A Cree language course is set to begin in the next school year for middle school and high school students in Havre.
Jessica Kennedy-Stiffarm is the current Indian Education Coordinator for Havre Public Schools, and she began her position at the beginning of the current school year.
"My goal is to promote Native culture among the students," she explained.
Earlier in the year, she sent out a series of survey questions to the Indigenous students asking for their opinion on activities that they enjoy and want to continue to see.
Out of eight activities, an overwhelming 72.2% of students voted in favor of a language program.
Jessica said that she was surprised by the results: "I thought that they just wanted to focus on cultural activities and they did pick cultural activities as their number two. But both the middle school and the high school picked the language course as their number one."
There is a 25% Indigenous population within the Havre Public School system that is continuing to grow.
Among the students, eighth grader Shonni Twocrow explained why learning Cree is important to her. "I've just always wanted to learn my native language. I feel that it will connect me with my culture."
A problem among many Native American tribes across Montana is a decrease in the number of language speakers.
"There's a huge generation gap." explained Jessica. "I think of my mom who was in her early sixties, she never learned her language. So, there's that huge generation of people that never had the opportunity of learning that language."
There is currently an open position for a class 7 licensed Cree language teacher that the school district hopes to fill by the next school year. The goal is to offer the class as a language credit class in the high school and as an elective credit class in the middle school. Eventually, Jessica wants the class to become a dual-credit course.
“I'm happy that the school board's been supporting the Cree language. Stakeholders are encouraging of us — we have their blessing and I think that it's going to be great.”
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