Founded in 1987, the Institute has its national headquarters and community-based programs on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwest Montana.
In 1985, a reservation wide survey was conducted on the status quo of the Blackfoot language. The survey indicated the majority of first language speakers, those who learned the language as children, were in their late fifties. The study projected within twenty years, or by 2005, without a serious reintroduction of the language, the few remaining speakers would be well into their eighth decade of life. The Blackfoot language on the Blackfeet Indian reservation faced a reality, if no new speakers were created, the language and the values within would be gone.
Piegan Institute, a private 501 c 3 nonprofit, was founded and chartered in 1987 to research, promote and preserve Native American languages, in particular the Blackfoot language of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana. The institute originated with two university trained tribal members and a group of older generation Blackfoot speakers and ceremonial people.
Piegan Institute’s philosophy and vision of action always embraces four original guiding principles established by the group of older generational speakers and ceremonial people.
*One. Never ask permission to accept stewardship of the Blackfoot language.
*Two. Never debate the merits of the institute’s vision to preserve tribal languages.
*Three. Respect the power of the Blackfoot language.
*Four. Show, do not tell. Don’t waste time talking about what should be done, instead work hard to accomplish the vision.
Founded in 1987 the Piegan Institute currently serves the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, located in Browning, Montana. Created by a group of visionary Blackfeet leaders. The Piegan Institute’s mission is to promote, preserve, research and restore Native American Languages.
In 1992 the Piegan Institute addressed our mission to preserve Native American Languages by revitalizing the Blackfoot Language within the Blackfeet Tribe and establishing the Nizi Puh Wah Sin Blackfoot Language Schools Immersion Program focused on educating kindergarten through eighth grade scholars. Creating the Moccasin Flat, Cuts Wood and Lost Children Schools.
The schools are called Nizi PuhWah Sin meaning, “real speak” referring to the language of the people. To “real speak” means to speak the Blackfoot Language very well and poetically. People who “real speak” are known within the tribe and the language as Nizi ta piks, or “real people”.
The sole purpose of the Nizi Puh Wah Sin program is to teach children to speak the Blackfoot language without passing judgment on their intellectual abilities
In 1995, the institute members sensed a demand not only to study the language, also to address an increasing desire from parents to have their children learn to speak the language. With the simple goal of creating a school to teach the Blackfoot Language, the staff researched a design on how to teach children to learn and speak a tribal language in an all-day immersion school program. Details incorporated into the design included the decision to seek private funding for operations to assure autonomy and freedom from interference. Especially important was private funding assured Blackfoot prayer would be an integral part of the language instruction. Guidance from the Native Hawaiian group, Aha Punano Leo, on the merits of an all-day language immersion program inspired our work and mission. In 1995, the Piegan Institute purchased land and built a one-room private school named Moccasin Flat for all day instruction exclusively in the Blackfoot language.
In 2000, a larger privately funded K-8 immersion schools named Lost Children and Cuts Wood were built on land purchased in the town of Browning Montana, the reservation headquarters. Students in the Nizi Puh Wah Sin program, especially graduates, are noted for their Blackfoot and English language prowess and it is a success to see their numbers exceed that of the few remaining older generation of first language speakers of the Blackfoot language on the Blackfeet Indian reservation today.
In 2014-15-16, Ian Weber, Jesse DeRosier, Andrea Running Wolf, Terran Last Gun Kipp, and Naatosi Fish are all graduates of Cuts Wood School and have all returned to teach a language course to a new generation of students at the Cuts Wood School.
The fact is 18 years ago not one child in the Blackfeet tribe could speak the Blackfoot language, yet today represent the newest generation of speakers. The continued creation of new speakers of the tribal language remains the ultimate assessment of the institute’s work. Students from the immersion school program speak the Blackfoot language at various levels of proficiency including exceptional and fluent. Students transition from a private school setting to a public school environment with ease and have steadily over the years excelled.