Native Village Youth and Education News
February 1, 2009 Issue 194 Volume 2

Bill would give grants to teach Native American languages

By Gwen Bristol, Correspondent


Bismark, North Dakota:  At times emotional, testimony for a bill that could help Native American children learn their first language was presented to the House Education Committee Wednesday.

House Bill 1399 would provide $450,000 for grants to help train teachers, develop curriculum and teach Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan, Lakota, Dakota and other Native American languages in school. Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, who sponsored the bill, said he believed there were about 10 or 12 different Native American tongues spoken in North Dakota.

Susan Paulson spoke for the Fort Berthold Community College, appealing to committee members to help rectify the decline of these languages by providing the grants.

"There is one fluent speaker of Mandan left," she said. "One."

Paulson said while the bill pertains to all the Native American nations located in the state, the Three Affiliated Tribes are located only in North Dakota. While some of the Arikara language is preserved at Indiana University, there's not enough to learn to speak it and there aren't any other tribes to go to if the language dies out here.

"We are part of you," Paulson said. "You are part of us. This is North Dakota."

"Our language is an important part of our culture," said Fred Fox, president of the White Shield School Board.

Delilah Yellowbird, who teaches Arikara at White Shield, spoke about some of the curriculum the school uses and is developing. Katherine Froelich of Sitting Bull College said other states are making good progress revitalizing Native American languages, and learning the languages is tied to academic achievement and a good self concept.

Much of the Native American history and culture is handed down orally. Reading and writing the languages can be difficult, Paulson testified.

"We need to rely on our elders who are fluent, and we don't have as many elders," Froelich said.

Photo: Edward Benson, fluent Mandan speaker

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