Friday, March 23, 2018

Little Big Horn College student Leslie Bends TalksDifferent laughs while shaking hands with instructors during the final day of the 2017 Crow Summer Institute classes.Little Big Horn College instructor Janine Pease (left) awards a certificate to Loretta Stewart Thomas, one of 21 students to finish one of the 2017 Crow Summer Institute class on the Crow language.

Ítchik daluúom (It’s good you’ve come)

Summer class at LBHC expands Crow language learning opportunities
When Loretta Stewart Thomas saw an advertisement for 2017 Crow Summer Institute classes, held June 5-23, she jumped at the chance to participate. As a Crow tribal member, she had some knowledge of her tribe’s language, but needed to insert English words into her sentences to get by.
Following three weeks of class, Stewart Thomas earned her certificate for the course at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, taking her one step closer to fully understanding her language and having the ability to write it as well. 
“Loretta called me about 25 times leading up to the Institute,” said Janine Pease, one of the course’s instructors.
“I was determined to get in,” Stewart Thomas added. “Plus, I stopped by about four times.”
Robert Bird In Ground, a fellow tribal member and first-time course participant, said, “there were long days, but it went fast.”
Bird In Ground spoke Crow as a child, he said, but hadn’t developed his native language skills further. By the end of the course, he advanced in a manner similar to Stewart Thomas.
“They showed us how to break [the language] down so we can read it,” Stewart Thomas said. “Our alphabet is a little bit different than the English alphabet. We have the ie, the aa, the ee, the uu and the oo in the pronunciation.”
She added, “I wish more people would come, because it’s a fantastic course and we are slowly losing our language. This is a big concern to a lot of people.”
An estimated 75 percent of the Crow Tribe’s approximately 11,000 members live on the Crow Reservation, according to the Montana State website. Of this group, 85 percent speak Crow as their first language.
Despite the high percentages, the language has been classified as “definitely endangered” by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. Crow language fluency, the Montana History Foundation states, has experienced a nearly 60 percent decline between 1969 and 2002 among school-age speakers.
Like Stewart Thomas or Bird In Ground prior to the course, students “tend to know pieces of the Crow language instead of speaking it fluently.” To combat the decline, the History Foundation plans to print a Crow language dictionary containing an estimated 800 pages.
The Crow language, the History Foundation website states, “is one of only a handful of Native American languages that still has a chance of being revived for daily use and relevance in the modern world.”
Stewart Thomas said some of the words in the course brought her back to conversing with her grandparents using Crow words “that we never really hear anymore.”
“My dad used to talk Crow to me all the time,” Bird In Ground said, remembering his own childhood. “I knew the meaning of [the words], but I could never say [them].”
Stewart Thomas and Bird In Ground want to continue the language’s cycle for future generations.
Though he is unemployed at present, Bird In Ground wants to practice what he learned with his nephews and possibly become a bilingual teacher. His nephews, ages 6 and 7, are learning the Crow language in Lodge Grass, and some of their lessons have overlapped with his.
He also intends to teach the language to his daughters, who “are young and will pick up on it quickly.”
As for Stewart Thomas, who retired from the Indian Health Service, she intends to teach the language to her grandchildren.
“I’ve already bought them books for next year,” she said.
Eventually, Stewart Thomas said, she hopes Crow language instruction expands across the Big Horn County school curriculum.