March 14, 2007

Natives conditioned to reject language

Keeping a language alive:  Co-founder of Blackfoot immersion school in Browning visits UM this weekKipp told of facing the wrath of Blackfeet who told him point-blank that speaking the native language was the devil's work. He was called a mercenary, bent on exploiting the language in order to sell it.

It wasn't, “Hey, you shouldn't do that,” Kipp said.

“It was, ‘What the hell are you doing? Who in the hell do you think you are? What are you trying to be - a big Indian and steal everything?' ”

Perhaps most troubling was the notion that the Cuts Wood School, a K-8 institution at which only the Blackfoot language is spoken, was out to harm the children.

“I think this really reflects the educational standards of Montana, and it's certainly an American philosophy, that the only route to success is an English-speaking trek,” he said. “Anything less, or anything different, is a serious mistake.”

Some saw Cuts Wood School as promoting something bordering on child neglect.

“The fact that you would risk your child's mental stability by proposing to have your child talk in an archaic language is close to pure negligence,” he said, repeating one charge he heard.

But time and research have proved the language immersion school's value.

Three of the school's graduates are now in college. Others have scored well in testing, including four at off-reservation high schools in Cut Bank, Valier and Billings.

A master's study by a University of Montana psychology student in 2003 presented what Kipp called a “very powerful case” that Cuts Wood students actually outperform those with public school backgrounds.

“These children have been schooled in a program that never gave them a formal English language, yet they go into public schools and excel as English-based students,” he said.

No comments: