HELENA – Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy treated fellow state senators Wednesday to something they rarely hear: A greeting in his native Cree tongue.
“Ki-k-say pah-yo Kah-ki-yo Ni-wah-ko mah-kah-nah-k,” he said as he closed on his bill to establish an Indian language preservation pilot program.
He said later the Cree greeting translates roughly into English as “I wish you all a wonderful day, all of my relations.”
The Senate voted 44-6 to approve Windy Boy’s Senate Bill 342, which now heads to the House, which also will consider whether to approve the $2 million in funding for the pilot program to help preserve Montana’s several Native American tongues.
“This bill has been long overdue,” Windy Boy, a Democrat from Box Elder, told his colleagues, noting that some tribes in Montana have only a few remaining speakers of their native tongues. “If we don’t preserve what we have left, we won’t have anything left to immerse.
“If we don’t proceed forward with preserving (these languages), we’ll be teaching Indian Education for All in the past tense: That’s what we used to do. It is our intent with this law to make sure of that preservation.”
Indian Education for All is Montana’s constitutionally required program that teaches Native American culture in classes throughout the public school system.
Gov. Steve Bullock also came out last week in favor of SB342 and the pilot program, saying he wants to make sure that “languages that have been used for 400 generations do not disappear on our watch.”
Bullock said he’s asking lawmakers to approve the $2 million in funding for the pilot program.
Two weeks ago, a House-Senate budget committee endorsed the $2 million expenditure, but took it from the Indian Education for All program budget.
Windy Boy, a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, said he intends to have that changed, so the money comes out of the general state treasury.
Under SB342, the two-year pilot program would be administered by the State-Tribal Economic Development Commission, in consultation with Montana’s Indian tribes, the Montana Historical Society and the state director of Indian Affairs.
The money would be distributed to each tribal government on Montana’s seven Indian reservations and the landless Little Shell Chippewa Tribe.
Windy Boy said the tribes will develop writings, audio-visual programs, storytelling, language classes and other language preservation steps, and then report back to the 2015 Legislature, through the legislative Interim State-Tribal Relations Committee.
Among those supporting the bill was Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, who said she took part in an Indian language class last summer, with the Kalispel Indian Tribe of northeastern Washington.
“It was amazing to me to learn about how the happiness and the health of the people within the Kalispel Tribe was directly correlated to the tribe knowing their history and their language,” she said.