State announces tribal language preservation efforts

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HELENA – Imagine browsing through your smartphone’s “App Store” and being able to download a talking dictionary that includes phrases such as “Shoo daa chii?” (“How are you?” in Apsáalooke) or “Ginnehayen” (“Thank you” in Aa Nii).

Well, thanks to the start of a comprehensive effort to preserve Indian languages in Montana, you may soon be able to do just that.

Governor Steve Bullock, Department of Commerce Director Meg O’Leary and Director of Indian Affairs Jason Smith, a CSKT tribal member and graduate of Polson High School, recently announced the award of $2 million in funds to Montana’s tribal governments for language preservation efforts through the Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot Program (MILP3).

“The cultural heritage and history of the tribal nations began the story of Montana. We’re committed to protecting the American Indian culture and languages that are vital to the identity of tribal nations and state,” said Governor Bullock.  “This program ensures that the languages spoken by the First Montanans are preserved for future generations.”

MILP3 was created to support the efforts of Montana tribes to preserve Indian languages in the form of spoken, written word, or sign language and to assist in the preservation and curricular goals of Montana’s Indian Education for All Program.  Montana tribal languages, as well as tribal languages across the globe, are in a time of crisis with the loss of fluent native speakers, writers, and signers and the assimilation into mainstream society.

The pilot program was approved in coordination with House Bill 2 during the 2013 legislative session and signed into law by Governor Bullock on May 5, 2013, after the idea was first introduced by Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy.  The program is being administered by the Montana Department of Commerce through the State Tribal and Economic Development (STED) Commission.  Local program advisory boards for each tribal government met, reviewed, and determined which language preservation projects to pursue over the course of the next year.  The pilot project fund of $2 million has been split equitably between all of the tribal governments ($250,000 each) for projects approved through the local program advisory boards and the STED Commission.

The MILP3 projects are as varied as the tribes and the language families they represent.  A common theme throughout the projects is a connection between generations, language mastery in the family unit, thresholds of language fluency for teachers, an increased awareness and exposure of indigenous ways of knowing and being, and utilizing technology to teach native languages.

The funding awarded to the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes will be directed toward the Kootenai Language Curriculum Project’s effort to develop 45 lessons in Level I Basic Kootenai with a storybook and CD as well as a survey of Kootenai language fluency levels.  The Salish Language Program will include an intensive one-year language instruction program for four adult learners in Salish and Pend d’Oreille dialects, will initiate the development of the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Language Commission, and will update the Class 7 Indian Language Certification teacher assessment.

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