Berenstain Bears to be translated into Lakota

Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) September 2010

The popular Berenstain Bears cartoon characters will soon be helping bring the Lakota language to life in homes across the region.

Twenty episodes of the animated cartoon series will be translated into Lakota and broadcast on South Dakota Public Television starting in the fall of next year.

It is the first time in the United States that a cartoon series has been translated to a native language and widely distributed, said Wilhelm Meya, executive director of Lakota Language Consortium, a nonprofit that partnered with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to co-produce the Lakota version of the series.

“When you see Lakota being used in a kitchen and a whole family interacting, it just makes the language so real and not so much of an abstract concept that you learn in school,” Meya said.

Less than 10 percent of the 125,000 Lakota people in the region, primarily in South Dakota and North Dakota, speak the ancient language, Meya said. The goal is to use the modern cartoon as an educational tool. A DVD and teacher’s guide also will be released next summer for schools.

“It’s super exciting and such a powerful vehicle,” Meya said. “We needed something that would work well to attract kids to a language, and it’s just magical to see it all come together.”

Meya said the project is being paid for primarily by the Standing Rock tribe. Mike Berenstain of Berenstain Enterprises waived all licensing fees for the tribe to complete the educational series.

About 25 people have been working on the project for nine months. Fifteen voice actors spent three weeks in July in Bismarck, N.D., recording 10 episodes. Meya hopes to have the final 10 recorded by December.