|August 28, 2014
St. Ignatius tech company brings Native language in the digital age
By Lailani Upham
“The first phase of this project was to create a sound system of the Piikani Language. Much like the periodic table of elements, the sounds in the language are indicators of something. When you put two or more sounds together you can start to create words and describe your worldview with communication. The creator give us this language to communicate with each other, it would be a shame if we let this way of life fall to the wayside. One you start to learn the language, you can see science and philosophy into the Piikani ideology,” explained LaFromboise. (Lailani Upham photo)
BROWNING — Innovative cultural preservation is sweeping across Indian Country.
Thanks to Governor Steve Bullock, the Department of Commerce and Indian Affairs a comprehensive effort, the Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot Program (MILP3), was launched last fall to preserve tribal languages in the state through a $2 million award that went out to tribal governments for language preservation.
Imagine browsing through your own smart phone’s “App store” and be able to download a talking dictionary or course that includes phrases such as “Oki kanaitapi,” (“Hello, everyone” in Piikani) or “Ki su k kyukyit” (“Good day” in Kootenai); or any other Montana tribal language phrase you choose.
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 Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy first introduced the idea.
Rebecca Goff, Executive Operator of Native Teaching Aids out of St. Ignatius, is helping the Piikani Culture and Language Division at the Blackfeet Community College to build an interactive website that will create digital lessons, dictionaries, mobile apps to serve all age ranges to learn.
Goff’s passion is to make learning fun, she says. “My passion is to have as many materials accessible to learners as possible as if they were trying to learn French, English, or Spanish.
Goff earned her master’s degree in linguistics at the University of Montana.
She said the urge to help revitalize Native languages came from reading the James Welch book, Fools Crow. She was instantly attracted to native linguistics and the history of tribes.
Since her start-up with Native Teaching Aids a year and half ago, Goff met Mike LaFromboise, the Division Chair for Piikani Culture and Language at Blackfeet Community College, and began the digital language curriculum with him this past Spring.
It is her only project thus far with Montana tribal language projects.
“The language is vital for any tribe. It is a means of freedom,” said LaFromboise.
“Language is what determines who you are. It perpetuates the culture and the culture perpetuates the language; when the communicative process of the community is broken the community does not do so well,” he explained. However, according to LaFromboise when the communicative process is strengthened, that community will thrive with the economic process.”
LaFromboise praises the collaboration partnership digital learning methods exchanged with Nk w usm Salish Language Institute. “It’s been a wonderful working relationship with them, and April Charlo has been a great proponent in this language project,” he added.
Gov. Bullock stated at the onset of the funding awards that, “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.”
Goff and LaFromboise go over ideas and solutions to the website to have it up and running for fall quarter. The team hope it will be offered as a course at SKC and other colleges as well. The course is for anyone to take and will work for all levels, says Goff. She adds at end of one course a person should be able to hold a small conversation. (Lailani Upham photo)
LaFromboise, Piikani, is a member of the Brave Dog society and assists with several Ceremonial activities within the Blackfoot Confederacy. He earned his Master of Education from Montana State University-Northern and is a Mellon Fellow with American Indian College Fund doing research on Blackfoot Ceremonial process and Blackfoot Language.
“The site will also serve as an interactive cultural library of all things pertaining to the tribe and the Blackfoot confederacy. Its content is what we call a living library. As part of our language courses, our students will be charged with maintaining and contributing to the dictionary and cultural library, so the site will continue to grow and become more full and accurate as it grows with our knowledge,” he described.
According to LaFromboise the culture library will contain stories of Piikani origin and also a timeline of history of pre-European and contemporary history along with pictures, films, books, ethnology and dissertations of the Piikani people.
Thus far, LaFromboise has created two Blackfoot Language Apps for iPhone and Android, which now developed into the digitized Blackfoot Language Curriculum for learning experiences of all ages.
BCC launched their new website, “Piikani Paitapiisin” Piikani Life.www.PiikaniPaitapiisin.com in July.
“The name Piikani is what this tribe is referred to as in the Blackfoot confederacy. The name Blackfeet is what the United States government gave us,” stated LaFromboise. “It is by this rationale that the Piikani studies changed its name from Blackfeet studies to Piikani Studies.
It is only fitting we use our proper name,” he added.
Their website is designed as an interactive dictionary to support the Piikani Language curriculum.
The courses NASX 141 and NASX 142 Piikani language classes are transferable classes to the Montana University System and is a stand-alone online class delivery where the content is made available to the students in an interactive on-line format.
“It includes audio for annunciation and pronunciation, as well as pictures for imagery and video content to support a better understanding of the language.”
The project was not launched without the help of the community, according to LaFromboise. He contributes the success of the project to BCC President, Dr. Billie Jo Kipp as instrumental in pushing the initiative along with interim vice president Carol Murray.
The Piikani elders and speakers involved with making the digitized curricula are as follows: Gertie Heavy Runner, Molly Bullshoe, Leora Arrow Top, Art Deroche, Laura Gervais. The following speakers also contributed to the content Joycelin Desrosier, Treyace Wellman, Jesse Desrosier. The following students were used to capture the audio of the speakers: Clifton Deroche, Kylie Rutherford and Andrew Ducharme. Native Teaching Aids out of St Ignatius Montana was the technical assistance for the online development of this project. The artwork featured in this publication is that Jason Eagle Speaker and John Pepion. The Piikani Culture and Language Division consists of Mike LaFromboise Division Chair, Marvin Weatherwax and Marilyn Bullshoe. There are several adjunct professors that contribute their time as well.
The MILP3 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 of $250,000 each for projects approved through the local program advisory boards and the STED Commission.
The MILP3 projects vary just as the tribes and the languages and families that they represent. However, 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 Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot Program projects for other tribes include:
• Chippewa Cree Tribe: Research the Cree language and develop a Cree language dictionary and computer applications; pilot a family-centered Cree language fluency strategy.
• Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes: The Kootenai Language Curriculum Project will 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.
• Crow Tribe: Survey Crow/Apsáalooke language fluency on the reservation and create a map of historical sites and correlating stories; hold a youth language immersion camp; develop and record an elder and youth storytelling circle; develop conversational Crow technology applications; and develop an Apsáalooke language website.
• Fort Belknap Indian Community: Develop an annotated bibliography of Aa Nii and Nakoda language resources; establish standards for Class 7 Indian Language Specialists; research and establish a talking Aa Nii and Nakoda dictionary; develop sign language based on Aa Nii and Nakoda elder interviews; and create a video of community language classes for home distribution.
• Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes: Develop Nakona and Dakota language booklets, vocabulary dictionaries and language curricula for elementary, junior high, and high school; and record Nakona and Dakota history from elders and community members.
• Little Shell Chippewa Tribe: Research and compile language influences and history of the Little Shell language families (Michif, Chippewa or Ojibwa, and Cree) into collection for the Little Shell Tribal Language Archives at the Little Shell Cultural Center; develop Little Shell language curriculum; conduct cultural filming of conversational Little Shell languages; and partner with the Turtle Mountain Community College to offer Ojibewa language classes via satellite.
• Northern Cheyenne Tribe: Create and publish Northern Cheyenne curricula and literature, language classes, dictionary and reference material, recordings, storytelling and other language preservation activities.
Tribal governments and their local program advisory boards will have until September 15, 2014 to complete their language preservation projects, at which time they will submit tangible products produced with the language preservation funds to the Montana Historical Society for archival purposes. Throughout the project period, the local program advisory boards will report project progress and expenditures to the State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee.
To find out more information on Native Teaching Aids or contact Rebecca Goff, visit, www.nativeteachingaids.com.