The White Clay Immersion School on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Harlem, Montana is trying to save the A’ani language. Thanks to the school’s efforts 26 students, a record for the school, are currently studying the Native American language.
“The concept of learning your own language, gives you a real sense of identity. It makes you unique not only to the outside world, but unique to yourself,” Michelle Lewis, the parent of a former student, told KFBB, a television station in Black Eagle, Montana, recently.
Traditional classes like math and reading are taught alongside Native American values like respecting elders and honor.
Dr. Lynette Chandler, the school’s director, feels immersion in the language is key to revitalizing it and keeping the Native American history alive. According to KFBB, A’ani is not spoken anywhere else.
“Historically, Native people have not had a good relationship with education. So I wanted to turn that around and make it a holistic experience –basing it first and foremost on bringing back our language, revitalizing it, having it spoken every day, and used every day,” Chandler told KFBB.
Sean told MSU that the language also teaches the philosophy of White Clay Indians. Like the word for chief actually translates to “generous man.”
“That right there tells you what our way of thinking was,” he told MSU. “It wasn’t the guy who had everything, but the guy who was kind of a benefactor, who looked out for everybody.”
The White Clay Immersion School got some attention back in 2006 as well when it was featured by Terra, a video podcast. At that time the school had only 11 students.
“There’s a familiar saying among Indian people that you have to walk in two worlds,” Chandler told Terra. “Well here at this school I believe we can make those two worlds into one world. You’re not a fractured person anymore. You’re whole and you walk in one world.”
She created a bingo game to make learning the language more fun for students. She says the sound and they match it to the letter on their bingo board.
In the Terra video parents discuss how grateful they are to the school for bringing the language back. Some students even started passing on what they are learning to their parents. This spells success for Chandler.
“This is the last step for the A’ani language and so far we’re winning it. We’re winning the battle, we’re winning the war,” Chandler told Terra. “I would want community members and other tribes to know that all this language immersion school takes is a dream and hard work and anyone can do it.”