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The Bearer of This Letter

Language Ideologies, Literacy Practices, and the F

Mindy J. Morgan

Publication Year: 2009

The Bearer of This Letter illuminates the enduring effects of colonialism by examining the decades-long tension between written words and spoken words in a reservation community. Drawing on archival sources and her own extensive work in the community, Mindy J. Morgan investigates how historical understandings of literacy practices challenge current Indigenous language revitalization efforts on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana.
Created in 1887, Fort Belknap is home to the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine peoples. The history of these two peoples over the past century is a common one among Indigenous groups, with religious and federal authorities aggressively promoting the use of English at the expense of the local Indigenous languages. Morgan suggests that such efforts at the assimilation of Indigenous peoples had a far-reaching and not fully appreciated consequence. Through a close reading of federal, local, and missionary records at Fort Belknap, Morgan demonstrates how the government used documents as a means of restructuring political and social life as well as regulating access to resources during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a result, the residents of Fort Belknap began to use written English as a means of negotiating with the government and when arguing for structural change during the early reservation period while maintaining distinct arenas for Indigenous language use. These linguistic practices have significantly shaped the community’s perceptions of the utility of writing and continue to play a central role in contemporary language programs that increasingly rely on standardized orthographies for Indigenous language programs.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Indigenous Education


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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

I have a daughter. At the time of this writing she is two years old and is fully engaged in the activities that lead to literacy acquisition. She uses drafts of my book chapters as the paper for her inspired crayon drawings and she "reads" my words by mimicking what she sees me do as I read text aloud. She is lucky, and so am I, in that we see ...

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Notes on Terminology and Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xvi

In speaking about the Fort Belknap tribal communities as political and social entities, I use the terms Assiniboine and Gros Ventre. The Assiniboine are also known as Nakoda, and the Gros Ventre are known as either A'ani or White Clay People. I have chosen to use Assiniboine and Gros Ventre because they are the terms most frequently employed and ...

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Introduction: Fort Belknap and the Question of Indigenous-Language Literacy

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pp. 1-16

It was mid-June in northern Montana and the ground was already baking under the hot afternoon sun. People greeted each other in the parking lot in front of the Fort Belknap Tribal College building and, seeking relief from the heat and the dust, made their way inside. They entered a classroom and took their places behind the long tables, which ...

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1. Before the Reservation: Language Practices and the Documentary Record

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pp. 17-42

In discussing literacy among the Kaluli, Bambi Schieffelin writes, "How a community 'takes up' literacy, how it develops, how it is understood and deployed depends very much on the ideology and context of who is doing the introduction as well as on the ideology and context of those to whom it is being introduced."1 Rather than being a mere ...

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2. Creating Boundaries: English Literacy in the Early Reservation Era

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pp. 43-82

On June 2, 1893, Fr. Balthasar Feusi, a priest at St. Paul's Mission at Fort Belknap Reservation, wrote a lengthy letter to the director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Reverend Stephan: . . . About three weeks ago a boy of the Gros Ventres and Assiniboines chief[,] Jerry Running Fisher[,] died. He was taken away from this school since February. After ...

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3. English Only: Language Ideologies and the Limits of Literacy

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pp. 83-118

English literacy became a part of the existing communicative repertoire at Fort Belknap primarily through its use as a bureaucratic tool and, through its application, tribal members became subject to surveillance by the federal government. The community, recognizing how English documents were used as way of regulating daily life, began to ...

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4. Shifts in Practice: Literacy during the Indian New Deal

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pp. 119-162

In the summer of 1940, The Boy, Thomas Main, and John Buckman gathered at St. Paul's Mission, as they had over the course of the previous two summers, to work with Dr. John Cooper, who was compiling material for a monograph concerning prereservation Gros Ventre religious and cultural practice.1 The Boy served as Cooper's primary ...

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5. Bringing the Languages Back: Developing Bilingual Education at Fort Belknap

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pp. 163-200

Although the Indian New Deal promoted Native cultures and advocated the use of Indigenous languages, especially in the schools, these efforts failed to have a lasting impact on the communities largely because they did not transfer power to the tribes themselves. Without the larger shift to self-determination, tribes continued to be at the whim of ...

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6. The Nakoda Alphabet: Reimagining Literacy and Tradition

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pp. 201-240

Despite a changing ideology that accepted Indigenous languages as symbols of Native identity and as a valuable pedagogical tool for educating young tribal members, the number of Indigenous-language speakers at Fort Belknap decreased rapidly during the last decades of the twentieth century. This precipitous decline forced community ...

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Summary: New Literacies and Old Ways

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pp. 241-250

Efforts to create sustainable and viable language programs have continued to grow at Fort Belknap. The Speaking White Clay (Gros Ventre) Language immersion project was awarded an ANA grant in 2004. The same year, the Assiniboine community at Lodgepole secured an ANA grant to begin language assessment and continue to develop instructional ...


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pp. 251-278


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pp. 279-296


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pp. 297-325

E-ISBN-13: 9780803226296
E-ISBN-10: 0803226292

Illustrations: 3 maps
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Indigenous Education