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Montana Awards $700,000 For Tribal Language Revitalization

Fort Belknap tribal seal
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
There are two unique languages spoken on Fort Belknap Reservation that only five people can speak.

The Montana Department of Commerce has awarded $700,000 in grants across eight tribal governments for tribal language revitalization efforts. 

In Ft. Belknap, there are two unique languages recognized with roughly five people able to speak each of them.

Ray Cichoz is the Montana Language Preservation Program’s Project Coordinator for the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes. He says that the recently awarded funds come at a crucial time.

"We need to do something now or it’s gonna be lost forever... Our ancestors used it, they held onto it for us. It skipped a generation because of boarding schools and everything that happened but we have the chance and the opportunity now to bring it back, revive it and keep it alive,” Cichoz said. 

Each tribe will receive $89,000 for individual initiatives. Plans and projects are already underway to expand current efforts such as classes, signage, DVDs and online pronunciation guides. With the increased funding, preservation programs plan to expand on these resources along with new ones like phone applications, summer camps and employing more instructors.

Cichoz says that while there is overlap between languages with differences in dialect, the number of people who know them fluently has been decreasing. The biggest step towards preserving the languages, he says, is to re-introduce them into the people’s’ everyday vocabulary.

“We are fortunate to have a few elders still with us. Within the last five years when we started these programs, we have lost a good amount of elders that had the language that knew it fluently,” Cichoz said.  

The grant program was initially proposed in the Montana Legislature six years ago. Lawmakers passed it last year as part of the state’s main budget bill.

Through what started off as a bill presented to the Montana Legislature about six years ago, the funding was passed last year and will come from the state’s main budget bill.