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Summit talks language learning in early childhood

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PABLO — The 2023 Montana Early Childhood Tribal Language Summit is taking place this week, showcasing the work done by Native communities to advance tribal language education for young learners. 

The Summit first had its start in 2018. Put together by Zero to Five Montana, a dedicated early childhood organization focused on increasing access to early care and education, the event wasn’t held in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID-19. Now in full swing, this year’s return event has invited keynote speakers Cree Whelshula, who is the executive director of the kwu cnxi? nonprofit in Seattle and Muqsahkwat (Ron) Corn, who is a teacher of the Menominee language. 

The breakout sessions held this year included a more interactive and involved round table format. They addressed not only early childhood programs, but adult language programs, immersion language schools, early childhood stations showcasing the integration of language and culture, and advocating strategies for language involvement. 

Carrie Spotted Bear, Zero to Five’s Montana Early Childhood Tribal Policy Coordinator, also shared Native language legislative updates. 

Hired in 2021, Spotted Bear shared that one of the revelations the organization has had is that early childhood language learning is a family endeavor. Zero to Five has invested in the creation of kids’ books in tribal languages that families can take with them to encourage learning at home. 

In May of this year, the organization also launched a new pilot program to assist communities throughout the state build their own language learning policies, programs and systems. The programs will provide families resources and opportunities to help language thrive. Mini grants are available to applicants to offset program costs and to increase parental engagement. This year, Spotted Bear got involved with legislation for early childhood language learning as well. 

“Learning a language is so important for kids; it helps them understand their identity and heritage,” Spotted Bear commented. 

So far, the Summit has always been held at SKC but Spotted Bear revealed that any other tribes are interested in hosting the event. As Zero to Five is involved with all tribes in Montana, they are encouraged to reach out with their desires to host the summit  . 

To learn more about Zero to Five or ways to get involved, visit:

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