By Niklas Means
The Montana Digital Academy, the Montana Office of Public Instruction’s online supplementary education system, has introduced Crow to their Indigenous language course offerings.
The Crow language course will be joining the Cree language course as an option available to any student currently enrolled in a public school that is partnered with the MTDA. The class, which is one semester long, is based heavily on the Crow Language Consortium’s level 1 educational materials, serving as an introductory course aimed at high school students.
Anna East, MTDA’s Tribal Relations and Education Fellow, began developing the course by reaching out to the Crow Language Consortium. The Consortium, which has materials available on its website, was happy to work with Anna East, according to Janine Pease, a member of the Consortium’s board of directors.
“Anna East is highly experienced, very open and consulted us frequently. We’re very happy with how the program is presented,” Pease said. “This opens the Crow language up to students in schools like Billings and Lockwood.”
While some schools in the areas on and surrounding the Crow Reservation, like the Hardin and Lodge Grass School Districts and the St. Labre Catholic School system have Crow language teachers and classes available, many areas in traditional Crow territory are lacking.
The process of taking the Crow Language Consortium’s materials and making them fit into a MTDA class framework was quite the task, according to East.
“We had to digitize everything from the book to make the class,” she said.
One issue that came up was the target audience; the MTDA class is designed for high school students, while the materials produced by the Consortium are aimed at young children. The MTDA class features more appropriate visuals, and plans to include land and place based imagery to help people visualize the language better.
This semester the class has only one student.
“One of the issues with having the class come out at this time is that it’s very difficult for students to change their class schedules in the middle of the school year,” East explained. “Right now we are generating interest.”
East also shared some information on the next Indigenous language they are planning to offer, Nakota and Dakota, although this is still early on in the process.
“My goal is to offer one new Indigenous language a semester, until I retire or run out.”
The indigenous language courses are being taught by Lark Real Bird-Paz, a teacher at Lodge Grass Schools, and are available to any student enrolled in a participating school. The Crow Language Consortium offers language teaching materials and a dictionary online, and has a free Crow Dictionary app available for iOS and Android devices.