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Interview with Janine Pease

A talk with Janine Pease, Coordinator of the Crow Summer Institute

“I’m determined to see my great-granddaughter have the opportunity to regain the language. I want her to be Crow, not an amalgamated, globalized, generic human being.”

Founding president of Little Big Horn College… first Crow woman to earn a doctorate… MacArthur Fellow… Janine Pease has been a leading force for Native American education for decades. Janine sat down with us during the 2017 Crow Summer Institute to talk about the Institute and her own language revitalization journey.

I’m Janine Pease, and I’ve been working here at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, Montana since 1975. I’m Crow Indian to begin with, so this is my home. My work is to help our adults get the training and education they need to be complete, full, powerful, human beings.

For the past four years, I have been teaching humanities, communication arts, and social sciences. I also work on language issues, particularly language immersion, and have been Coordinator of the Crow Summer Institute for several years. It’s some of the most inspiring work I’ve ever done.

Can you give us a snapshot of Crow Nation today?

The Crow Nation is in South Central Montana, and our reservation is huge, one of the largest land bases owned by a Native nation — 2.1 million acres, in-between the size of the Rhode Island and Connecticut. We used to have a much larger land base. Our first reservation was thirty million acres. But  it has always been in this general area. We were never relocated. We’re privileged to be right in the middle of our homeland.

Our tribe has 13,500 members, about 75% of whom live on the reservation. We’re not among the largest tribes of the nation, but we have a very strong language and cultural identity.  Our children are served by fourteen different schools..

How many people still speak the Crow language?

Well, there’s various estimates. The lowest is about 1500 really fluent speakers. I’ll take the middle ground. I think there’s more like 2500 speakers, less than 20% of enrolled members.  In the 1960s, our fluency rate was about 85%.

There’s a lot of pressure on our language. Kids have access to cable TV and social media, which is all in English. Parents, young parents may not be making a conscious decision not to teach their children. They themselves may be semi-fluent or passive speakers, but they aren’t in turn handing their knowledge of the language on to their children.  We’re very, very shocked and upset about language loss. Because we really want to have a vital language. The drop has been precipitous.

Why does language loss matter?

Our language contains all of the cultural elements, all the history, all the literature, all the traditions of the Crow people. We’re 13,500 strong in the entire world of 6 billion people. Our language carries all of that. Language vitality is the vehicle through which all of that can continue into the future. We’ve been a people for thousands of years, distinctive from all the language, culture and tradition around us. We expect to stay distinctive for generations to come. Our language is the lifeline that maintains and keeps all of that together. It’s like the oxygen in a tube that goes to the respirator. This is what language is to our culture.

There’s a lot to show that language strengthens. Language can have a lot to do with resuscitating, with revitalizing, with bringing back how life fits together.

It’s easy to look at the number of Crow and say, “There are only 13,500 of you. What’s the big deal?” To us, that’s our world. That is who we are. We care enormously about that. About our people, our land, our water, our history, our traditions.

How did you get so involved in language revitalization?

My involvement with language immersion came about somewhat gradually. Although Little Big Horn College has always had a deep commitment to revitalizing the language. We require all our students to take Crow Language I and II, as well as Conversational Crow.

In the year 2000, when I was Cabinet Head for Education, I was commissioned to study language immersion in Native America, Native Hawaii and Maori sites in New Zealand. I spent two years visiting sites and studying the writings by indigenous people. I became aware, on a broad basis, of what’s happened with Native Languages and their revitalization efforts.

Around that time, our chairman Cedric Black Eagle wanted to establish a lead language immersion site at the Head Start. So we put together a proposal that successfully funded three years of Head Start language immersion nests. It was very exciting to see our children in a Crow language immersion learning environment.

In 2011, we studied the fluency of our children who entered Head Start that year —  and found that only around 15% actually spoke Crow. We didn’t realize how much language loss had occurred with our very youngest children. We were shocked. And I began to realize there was little or no association between all of the Crow language teachers.

How did The Language Conservancy enter the picture?

Well, it was about that same time I met Wil Meya from The Language Conservancy — actually through a relative of mine who lives in Bloomington.

Wil came out to Crow Country, and we met with all the schools on the reservation. Wil talked about the work they were doing at the Lakota Summer Institute. The schools expressed enthusiastic support for this type of language revitalization work, especially curriculum development.

It became apparent we needed to have the Language Consortium here on the ground in Crow Country.

So Wil and I, together with Father Randolph Randolph Graczyk, the linguist in the Crow Language, and John Boyle, a linguist with the Hidatsa language, established the Crow Language Consortium. We patterned it in a lot of ways after Lakota Language Consortium, with teacher trainings through the Summer Institute,, the publication of a dictionary and children’s books.

We recently became a 501(c)(3), and very excited to take new initiatives. Training more teachers, operating a language immersion school, developing apps for kids and families — we have lots of ambitious plans. We’re taking it one step at a time.

The Summer Institute has brought our teachers together. They certainly knew of another as members of the Crow Indian community and as educators. But because they’re at far-flung points around our reservation, they weren’t acquainted with each other’s work.

Each had created their own curriculum materials for their classroom, but they hadn’t met one another, much less talk about their own innovations or experiences with the children. The institute brought them together.

The participants have worked together on all the workbooks we use now for Crow language teaching. Father Randolph has been the lead translator, making the curriculum really come alive. But everyone has gone over absolutely every word.

So we’ve built a group of professional Crow language educators that didn’t exist before. We’re very excited about that, and the teachers have benefited greatly. Through the Summer Institute, we’ve been able to assist teachers build their expertise in language teaching methods, and expand exponentially their materials. That’s very exciting.

But the real beneficiaries are the children in the classroom. We’re excited to see expertise in Crow reading and writing return to the classrooms.

I have a grandson in the Lodge Grass Language Immersion School, and he’s become quite a speaker of the Crow Language. My great granddaughter has been attending Songbird Daycare, where they have a language immersion part of their day, and she comes home with quite a bit of Crow language.

You sound optimistic….

I am optimistic! I’m optimistic because we have school districts interested in devoting learning time to the language and culture. We have bright and understanding teachers of the language who are fluent in the Crow language. And we have young people who are fluent who can step in or expand that expertise in our learning environment.

See, children have a marvelous learning capacity. A lot of adults say: “I can’t learn it, I don’t know how they can learn another language.” ” But for heaven’s sake, all around the world we see children learning multiple languages! That’s what we’re counting on in this revitalization effort: the remarkable learning ability children have.

And we know about successful  language restoration efforts elsewhere: Gaelic, Maori, Native Hawaiian, and so on.

So I think we’re at a pivotal moment where we can reverse that trend. But in all grades, there’s tremendous work being done.

Can you talk more about the work still to be done? What are the biggest challenges?

One of the biggest challenges is we need schools to give more time for language and culture. Some of the schools may give 15 minutes once a week. That’s hardly enough to make the difference to gain fluency. We want to see our children speak Crow to one another on the playground, telling stories, making jokes. That’s not happening now — but it could be happening in a very short period of time. Especially for the little kids in the language immersion schools — they are speaking the language all the time. So we know it can happen.

There also needs to be parent and family commitment. We need to have a more comprehensive look at the child’s full environment. Working on a commitment that’s community-wide is something that really needs to occur.  What’s going on in the school is also a family initiative, and a tribal nation’s initiative.

Is there anything else you’d like to add, perhaps from a personal perspective?

My great-grandmother, my grandpa, and my dad were sent to boarding school. They were allowed to speak only English. And so now, in my family, none of us speak the Crow language.

Now my grandchildren understand Crow, but don’t speak it. I’m determined to see my great-granddaughter has the opportunity to regain the language.  want her to be Crow Indian. I don’t want her to be an amalgamated, globalized, generic human being.

If we lose the language, it’s like pulling the plug on our lives.

There’s another line of discussion on language learning that has to do with the colonization of Native Americans. I recently came across writings of Native women who are looking at the mental health of Native Americans and the effects of intergenerational genocide. The removal of people from their homelands, their traditions and cultures is the fourth definition of genocide adopted by the United Nations.

What’s been lost over many generations, it will take perhaps that many generations to restore.  It’s really intergenerational heartbreak.

We need to think about just how big the loss is. We need to conceptualize it. We need to talk about it, and understand just how how mean it is, how harsh it is on our people. We’re making an effort to do something that’s not easy.

The challenge is to realize the power we do have. It’s not going to take some outside power. It’s power within that will really make the difference.

We have friends. And I think that’s one of the most exciting things that we’ve been able to experience is the work of the Lakota Language Consortium.

We’ve found that we are not alone. And that’s really, really amazing. That’s so key, I think, to the daily discouragements that you have. You’re really not alone.

This week — Public Meeting for Crow Language Revitalization

Updates on new apps and dictionary, Crow Immersion School in the works, L1-L3 textbooks, picture books and more!
With Wil Meya, Executive Director of The Language Conservancy and board member, Crow Language Consortium, and Tylis BadBear, director of the Crow Language program at the Department of Education.

10:00am-12:00n……….Apsáalooke Nation Headstart Program

9:00am-11:00am……….St. Charles Mission School
6:00pm-8:00pm………..Crow Agency Public School

2:00pm-4:00pm……….St. Labre School
6:15pm-8:15pm………..Wyola Public School

FRIDAY Sept 22
9:00am-11:00am……….Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy
12:00pm-2:00pm……….Lodge Grass Public School 1

Randy Graczyk
University: St. Charles

Father Randolph Graczyk is a Capuchin-Franciscan priest currently serving as pastor of St. Charles Parish on the Crow Reservation in Pryor, Montana. He holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Chicago and assists with the immersion program at St. Charles. Father Graczyk is fluent in Crow and has published a grammar of the Crow language, a Crow dictionary, and is currently helping with the development of Level 3 Crow language curricular materials.

John Boyle

John P. Boyle earned his MA and PhD in Linguistics from the University of Chicago, and has taught linguistics at Northeastern Illinois University. He specializes in Crow and Hidatsa language programs and works on Apsáalooke Language Curriculum Development Project. He has also served on the Committee on Endangered Languages for the Linguistic Society of America, and as organizer of the annual Siouan-Caddoan Languages Conference. 

Janine Pease

Dr. Pease is a Crow educator and advocate. She is the founding president of the Little Big Horn college as well as the past president of the American Indiana Higher Education Consortium and director of the American Indian College Fund. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Advisory Council on Indiana Education and the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities. She has also served as a trustee of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Roanne Hill

Roanne Hill is a Crow language and culture teacher at St. Labre High School. She grew up speaking Crow and didn’t learn English until age 5. Roanne has been involved in the Crow Summer Institute as a teacher since it began in 2013. She teaches classes on how to teach the Crow language, including Teaching Crow Level 2 Methods and Teaching Crow Level 3 Methods. Her voice is also used in many of Crow Language Consortium’s materials.

Jason Cummins

Jason Cummins is the Principal of the Crow Agency School, and also serves as the head of its language program. He is integral to the promotion and continuation of Crow (Apsáalooke) language revival within the region.


Wil Meya

Wil is a national advocate for endangered languages and draws on more than 20 years of experience in higher education, linguistics, film production, and nonprofit management.  Under Mr. Meya’s leadership, the Conservancy has become one of the foremost promoters of worldwide action for safeguarding indigenous languages and cultures and the Lakota Language Consortium has become the leader in protecting and preserving the Lakota language- working with over 80 schools, 20,000 Lakota students, and 8 tribes.

Curtis Yarlott

Curtis Yarlott is the Executive Director and President at St. Labre Indian School. He is directly responsible for implementing results-driven education reforms, contributing to a higher percentage of graduates and post-secondary academic acceptance. He is a proven, results-oriented, senior-level leader with experience in multi-cultural environments involving both not-for-profits and for-profits.

Crow Language Summer Institute Returns to Montana


May 4, 2017


Crow Language Summer Institute Returns to Montana
June 5-23 at Little Big Horn College

CROW AGENCY, MT – The Crow Summer Institute (CSI), the nation’s premiere Crow language training for teachers and learners, returns for a fifth year on June 5-23, 2017.

Responding to growing interest, his year’s Institute expands from two to three weeks, with new courses for beginning Crow language learners and first-year teachers.

CSI offers courses in teaching methods that integrate textbooks and dictionaries, phone apps, games and music. Attendees also participate in culturally relevant activities and traditional Crow teachings.

CSI coordinator Janine Pease, a renowned educator and founder of Little Big Horn College. believes that the Institute not only helps keep the language alive, it helps participants succeed in life.

“When students have tradition, culture and language as a part of their education. they’re very strong human beings.”

For more information and to register online: (paper registration forms are also available for download). There is no fee for registering.

The Crow Language Consortium Facebook page ( is another site to learn more and connect with other Crow speakers.

The Crow Summer Institute was launched by Little Big Horn College, The Crow Language Consortium and The Language Conservancy in 2013 to help reverse the decline of Crow language speakers.

There are an estimated 1,500 Crow speakers among the 13,000 registered Crow tribe members. Nevertheless, the tribe faces the challenge of keeping the language strong for new generations. In 2012, the Crow language was defined as “definitely endangered” by UNESCO.

Crow Language Consortium (CLC) is a collective of Crow schools, colleges, and educators working to preserve the Crow language for future generations by providing language materials, apps. multimedia, teacher training and workshops.

Little Big Horn College is a public two-year college chartered by the Crow Tribe based in Crow Agency, MT, capital of the Crow Indian Reservation. Courses focus on job opportunities on the Crow Reservation and surrounding region.

The Language Conservancy is the leader in working with Native American tribes to preserve languages. TLC develops programs and teacher trainings, creates materials, and promotes awareness about disappearing languages.

CRW 351 – Crow Material Development Level 3

19094461425_b9da93a6a0_kCourse Description:

This course focuses on material development for the Level 3 TLC textbook “Speak Crow!-Level 3 Crow Textbook”, Crow Language Consortium, Hardin, to be published 2017. Linguists and layout specialists will work with fluent Hidatsa speakers who are also teachers. Together the Lv 3 textbook will be developed with special attention to cultural and linguistic knowledge and relevance.

Course Objectives:

To develop materials and methodology for “Speak Crow!-Level 3 Crow Textbook.

Course Textbooks:

“Speak Crow!-Level 3 Crow Textbook”, Crow Language Consortium, Hardin, to be published 2017.

CRW 241 – Reading I

18908359159_04c1446e00_kCourse Description:

This course will provide students with a basic introduction to the structure of traditional Crow narratives. The topics covered in this course include the following: reading and understanding sentence structures in narrative contexts, use of colorful and complex sentences in Crow stories, as well as learning Crow writing techniques from these stories.

In the process of understanding Crow narrative structure we will also briefly discuss how texts can be used in Crow language classrooms, personalization and pre-reading strategies for teaching Crow reading, post-reading and follow-up possibilities, as well as the relationship of reading skills to general language acquisition.

Students in this course are expected to develop their own short story in Crow, suitable for use as additional material for level 4, as well as accompanying pre- and post- reading exercises. The students will read/teach their own story in class on the last day.

Course Objectives:

Students will:

1. Examine Reading and Analyzing strategies for Crow

2. Develop a short story and read/teach their story to the class.

Course Textbooks:

New Crow Dictionary

CRW 210 – Crow Inflectional Morphology I

Course Description: 27725880571_ddffc021fc_o

Understanding of Crow language structure is essential to teaching the language knowledgably and being effective in the classroom. Proper teaching of Crow is dependent on a firm foundation in the rules of a language. This course is the primary linguistic introduction to Crow grammar and particularly its inflectional and derivational morphology (the internal structure of words) and pedagogical approaches to explaining this grammar.  The rules associated with Crow verbal morphology are one of the most characteristic features of the language and are also a significant challenge for students.

Course Objectives:

To introduce teachers in the effective understanding and use of Crow morphology so that they are adept at preparing lesson plans and teaching classes using grammatical concepts.



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