The White Clay Language Immersion School is a Native Language Survival School operated by Fort Belknap College (FBC), a tribally controlled community college located on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in northcentral Montana. The college was chartered in 1984 by the Fort Belknap Indian Community Council (FBICC), which serves as the governing body of the White Clay People (??????????????????niin??nn??h or Gros Ventre) and Nakoda (Assiniboine) tribes of the Fort Belknap reservation.
In 1998, Fort Belknap College, in collaboration with a twelve-member Gros Ventre Cultural Committee and Native language experts, developed the ???Speaking White Clay Comprehensive Plan for the Revitalization of the Tribal Language.??? The plan stated that without immediate action, the White Clay language faced imminent extinction. It also identified intensive language instruction for the tribe???s young children as the only viable course of action. At the time the plan was written, there were fewer than 25 speakers of the White Clay language, approximately 60 percent of whom were 60 years of age or older. At the same time, no school-aged children spoke the language. In 2010, only three of those original speaker-elders are still alive. However, the number of children speakers has increased from zero to 15. This remarkable increase in children speakers is due to the work of the White Clay Language Immersion School, which opened in 2002. Since 2004, the school has provided all-day instruction in a full range of academic subjects in an immersion setting.
The goal of the proposed project is to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of the White Clay language by doubling the number of children who are fluent speakers of the White Clay language. The project will achieve this goal by accomplishing three specific and measurable objectives. First, the project will expand the immersion school???s current level of instruction to 7th and 8th grades so that at least nine students will graduate from 8th grade who demonstrate fluency in the White Clay language, as well as the academic skills and sense of personal-cultural identity needed to succeed at the high school level. Second, the project will establish a new student cohort of at least 15 1st grade students who will demonstrate measurable progress in speaking the White Clay language by the end of the project period (2013) and fluency within three years after project completion (2016). Third, the project will establish a mentoring program between the immersion school???s 7th and 8th grade students and the incoming cohort of 1st grade students, in which older students will teach the language to younger students through informal conversation and classroom teaching/learning activities. As a result of these mentoring activities, at least 24 immersion school students will attain their language proficiency goals. In addition to the impact indicators used to measure the achievement of these three objectives, the project also will result in measurable increases in partnerships formed and resources leveraged. Detailed strategies and timelines for accomplishing project objectives are presented in Objective Work Plans (OWPs) included in the proposal. The success of the project will be evaluated in terms of its effectiveness in implementing project strategies and achieving project objectives and impact indicators in a manner that accomplishes the overall project goal of doubling the number of children speaking the White Clay language.
Lynette Chandler, Director of the White Clay Language Immersion School, will serve as project director, and all project funds will be administered through the Fort Belknap College Finance Office. The immersion school is requesting $900,000 in Federal funds to carry out this project over thirty-six months. During this three-year period, FBC will provide $225,000 in matching funds, which equals 20% of the total project budget of $1,125,000.