April 15, 2007

Language programs lack funds

Native educators struggle to fund language programsThe most proven method of teaching a language is through immersion schools, but the state Legislature recently nixed House Bill 750, which called for the state to provide funding for three existing tribe-based immersion schools, including the Gros Ventre, Salish and Blackfeet programs. The bill never made it out of committee to reach a full vote before the Legislature.

It's been difficult for tribes to start their own immersion schools independent of the state because they can't afford it. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were able to create an immersion school because the tribe pays for the majority of the private school's operating budget. But other tribes in the state don't have the same economic options to start their own.
But bilingualism works:“I think it's a threat to them,” said Minerva Allen, a tribal elder cultural coordinator for the communities of the Fort Belknap Reservation. “They feel they can't understand us and they want us all to be equal in their sense of equal, not in ours. They want us all to be in this melting pot of all races. They had a hard time getting us to learn English and now we want to turn around and learn our Native language.”

But many people fail to understand that a bilingual speaker more readily absorbs new knowledge and abstract concepts because they can view and participate in life from multiple vantage points, said Richard Little Bear, president of the Dull Knife Community College.
Comment:  This contradicts the notion that we should adopt an English-first or English-only approach. It also contradicts the stereotype that all tribes are rich from casinos. That's far from the case, especially in rural states such as Montana.

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