The Montana Legislature will soon be debating legislation to help preserve Native American languages on Montana’s Indian reservations.
A bill by State Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy would allocate $2 million to jump-start the effort.
The loss of native languages is critical at some reservations. Windy Boy said only 15 people can speak the Gros Ventre language, and only one person at Rocky Boy is fluent in Chippewa.
Hopefully, efforts by the tribes and the schools on and near the reservations can change this disturbing trend.
Montana is not the only place that has to deal with the decline of languages.
Of the nearly 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, nearly half will be extinct by the end of the century, experts believe.
This is largely because people are learning English, Spanish and Chinese. Speaking common languages helps people around the world communicate better, and that certainly is an advantage.
But as we enter a more homogenized world, it is vital that all of us remember where we came from. It is vital that people know the culture of their ancestors. As Windy Boy noted, that will be difficult to do if the language disappears.
The story of language is not all depressing.
There has been a revival in Cree at Rocky Boy in recent years. Once on a downward spiral, Cree seems headed for a revival.
Young people seem to be at the forefront of the effort to preserve Cree. The language is now being taught at Stone Child College. And the Rocky Boy School board was the first to back Windy Boy’s plan to preserve Native language revival efforts.
Still, efforts to keep Native languages alive face an uphill battle. The Montana Legislature has a responsibility to help preserve the culture of the first Montanans. It looks like it is going to meet that responsibility.