Native Sun News: Tribal college hosts language immersion camp

The following story was written and reported by Clara Caufield, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

A sign at Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana. Photo from Facebook

Keeping the Cheyenne language alive
Chief Dull Knife College concludes 18th Annual Language Immersion Camp
By Clara Caufield
Native Sun News Correspondent

LAME DEER, Mont. –– “Talk to me in Cheyenne” and “Don’t forget our language,” was the theme for the 2015 Cheyenne language immersion camp recently held for youth from ages 5-18 at Chief Dull Knife College (CDKC).

On Friday, July 31, the two weeks of classes were celebrated with a traditional meal of drymeat, frybread and chokecherry pudding on a college lawn. Dr. Richard Littlebear, CDKC President, Tribal Vice-president Winfield Russell, both fluent speakers attended as did other community members, on hand to commend and encourage the young language learners.

Elrena Whitedirt, camp coordinator said: “We hope they will take what they have learned back home and continue on. This gives us hope that there will Cheyenne language speakers in the future.”

The 18th annual camp, sponsored by Chief Dull Knife College, was organized into two weeklong sessions; the first for 5-10 year olds and the second for ages 11-18, averaging 20 students per session. Four certified Cheyenne language instructors taught daily classes including Adeline Spotted Elk; Dolly Washington; Allene Killsontop and Joyce Wounded Eye.

Altogether, the camp provided about ten temporary jobs on the impoverished reservation and all for fluent speakers, following the immersion model, where only Cheyenne is spoken during the camp experience.

“They catch on fast,” said one instructor.

In 2014, a two week language immersion camp was also organized by CDKC, held at Bear Butte, South Dakota for adults. That event was sponsored by a grant from the State of Montana, most likely a one-time event.

“We like to focus on the young ones,” camp instructors said.

Recently, the State of Montana passed a law to continue supporting tribal language preservation efforts for Montana Tribes, to be accompanied by additional funding. At Northern Cheyenne, it has not yet been determined how that money will be used.

Throughout the week, several presenters visited with the students about aspects of the Cheyenne culture including; the proper use of tobacco; preparation of prayer clothes; traditional smudging, introduction to drumming/singing; beadwork and a field trip to Lake DeSmet where a water and prayer ceremony were held.

Rick Wolfblack, Tribal Tobacco Prevention Specialist, for example passed out rulers reminding the youth to “Rule out Tobacco.” Eugene Little Coyote, tribal health P.R. officers and previous tribal president explained the use and preparation of blessing cloths, smudging the students.

Tribal caterers Diane Spotted Elk and Rilla American Horse provided healthy meals and snacks during the camp where the students also learned about traditional plant use.

CDKC is committed to the camp for the long haul, hoping that next year more men will participate.

“We need positive male role models,” Elrena noted.

Bertha Limberhand, tribal elder who assisted at the camp noted: “It is so true. We cannot give up on our language. The best time for them to learn is when they are young.”

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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