Montana Colleges Launch Learning Lodge

Aug 15th, 1997 | By | Category: 9-2: Re-envisioning Indian Education, Tribal College News

The seven tribal colleges in Montana received a four year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to establish the Learning Lodge Institute. The institute is designed to strengthen tribal college curriculum in language, culture, and land and particularly to increase fluency in Native languages.

The four year budget for the ambitious project is $850,000. It was inspired largely by the dwindling number of Native language speakers on each of the seven reservations. Today, 10 tribal langauges and the Northern Plains sign language are spoken. However, on the Blackfeet Reservation, for example, 20 percent of the speakers died within one year. This prompted the honorary Council of Elders of the college to intensify their efforts to retain the language. On the Fort Belknap Reservation, there are only 13 fluent Assiniboine speakers, most of whom are over 65. Even on the Crow Reservation, where 85 percent of the adults are fluent, only about one-third of the children are fluent.

While each college had been working on language preservation in small ways, the new institute will make it possible for them to expand their efforts and to share research, strategies, and methods with one another. It is designed to strengthen tribal ways of knowing by utilizing traditional educational methods and by involving several generations. Each project must be tied directly to existing courses–not only language courses but also courses such as astronomy, forestry, health and wellness, and sociology.

The project expects to share its benefits by providing a language revitalization list serve, publishing a quarterly newsletter, organizing summer gatherings for faculty and students, and producing a video letter. Dr. Janine Pease-Pretty on Top, president of Little Big Horn College, spearheaded the institute proposal. She says, “So often, we are restricted by grantors. This project invests faith in local judgment.” Kellogg’s planning efforts to design the Native American Higher Education Initiative involved tribal colleges and others involved in American Indian higher education. The initiative provided a grant category for language, culture, and land.

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