Canku Ota Logo
Canku Ota
Canku Ota Logo
(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
pictograph divider
Tribal Cultures Remain As Different As Their Indigenous Languages
by Rylee Mitchell, Tribune Teen Panelist
Madison and Rylee Mitchell, sisters, CMR students and members of the Little Shell tribe, practice speaking Chippewa with each other Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016. TRIBUNE VIDEO/JULIA MOSS

I hear time and time again “Native culture.” What does that phrase even mean? It seems to me people are uneducated and uninformed about our first people and our culture. We become one tribe to people when in fact tribes across the United States are very diverse and unique. Each nation and tribe has its own values, cultural teaching and languages.

In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Languages Act (NALA) in order to, “preserve, protect, and promote,” Native American Languages. They put the act together to make sure the languages could survive.

Little Shell Chippewa tribal war veterans carry flags during the opening ceremony of the powwow.(Photo: Tribune Photo/ Michael Beall)

In NALA, the government “fully recognize(s) the inherent right of Indian tribes and other Native American governing bodies, States, territories, and possessions of the United States to take action on, and give official status to, their Native American languages for the purpose of conducting their own business,” according to Diversity Learning, which is a publishing venture specializing in bilingual education.

MORE: Eagle feather ceremony honors GFPS indigenous scholars

Scott Russell, the secretary of the Crow Tribe (Apsáalooke Nation), put it this way according to “We’re educating all our students to be non-Native right now.” The website followed that up with this summary. “In this regard, it seems that not much has changed since the days of the residential schools.”

The Native American Languages Act still face some problems with having lack of funding in the program, and restrictions in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), including that teachers are required to have a four-year bachelor degree, making it hard having teachers teach the language because they are mostly elders who are fluent in the language. Another setback is in standardized testing because the testing is English, and English isn’t introduced until later in immersion schools.

This follows in the tradition where Native Americans were sent to boarding schools and forbidden to speak their indigenous language. As many people came to America, becoming the place we are now has developed a range of many different spoken languages, with Spanish and French being commonly taught in schools across the United States. Native American languages are not as embraced in schools. Native American languages still continue to be suppressed. Native Americans still hurt from the long-term effects from the federal government and the church-run boarding schools.

MORE: Immersion Program teaches Native history, culture to improve graduation

Forcing the kids to go to boarding school is meeting the criteria on the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide because it’s forcibly transferring a group of kids to another group. Doing this was damaging to the whole Native American culture. The practice broke down the cultural and spiritual meaning of life. Still swept under the rug, children speaking the beautiful languages are not able to speak when they are silenced all over America.

Culture is meant to be shared. Without sharing our ideas, foods, way of traditional living, we would not be able to advance as a human race. Without sharing ideas, Native Americans in the Southwest contributed fine turquoise and silver jewelry. Most of the food we eat today were first used by Native Americans: potatoes, beans, corn, peanuts, etc. They also showed the Europeans settlers how to survive in the new world with their farming techniques.

Most Native American languages are at great risk of going extinct. Language is like a storybook of culture, stories, history, and memories. To have a language banished is going to become a non-existent story.

MORE: Native American Marine vet considered a homeland hero

In The Little Shell Chippewa Tribe, we are at an even greater risk, having only two known speakers left in the Tribe. It’s a race against time to try to revitalize our language. When you lose a language, you destroy a culture as the stories of their past go away.

It’s a part of preserving history. Native Americans use oral storytelling to pass down their ceremony, heritage, and way of living. Preserving the language is a way to keep our unique storytelling, music, customs, and ceremonies. All tribes have different legends, life lessons, and cultural meanings.

I have been learning Little Shell Ojibwe for the past two years, advocating for it, finding ways to put it into my everyday language. It has become a center point in my life, and it also has me raising the question, “How do you get more people to learn the Little Shell language?”

That’s the thing we struggle with: How do we stay connected or make it interesting to learn? It’s hard to get people involved, but we need people involved to have the language survive. The Little Shell has Little Shell Language classes at the office located at 615 Central Ave W., Suite 100, Great Falls, MT 59404 on Wednesday nights. High school classes take place after school Tuesdays at CMR and Thursdays after school at Great Falls High.

So if you keep catching yourself saying “Native American culture,” as if we are all one group, please educate yourself on all the different tribal cultural groups that resided here on this land, a reservation near you, or the one in your own town. If you know anyone who speaks Ojibwe or Chippewa, inform the Little Shell Office 406-315-2400 or on Facebook.

Rylee Mitchell is a sophomore at C.M. Russell High and a member of the Tribune's Teen Panel.

pictograph divider
Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us
Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us
pictograph divider
  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  
Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000 - 2018 of Vicki Williams Barry and Paul Barry.
Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo
The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the
Copyright © 1999 - 2018 of Paul C. Barry.
All Rights Reserved.

Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!