Clifford Canku will lead the Dakota courses at NDSU. He has taught at Sisseton-Wahpeton College in Agency Village, S.D., University of Minnesota-Morris and Southwestern State University in Marshall, Minn. He is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate.
Linguists worldwide are trying to save languages, and nowhere are they dying more quickly than in North America. With 25,000 speakers on 15 U.S. and Canadian reservations, Dakota is considered an "unsafe" language in terms of longevity.
"[Languages] are dying here," said Bruce Maylath, professor of English. "That's what we are trying to avoid happening to Dakota."
In an effort to help keep the language from becoming endangered further, NDSU has begun offering courses in Dakota Studies this year to complement the long-standing Native American programs in engineering and pharmacy.
Courses during the 2009-2010 academic year include Dakota language, tribal history, Dakota sociology and anthropology and Dakota religious studies. The classes are open to all students for credit.
The courses will be taught by assistant professor of practice, Clifford Canku (pronounced Changku), an experienced teacher of Dakota courses at Sisseton-Wahpeton College in Agency Village, S.D., University of Minnesota-Morris and Southwestern State University in Marshall, Minn. He is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. He has a bachelor's in sociology from University of Minnesota, Morris, and a master of divinity from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
"When we were first looking to recruit someone, it was just for Dakota language courses," said Maylath. "Then when we were referred to [Canku], we discovered a gold mine …. He's qualified to teach sociology, anthropology and religious studies. It's interesting how he compares Christianity and Dakota spirituality. He's grown up with both."
Canku sees himself as in the fifth stage of life – an educator who wants to give back to the people what he was given. He designs his own curriculum for Beginning Dakota Language I and Dakota Language II He wants young people to have opportunities and a strong foundation.
"NDSU is a strategic place for doing Native American studies," Canku said. "We want to establish a healthy presence for Native American students at NDSU so that NDSU can be a great asset to the surrounding tribes of Native Americans."
Canku will live on campus during the week through the Faculty-in-Residence program and will run study groups and culture sharing events for singing and dancing.
"Part of my job would be to coordinate events that are happening locally so students could feel home away from home, a sense of belonging," Canku said.
Canku is set to teach for one year, but hopes are to have him continue as long as he is able.
The Dakota courses are part of President Joseph Chapman's goal to reach out to tribal colleges in the state to set up articulation agreements so students can earn associates degrees at the tribal college and continue on toward four-year degrees at NDSU.
"[NDSU has] a lot of resources that we could benefit from, dealing with the future of our young people," Canku said. "To couple those things together would be a real benefit for Native Americans."