HANKINSON (AP) - Teams from Sioux reservation schools in North Dakota, South Dakota and Manitoba have been competing in Scrabble, using the Dakota Sioux language.
The tournament made its debut Friday at the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe's Dakota Magic Casino pavilion near Hankinson.
The game is part of the tribe's campaign to revitalize the Dakota language, now spoken fluently by a dwindling number of elders. One survey predicted the last fluent Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota speaker would die in 2025.
"With these efforts, we'll try to prolong that," Darell DeCoteau, a school board member of the Enemy Swim Day School, said as he gestured to a nearby Scrabble board. "This will probably push that back a little bit."
"Start in the middle," David Seaboy told a group of middle-school students from the Enemy Swim Day School at Waubay, S.D. "Everybody help somebody make a word."
The first word to take shape was sa, pronounced "shah" - the color red.
After a few minutes of frantic consultation with "The Official Dakotah Scrabble Dictionary," a team built on the base to form the word sapa, pronounced "shah-pa," or dirty, a word worth seven points.
"This is a good stimulant for the mind," said Seaboy, 63, one of a group of Sisseton-Wahpeton elders, all fluent in the language, who wrote the 207-page Dakota dictionary.
The Dakota Scrabble initiative was authorized by Hasbro, the maker of Scrabble, and supported financially by the company's chairman, Alan Hassenfeld.
Hasbro gave permission for 30 educational versions of the game. Each set was hand crafted by tribal members. The tiles were made of stone mined from a quarry near Milbank, S.D.
Unable to find a maker of a leather board, the creators settled on a vinyl version made in Fargo. Otherwise, all the materials are natural and native to the area.
Project organizers got permission from Hasbro to make up to 500 home versions of Dakota Scrabble, Tammy DeCoteau said. There has been much interest in the game on reservations, she said.
Seaboy, who grew up with Dakota as his first language, was pleased by what he saw Friday. The Scrabble tournament was the culmination of a scholastic Dakota language bowl, now in its fourth year.
"What strikes me is the reaction of the kids," he said, "how hungry they are to learn and understand their native language."