PABLO - The idea is to keep tribal languages alive and flourishing and to do that, educators say they need to start with the kids.
That's the basis of the 2023 Montana Early Childhood Tribal Language Summit at Salish-Kootenai College this week. The event offers an opportunity for tribal language teachers to learn, share, and evolve in their teaching practices.
“We are determined that we are going to maintain our language, we are gonna keep it, and we are gonna make it grow," stated Micker 'Mike' Richardson, Director of the National American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Collaboration Office.
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Indigenous people are working hard to get their languages flourishing in a society that they say is continuously silencing them. That’s why educators came together this week at the Montana Early Childhood Tribal Language Summit in Pablo.
“Everything starts with the young kids,” Richardson shared. He refers back to his grandchildren and how happy he is to hear them speak their langauge at a young age.
The longevity of a language begins with young children. When adults put intention into and emphasis on culture and language at an early age, kids will pick up these pieces of their identities quickly.
Richardson explains, “We want our Head Start programs to be and our Indian childcare as well to be the hub of starting our languages because that’s the foundation for languages is with our zero to five year olds.”
Head Start programs promote a learning environment that helps zero to five-year-olds develop socially, intellectually, and emotionally. For Indigenous children, these Head Start programs place an emphasis on learning languages and cultures. They are changing the story around Indigenous education.
Keynote speaker Cree Whelshula is devoted to Salish language revitalization, telling attendees at the summit, “Since boarding schools started under the Department of War in the 1800s, native kids have had the poorest educational outcomes in this country [for] over a hundred years.”
Boarding schools silenced Indigenous people by not letting them practice their languages or culture. Additionally, colonialism, subconscious bias, and teaching shortages have prolonged the education difficulties.
Salish and Kootenai College President Dr. Boham says the time for visibility for Indigenous cultures has come. She sees a bright future from investment in Indigenous education. “When you go to our communities you hear our languages spoken, you see our traditions in action.”
Later in the day, in a breakout session, speakers from the Blackfeet Early Childhood Center in Browning discussed how they intertwine their language lessons with cultural practices to make this happen. Plus, educators discussed their successes and challenges openly.