and Rylee Mitchell, sisters, CMR students and members of the
Little Shell tribe, practice speaking Chippewa with each other
Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016. TRIBUNE VIDEO/JULIA MOSS
I hear time and time again Native culture. What
does that phrase even mean? It seems to me people are uneducated
and uninformed about our first people and our culture. We become
one tribe to people when in fact tribes across the United States
are very diverse and unique. Each nation and tribe has its own values,
cultural teaching and languages.
In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Languages Act (NALA)
in order to, preserve, protect, and promote, Native
American Languages. They put the act together to make sure the languages
Shell Chippewa tribal war veterans carry flags during the
opening ceremony of the powwow.(Photo: Tribune Photo/ Michael
In NALA, the government fully recognize(s) the inherent
right of Indian tribes and other Native American governing bodies,
States, territories, and possessions of the United States to take
action on, and give official status to, their Native American languages
for the purpose of conducting their own business, according
to Diversity Learning, which is a publishing venture specializing
in bilingual education.
feather ceremony honors GFPS indigenous scholars
Scott Russell, the secretary of the Crow Tribe (Apsáalooke
Nation), put it this way according to culturalsurvivor.org: Were
educating all our students to be non-Native right now. The
website followed that up with this summary. In this regard,
it seems that not much has changed since the days of the residential
The Native American Languages Act still face some problems with
having lack of funding in the program, and restrictions in No Child
Left Behind (NCLB), including that teachers are required to have
a four-year bachelor degree, making it hard having teachers teach
the language because they are mostly elders who are fluent in the
language. Another setback is in standardized testing because the
testing is English, and English isnt introduced until later
in immersion schools.
This follows in the tradition where Native Americans were sent
to boarding schools and forbidden to speak their indigenous language.
As many people came to America, becoming the place we are now has
developed a range of many different spoken languages, with Spanish
and French being commonly taught in schools across the United States.
Native American languages are not as embraced in schools. Native
American languages still continue to be suppressed. Native Americans
still hurt from the long-term effects from the federal government
and the church-run boarding schools.
Program teaches Native history, culture to improve graduation
Forcing the kids to go to boarding school is meeting the criteria
on the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment
of the Crime of Genocide because its forcibly transferring
a group of kids to another group. Doing this was damaging to the
whole Native American culture. The practice broke down the cultural
and spiritual meaning of life. Still swept under the rug, children
speaking the beautiful languages are not able to speak when they
are silenced all over America.
Culture is meant to be shared. Without sharing our ideas, foods,
way of traditional living, we would not be able to advance as a
human race. Without sharing ideas, Native Americans in the Southwest
contributed fine turquoise and silver jewelry. Most of the food
we eat today were first used by Native Americans: potatoes, beans,
corn, peanuts, etc. They also showed the Europeans settlers how
to survive in the new world with their farming techniques.
Most Native American languages are at great risk of going extinct.
Language is like a storybook of culture, stories, history, and memories.
To have a language banished is going to become a non-existent story.
American Marine vet considered a homeland hero
In The Little Shell Chippewa Tribe, we are at an even greater
risk, having only two known speakers left in the Tribe. Its
a race against time to try to revitalize our language. When you
lose a language, you destroy a culture as the stories of their past
Its a part of preserving history. Native Americans use
oral storytelling to pass down their ceremony, heritage, and way
of living. Preserving the language is a way to keep our unique storytelling,
music, customs, and ceremonies. All tribes have different legends,
life lessons, and cultural meanings.
I have been learning Little Shell Ojibwe for the past two years,
advocating for it, finding ways to put it into my everyday language.
It has become a center point in my life, and it also has me raising
the question, How do you get more people to learn the Little
Thats the thing we struggle with: How do we stay connected
or make it interesting to learn? Its hard to get people involved,
but we need people involved to have the language survive. The Little
Shell has Little Shell Language classes at the office located at
615 Central Ave W., Suite 100, Great Falls, MT 59404 on Wednesday
nights. High school classes take place after school Tuesdays at
CMR and Thursdays after school at Great Falls High.
So if you keep catching yourself saying Native American
culture, as if we are all one group, please educate yourself
on all the different tribal cultural groups that resided here on
this land, a reservation near you, or the one in your own town.
If you know anyone who speaks Ojibwe or Chippewa, inform the Little
Shell Office 406-315-2400 or on Facebook.
Rylee Mitchell is a sophomore at C.M. Russell High and a member
of the Tribune's Teen Panel.