CROW AGENCY — Members of the Crow Tribe from all over the state gathered at Little Big Horn College Friday to celebrate the historic release of a Crow language print dictionary.
“I’m all for revitalizing the Crow language,” said Crow tribal member Velma Pretty On Top Pease.
Hundreds of community members who contributed to the most comprehensive Crow language dictionary ever released were honored at a Friday event.
“Studies have shown that if students know their culture, their language, it develops a strong sense of identity,” said Pretty On Top Pease.
Pretty On Top Pease assisted in the recording and rapid word collection of the dictionary. Crow is her first language, but she says that’s not the case with later generations.
“The next generation, the numbers dropped drastically,” said Pretty On Top Pease.
The dictionary consists of over 11,000 Crow words and will be used as a tool for future generations to ensure the language endures. This project has been in the works for nearly a decade.
“What this means is that the Crow language is one of the best-documented Native languages in North America,” said Dr. Timothy McCleary, co-editor of the Crow dictionary.
McCleary has been in the community for 30 years and knows the language, but he says he’s not fluent.
“The major difference between Crow and English is that Crow is what’s called a tonal language, so much like a number of Asian languages,” said McCleary.
None of this would have been possible without the Crow Language Consortium, a collective of Crow schools, colleges, and educators working to preserve the language.
Cyle Oldelk helped translate Crow words into English for the dictionary. He’s been working on this project since 2015 and Crow was his first language.
“When I was in Head Start, we were told not to speak Crow, and then now it’s to a point where they’re encouraging it. I think it’s really, it’s got to happen for our language to survive,” said Oldelk.
Now, future generations of Crow tribal members will have a resource to keep their culture alive.