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Program at tribal college teaches Lakota language

In this Nov. 4 photograph, Tom Red Bird, a fluent Lakota speaker, spends his day in a Lakota immersion classroom helping children like Lily Condon with language and projects in Fort Yates, N.D. (AP file photo)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- Tom Red Bird is 61 years old and he eats macaroni and cheese with Elmer's Glue on his fingers, just like a 3-year-old.

Red Bird is one of the remaining people in the world who can speak Lakota, an indigenous language spoken by Hunkpapa Sioux since time unknown. He spends his days in a large airy room with green plants in the windows among 10 boys and girls, speaking to them only in the ancient language of their ancestors.

Outside the classroom door is a sign with the word "English" stamped out in a red circle.

Other than the English they jabber among themselves, these little ones hear and speak Lakota with Red Bird and the three instructional aides in the room.

Red Bird speaks it fast and fluently since his own childhood on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The aides speak it slowly. They, too, are learning as they go.

The children speak it enthusiastically, aided with flash cards or art projects made with glue and cotton balls to learn words for rain and lightning. Their success wrapping their tongues around these new words is applauded and happiness shows on their faces when they get it right

It is an experimental program at Sitting Bull Community College in the Kids Kampus building on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.