By Diana Lucía Abarca, CF-SLP, is a fellow with the Start with Equity program at the Children’s Equity Project
The Montana government has recently passed an act, HB 287, to amend the Montana Language Preservation Program. The legislation was originally “established to support efforts of Montana tribes to preserve and perpetuate Indian languages in the form of spoken, written, sung, or signed language.” The act revises the existing program to emphasize partnerships between tribal governments and school districts. Largely advocated by Zero to Five Montana, a statewide early childhood advocacy organization, the act also extends the original legislation to include partnerships with early childhood education programs within the bill.
Montana is home eight tribes and twelve tribal languages. 10.5% of infants and toddlers in Montana are American Indian. The newly amended legislation will support the language preservation of many Indian families at the earliest years of a child’s life, when their brain and communication skills are at their most malleable.
The implementation of the Montana Indian Language Preservation Program is overseen by the Office of Public Instruction(OPI). In the past two years, OPI has awarded funding to six school districts and tribal governments to participate in the program. Currently, the office is creating guidelines for all new regulations which will include collaborations with early childhood settings and family centers. These guidelines will be put into place in October.
Zero to Five Montana will also have an active role as the regulations roll out. Carrie Spotted Bear, Zero to Five Montana’s Early Childhood Tribal Policy Coordinator and member of the Blackfeet Nation, provides technical assistance and support to tribal governments in their application for and implementation of their language preservation efforts. In 2022, Spotted Bear led the 2022 Montana Infant/Toddler Tribal Language Pilot which included five early childhood centers designing and implementing tribal language preservation efforts. Future programming will continue to support the implementation of the recently amended legislation.
Montana’s large population of American Indians calls for unique policies and programming to support the success of these children and families. Several initiatives, including this recent amendment and Zero to Five Montana’s focus on developing a tribal coalition, are evidence of Montana’s commitment towards empowering American Indian families and children.
Carrie Spotted Bear leads the Zero to Five Montana ZTT Built for Babies project core team. Click here for more information on this new ZERO TO THREE state project.