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HHR secretary announces funding for Native language, early education

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aPABLO — Meeting with leaders and young people from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, visiting the People’s Center for a demonstration of fancy, traditional and jingle dancing, learning a round dance and lunching on Indian tacos were all part of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell’s trip to Montana on Aug. 18. 

Burwell visited the Flathead Reservation with Senator Jon Tester and his wife, Sharla. The trio also planned a visit to the Blackfeet Reservation.

“Governor Bullock has worked this summer to establish a specific effort in terms of the Montana office of American Indian health,” said Secretary Burwell, “We work on both sides of this and consider it all one, the health as well as the early education for children.”

Senator Tester said he was glad Secretary Burwell was open to visiting Indian Country.

After spending a day with the tribes, Secretary Burwell can pick up information and “make the department more effective, make sure the bucks go further and make sure they really get to the ground to help the people who need help,” Senator Tester said.

In keeping with her key issues of tribal healthcare and early education for children, Secretary Burwell announced new funding to preserve native language and strengthen early childhood development and tribal courts. HHS will award 4.2 million for Native American Language revitalization, $600,000 for a Tribal Early Learning Initiative and $1 million for the Tribal Court Improvement Program. 

One special category of native language revitalization grants, the Esther Martinez Immersion grants, will be awarded to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to launch a language immersion nest, serving children through age 3.

The N’kwusm school in Arlee is a Salish immersion school for older children, preschool age up to middle school, and is in its 14th year. 

“The grant will impact N’kwusm because some of those students (in the nest program) might choose to attend N’kwusm when they are older,” said Rosie Matt, financial grants officer at N’kwusm. “The great thing about this grant is that it will be reaching more children.” 

 The Bitterroot Salish dialect, spoken on the Flathead Reservation, is critically endangered with less than 1 percent of tribal members using it for daily communication and only 30 fluent speakers, all over age 50, according to a press release from Burwell’s staff. 

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