Education | Opinion

Richard Littlebear: Montana takes the lead in Indian education

The following opinion was written by Dr. Richard Littlebear. All content © Native Sun News.

Dr. Richard Littlebear, president of Dull Chief Knife College. Photo from American Indian College Fund

State of Montana improves attitude toward Indian education
By Dr. Richard Littlebear

The State of Montana is about five years younger than the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The State was even younger than my Grandmother, Motse’eoo’e (Sweet Medicine Woman) or in English Rosa Turkey Legs Littlebear.

As with all Native American Indian reservations within the confines of any State, the Northern Cheyenne Reservation has had and still has an uneasy relationship with the State of Montana. Montana doesn’t like to admit that our Reservation is the elder in this relationship nor does it like to admit that we are a sovereign nation.

But despite this uneasy relationship, the State of Montana has initiated some true innovations in the area of education. Among these innovations are Class 7 Licenses for all the indigenous language speaking groups in Montana: Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Chippewa, Cree, Crow, Salish, Kootenai, Pend Oreilles, Nakota, Gros Ventre, and Metis (I extend apologies for any language group I may have excluded).

This license gave each language group the opportunity to certify their own language and culture teachers and to assure that these teachers would have the same rights and responsibilities as the other seven teacher license holders. This Class 7 License is quite an innovation especially in Montana with its uneasy relationship with tribes within its borders.

Another innovation is the Indian Education for All initiative passed by the State Legislature with considerable pushing by the Native American Indian legislators that numbered approximately 9 at the time. This piece of legislation gave some bite to the Montana Constitutional State language which states roughly that Native American cultures would be given due consideration. The Constitutional language had been in the Constitution from the beginning but it did not have “teeth.” The Native American legislators helped give it those teeth. Now all schools must teach about Montana’s Native Americans from Alzada to Yaak and from Plentywood to Lolo.

Then, during the Schweitzer Administration, the Governor and the legislators authorized funds to be given to the Tribal Colleges to write their own histories. Chief Dull Knife College produced a book entitled We, the Northern Cheyenne People. Other tribes also produced books, videos, interviews with elders, or other literature about their tribal histories from their own viewpoints. And then, during the last legislative session, Governor Bullock, Senator Jonothan Windy Boy and other Native American legislators granted funds to the tribes under the Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot Program which ends in October 2014. Again, each Tribe is doing their own thing. A proposal was submitted by each tribe as to how they would expend the funds and they are doing that.

So, the above list shows what the State of Montana has done specifically for Native Americans specifically in the areas of education, history and Native American languages. It is quite remarkable for these innovations to come out of the State of Montana which is generally considered a “red” state because it usually votes for Republicans in the Presidential elections and for the lone House of Representatives seat.

These innovations in education and history are so unique that other States are imitating them, some with not much success. Arizona has a licensure program similar to Montana’s which it began a couple of years ago with much fanfare. Montana has already had its program for 16 years, since 1996 with a minimum fanfare.

So maybe the State of Montana is finally beginning to acknowledge that we were here first as a people and are not just incidental footnotes to Montana’s history. These innovations mitigate the uneasy relationship that has always existed between states and tribes. Now, it is our responsibility as tribes to follow through with our grant proposals with accountability, excellent program stewardship, and with the best results possible.

Hena’haanehe (That is all for now) Ve’kesȯhnestoohe (Howling Bird).

Dr. Richard Littlebear is the president of Chief Dull Knife College on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. He can be reached

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Join the Conversation