The state Board of Public Education agreed Thursday to help Montana’s Indian tribes prevent the disappearance of their native languages.
Board members unanimously approved creation of a special license for those who teach Indian language in reservation schools.
Indian tribal and education leaders said they hope the move will demonstrate the importance of preserving language as a cornerstone of their cultures. Licensing those who teach Indian tongues will improve their credibility and status among educators and communities, they said.
Sharon Peregoy, a language instructor at Little Bighorn College on the Crow Reservation, said she hopes the result will be more Indians wanting to teach tribal languages and more school districts interested in hiring such instructors.
“We are starting to see a loss of the language among the younger generation,” she told the board.
Twenty years ago, half the children ages 3-5 could speak Crow. Today, Peregoy said, only 10 percent can.
Darrell Kipp, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, said his tribe will be without anyone capable of speaking the Blackfeet language in 10 years unless something is done.
In the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, most of those capable of speaking and understanding the Cheyenne language are the elders, said Al Spang, president of Dull Knife Memorial College at Lame Deer.
While 77 percent of those at least 66 years old know the language, only 13 percent of preschoolers do, he said.
Spang applauded the board’s action, saying it recognizes the value of cultural diversity, shows sensitivity toward tribal concerns and promotes cooperation between the tribes and state government.
Under the new regulation approved by the board, tribes will determine the requirements for a person to hold a Class 7 specialist certificate. That is a departure from existing policies in which the board sets criteria for licensing of teachers.
To be licensed for teaching Indian language, a person does not have to first hold a state teacher’s license or have any college degrees.
The board removed a provision from the proposal that would have ended the licensing in 15 years.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Nancy Keenan supported the board’s action, but two teachers’ unions expressed concerns.
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