of 66 points.

Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
Division of Indian Work
Street Address
7509 1001 E. Lake Street
Zip Code
Administered By
Administered by

161 Saint Anthony Ave
Suite 919
St. Paul, MN 55103