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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.

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 240 – Process Writing I

19274550666_449880ab25_kCourse Description:

As one of the four basic language skills writing is an important component of learning a second language. Writing can reinforce what language students learn through classroom activities or other exposure to the target language. It allows contextual use of vocabulary and grammar. In order for Crow language teachers to employ the advantages of writing, they have to be introduced to the methods of process writing, as an approach to creating texts in various genres, developing their own specific literary style and broadening up the ability to express ideas and concepts in Crow clearly and eloquently. Language teachers who can write in the target language are generally better in teaching writing.

Process writing focuses on allowing language learners to write with plenty of room left for error. Correction begins gradually, and students are encouraged to write or communicate through writing regardless of their knowledge of grammar and structure.

This course will introduce the stages of process writing (prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing/sharing) and the process of suggesting corrections by the teacher. It will also provide the opportunity for the participants to practice process writing.

Course Textbooks:

New Crow Dictionary

Prairie Dog Goes to School

The Buffalo and the Boat

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.



CRW 102 – Teaching Crow Level 2 Methods

27250846094_e8160c1ebb_oCourse Description:

This course is an intensive practical overview of teaching Crow using the Speak Crow! Level 2 Textbook. This course will also emphasize introducing and reinforcing vocabulary with flashcards, props, and Total Physical Response (TPR) methods.  It will also address classroom management techniques for the language classroom as well as using different teaching modalities to address diverse learning styles.

Course Objectives:

To introduce teachers in the effective use of the LLC Level 2 textbook, so that they are adept at preparing lesson plans and teaching classes using this material.

Course Textbooks:

“Speak Crow!: Level 2 Crow Textbook”, Crow Language Consortium, Hardin, 2015.

Reflections on Crow Summer Institute 2016


This year marks the second year that the Crow Summer Institute has been held at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, MT. With the highest attendance to date, we wanted to talk to some of the participants and instructors to get their thoughts and reflections on this year’s training.

Doris Stewart PlainfeatherDoris Stewart Plainfeather – This is Doris’ 2nd year attending the Institute; in fact, we spoke with her exactly a year ago, when she took Teaching Crow Level 1 Methods. This time, Doris is taking Crow Materials Development Level 3 with Father Randolph Graczyk.

“I am really enjoying the way Father Randolph leads the course. We are translating the new textbook from English into Crow, and he gives everyone a chance to figure out the words, write them down, and pronounce them.”

Doris also shared that as a first language speaker of Crow, she is seeing the language in a different way thanks to the classes she’s taken at the Institute, “I learned a lot, and I really enjoy it. I am understanding it more – all the rules and even the sounds.”

Like many teachers that attend the Institute, Doris is taking these classes for her certification and is currently teaching Conversational Crow and Cultural Economics at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency. “I like the materials, and I used the Bíiluukaalilaah! – Speak Crow! Level 1 textbook this past year in my Conversational Crow class. The students really enjoyed it because it explains everything in a simple way. It’s easy to use.”

Without the passion and support of teachers like Doris, the Institute would not be where it is today.

“This is my thing. I love teaching our language. And our younger generation needs to know that this language is theirs.”

Sharon, at the head of the table, sharing thoughts with her students in the Crow Immersion Materials Development class.

Sharon Peregoy – As our Institute has grown, we have also added new classes, including Apsáalooke Immersion Materials Development, taught for the first time this year by Sharon Peregoy. Sharon has taught a variety of Education courses at Little Big Horn College, including Crow Studies, Schools & Society, and Crow Oral Literature. In her classes, Peregoy highlights the importance of integrating knowledge and language into subject matter, “We can’t decontextualize. So in my Immersion Materials Development course I tell my students that their teaching methods and curriculum development have to take a contextual approach to engage the students. It’s been exciting in that what we’re trying to do is identify where the need is for lessons and materials […] We are going beyond by melding language, academic and cultural concepts all together.”

Peregoy shared that the atmosphere in the classrooms and at the Institute overall has been very positive and exciting.

“In talking with different teachers and students,” she noted, “people are really satisfied. There is learning and discussion happening even in the hallways. There’s a great openness, willingness to share and interest in discussion. Everyone is more than comfortable sharing ideas as they are trying to add on to their Crow language proficiency; there is a level of collegiality between students and teachers that adds to an evolved professionalism in teaching. I think this level of exploration is critical.”

“And everyone is having fun, which is the most important thing!”

Janines Gazette PhotoJanine Pease – The Crow Summer Institute owes much of its expansion and success to its main coordinator and the founder of Little Big Horn College. We spoke with Janine about this year’s achievements, including the growing sense of professionalism among the students and teachers, leadership development, and what we can expect from the Institute in the coming years.

“The response from our community has been tremendous,” shared Janine, “There is a substantial increase in enrollment and we are seeing more teachers from the community attending the classes. The students have become well-acquainted with the faculty and there is a growing sense of professionalism – they know one another from last year’s Institute, and some of them have met once a month over the course of the last year. Now they come together and are benefiting from that.” It seems this same growing sense of professionalism is what struck Sharon about this year’s Institute.

Janine added that there is also a wealth of peer instruction that has provided a new perspective. “We’ve had a special ingredient with the Intensive Crow for Beginners class this year, which has brought new energy to folks in the class. There are people from outside the town and even outside the tribe, which provides a valuable perspective of a totally new student: we are looking at the challenge of moving English speakers into learning Crow.”

It is not only new students that are gaining knowledge from the Institute. Janine noted that returning participants have really benefited from this year’s emphasis on Crow Materials Development courses, as they put some time and creativity into exchanging thoughts on what the class produces together. The participants have something to take back to their classrooms, but the classroom is not the only place for the language.

“We’re so very devoted to the development of our professional teachers. I think we’ve begun to develop leadership among the participants – those who are thinking about what to do outside of the classroom.  This is so important for sustaining the language movement.”

In the future, Janine says that we can expect an even bigger expansion for the Institute, to accommodate the participants’ growing needs and interest.

“We’re thinking of adding more time to the Institute, perhaps another week of classes. We’ve asked students to evaluate their experience this year and we are inviting criticism and analysis as we look forward to a better and more beneficial training.”





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