CROW AGENCY – A drum circle sang songs of victory. A smudging ceremony wiped away the tears. And Crow tribal elders spoke in Apsáalooke (Crow language) about the next generation that has yet to be born.
Friday’s celebration at Little Big Horn College wasn’t just the culmination of a years-long project to capture the words and culture of the Crow people, it was also a testament to saving the words that had been buried deep in many tribal members’ memories, preserving them and making them live again.
On Friday, at a three-hour ceremony, The Language Conservancy, an Indiana-based group focused on preserving languages, especially indigenous tongues, unveiled the “Crow Dictionary,” a massive collection of nearly 850 pages that documents the language and is the first major collection of the language published since 1975.
Not only is the dictionary more user-friendly and modern, it doubles the number of collected words from 5,500 to more than 10,000 – a huge accomplishment for saving a language that had been on the decline, but has recently seen a turnaround as language immersion programs grow on the reservation and a popular phone app has digitized the dictionary.
In many ways, the songs and speeches weren’t just a celebration of the dictionary’s arrival, they were a victory against time itself.
“For other languages, you can go somewhere else in the world to still hear them being spoken,” said Jacob Brien, whose Crow name is Ishkoochìia Chiiakaamnáah. “But this is the only place in the world where you can learn about this and hear it.”
Estimates range on how many people speak Apsáalooke, but many peg the number around 2,000.
Read more: Missoula Current