Jonathan Windy Boy treated fellow state senators Wednesday to something
they rarely hear: A greeting in his native Cree tongue.
"Ki-k-say pah-yo Kah-ki-yo Ni-wah-ko mah-kah-nah-k,"
he said as he closed on his bill to establish an Indian language
preservation pilot program.
He said later the Cree greeting translates
roughly into English as "I wish you all a wonderful day, all of
The Senate voted 44-6 to approve Windy
Boy's Senate bill 342, which now heads to the House, which also
will consider whether to approve the $2 million in funding for the
pilot program to help preserve Montana's several Native American
"This bill has been long overdue," Windy
Boy, a Democrat from Box Elder, told his colleagues, noting that
some tribes in Montana have only a few remaining speakers of their
native tongues. "If we don't preserve what we have left, we won't
have anything left to immerse.
"If we don't proceed forward with preserving
(these languages), we'll be teaching Indian Education for All in
the past tense: That what we used to do. It is our intent with this
law to make sure of that preservation."
Indian Education for All is Montana's
constitutionally required program that teaches Native American culture
in classes throughout the public school system.
Gov. Steve Bullock also came out last
week in favor of SB342 and the pilot program, saying he wants to
make sure that "languages that have been used for 400 generations
do not disappear on our watch."
Bullock said he's asking lawmakers to
approve the $2 million in funding for the pilot program.
Two weeks ago, a House-Senate budget committee
endorsed the $2 million expenditure, but took it from the Indian
Education for All program budget.
Windy Boy, a member of the Chippewa-Cree
Tribe on the Rocky Boys Indian Reservation, said he intends to have
that changed, so the money comes out of the general state treasury.
Under SB342, the two-year pilot program
would be administered by the State-Tribal Economic Development Commission,
in consultation with Montana's Indian tribes, the Montana Historical
Society and the state director of Indian Affairs.
The money would be distributed to each
tribal government on Montana's seven Indian reservations and the
landless Little Shell Chippewa Tribe.
Windy Boy said the tribes will develop
writings, audio-visual programs, story-telling, language classes
and other language-preservation steps and then report back to the
2015 Legislature, through the legislative Interim State-Tribal Relations
Among those supporting the bill was Sen.
Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, who said she took part in an
Indian language class last summer, with the Kalispel Indian Tribe
of northeastern Washington.
"It was amazing to me to learn about how
the happiness and the health of the people within the Kalispel Tribe
was directly correlated to the tribe knowing their history and their
language," she said.