State of Montana
improves attitude toward Indian education
State of Montana is about five years younger than the Northern Cheyenne
Reservation. The State was even younger than my Grandmother, Motseeooe
(Sweet Medicine Woman) or in English Rosa Turkey Legs Littlebear.
As with all Native American Indian reservations within the
confines of any State, the Northern Cheyenne Reservation has had
and still has an uneasy relationship with the State of Montana.
Montana doesnt like to admit that our Reservation is the elder
in this relationship nor does it like to admit that we are a sovereign
But despite this uneasy relationship, the State of Montana
has initiated some true innovations in the area of education. Among
these innovations are Class 7 Licenses for all the indigenous language
speaking groups in Montana: Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Chippewa,
Cree, Crow, Salish, Kootenai, Pend Oreilles, Nakota, Gros Ventre,
and Metis (I extend apologies for any language group I may have
This license gave each language group the opportunity to certify
their own language and culture teachers and to assure that these
teachers would have the same rights and responsibilities as the
other seven teacher license holders. This Class 7 License is quite
an innovation especially in Montana with its uneasy relationship
with tribes within its borders.
Another innovation is the Indian Education for All initiative
passed by the State Legislature with considerable pushing by the
Native American Indian legislators that numbered approximately 9
at the time. This piece of legislation gave some bite to the Montana
Constitutional State language which states roughly that Native American
cultures would be given due consideration. The Constitutional language
had been in the Constitution from the beginning but it did not have
teeth. The Native American legislators helped give it
those teeth. Now all schools must teach about Montanas Native
Americans from Alzada to Yaak and from Plentywood to Lolo.
Then, during the Schweitzer Administration, the Governor and
the legislators authorized funds to be given to the Tribal Colleges
to write their own histories. Chief Dull Knife College produced
a book entitled We, the Northern Cheyenne People. Other tribes also
produced books, videos, interviews with elders, or other literature
about their tribal histories from their own viewpoints. And then,
during the last legislative session, Governor Bullock, Senator Jonothan
Windy Boy and other Native American legislators granted funds to
the tribes under the Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot
Program which ends in October 2014. Again, each Tribe is doing their
own thing. A proposal was submitted by each tribe as to how they
would expend the funds and they are doing that.
So, the above list shows what the State of Montana has done
specifically for Native Americans specifically in the areas of education,
history and Native American languages. It is quite remarkable for
these innovations to come out of the State of Montana which is generally
considered a red state because it usually votes for
Republicans in the Presidential elections and for the lone House
of Representatives seat.
These innovations in education and history are so unique that
other States are imitating them, some with not much success. Arizona
has a licensure program similar to Montanas which it began
a couple of years ago with much fanfare. Montana has already had
its program for 16 years, since 1996 with a minimum fanfare.
So maybe the State of Montana is finally beginning to acknowledge
that we were here first as a people and are not just incidental
footnotes to Montanas history. These innovations mitigate
the uneasy relationship that has always existed between states and
tribes. Now, it is our responsibility as tribes to follow through
with our grant proposals with accountability, excellent program
stewardship, and with the best results possible.
Henahaanehe (That is all for now) Vekes?hnestoohe
Dr. Richard Littlebear is the president of Chief
Dull Knife College on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.
He can be reached @email@example.com