Montana Public Radio

Montana's Native Language Program Takes Big Budget Hit

Mar 29, 2018

State budget cuts mean the Montana Indian Language Program has less than half the funding it had in previous years to try to stop the rapid decline of native language speakers. State lawmakers got an update from people who work with that program Thursday.

Casey Lozar, an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes who also works as an advisor on tribal policy in the Department of Commerce, says there has become an urgency to their work in the language preservation program.

“It’s appalling the condition and health of our native languages," Lozar said. "There are some tribes that have fewer than five fluent speakers and some have zero first-generation speakers.”

When the language preservation initiative was created by the 2013 Legislature, Lozar says lawmakers allocated a million dollars a year to fund it. But now, because of triggered cuts to the state budget last August and other planned reductions, the program will get a little more than $300,000 annually for the current biennium.

Lozar says the program could receive an additional $125,000 cut depending on how state revenues look this August.

Lozar says the Commerce Department and tribal program leaders are working to find ways to make the language program work with reduced funding. He says increased use of audio and visual technology is improving people’s access to learn native languages.