Fort Belknap Reservation, White Clay Language is Spoken. By: Matt Remle

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Fort Belknap Reservation is the only place in the world where the White Clay language is spoken.  In addition to the uniqueness of the language, the White Clay Immersion School is unique because it is based at a tribal college: Aaniiih Nakoda College.  Over the past 40 years, the tribal college movement has led the fight for educational self-determination among Indian people.  The creation of tribal college-immersion school partnerships represents the next important movement for Indian education.  White Clay Immersion School K-8 school on the campus of Aaniiih Nakoda College has established the precedent for this innovative model.

This unique and innovative partnership serves as a model for other American Indian communities faced with the impending loss of Native language(s) and unsatisfactory learning experiences for their children within the local public school system.  In this way, the school’s benefits will extend far beyond the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and serve as a model for indigenous communities across the United States and throughout the world.

Tribal nations’ language authorities or commissions officially recognize the urgent and critical nature of our tribal language, its preservation/revitalization, and its relationship to our cultural and social well-being.  Aaniiih Nakoda College operates a Native language immersion school that focuses on the White Clay (Aaniiih) language and relies heavily on native knowledge bases and Native ways of knowing and learning, while incorporating non-native ways of learning to offer students the best of both worlds and help them become positive and successful individuals.

Aaniiih Nakoda College established the White Clay Language Immersion School in 2003.  The White Clay Immersion school celebrated a historic year in 2011 graduating the first class of 8th grade students that began the school at the age of 4. The school has gone on to graduate another class in 2012 and began 3 new cohorts of students in the lower grades with the Alumni serving as Mentors in the school actively participating in the White Clay Immersion School.

The White Clay Immersion School is an example of indigenous people being resilient and innovative.  The White Clay Immersion School is an example of a peoples’ love for their children, their ways and their language.  The people of Aaniiih Nakoda College, the White Clay Immersion School Staff & Teachers and Fort Belknap Community have successfully created a holistic education system around their Aaniiih children strengthening their language, identity, self-esteem, pride, education and traditions.  The White Clay Immersion School calls Aaniiih Nakoda College home; another indigenous education institution started by the people of the Fort Belknap reservation for the people of the Fort Belknap reservation and surrounding communities.  The successes of our projects within the educational entities we have created for people of all generations will continue to grow and reflect our resolve to remain Aaniiihnin.

For journalist info only to provide background and insight into our journey.

Quick Bio & recent successes surrounding the Founder and Director of the White Clay Immersion School:

A brief summary of important highlights include:

  • Director, Dr. Lynette Chandler received the state “Unsung Hero Award” for work in the White Clay Immersion School for the State of MT;
  • Director, Dr. Lynette Chandler received the “Montana Indian Educator of the Year” Award from the Montana Indian Education Association that serves, public and private schools across the state of Montana;
  • The Fort Belknap Indian Community Council declared May 7, 2012 as “Dr. Lynette Chandler Day” in honor of the directors accomplishments in education, community service and language revitalization with her founding, directing and teaching the White Clay Language Immersion school

The school was founded in 2003.  The students that have transferred to public high schools in the area are all on the honor roll and have excelled into the advanced classes in reading and math; some have even been moved up whole grade levels in certain subjects based on their academic achievements and academic preparation by the White Clay Immersion School.  They are viewed as young leaders in our community and make up the largest generation of speakers now on the Fort Belknap reservation; sadly our Elders have left or are leaving us that were first generation speakers of our language.

LRI-Language Preservation Matt Remle

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