Brandon Goff shared with MTN, “Language is a way of perceiving or looking and viewing the world.”
Brandon, creative director of Native Teaching Aids (NTA), views language as a window we look through that shapes our world.
Rebecca Goff, Brandon's wife, realized that there is a shade covering that window for many tribal nations. This is due to the fact that there have been hardly any resources for younger generations to learn their Native language.
“There are a lot of languages where you can’t just pick up a book off the shelf and get it or duolingo download,” Rebecca Goff, executive director, explained in reference to many Indigenous languages.
She shared further that in order to know say Blackfeet or Lakota, one would have to go to the tribe itself the language. Further, some tribes may not have many speakers left due to the boarding school era.
The boarding school era started in the mid-nineteenth century and spanned into the mid-twentieth century. During this time period, Indigenous kids were forcibly sent to boarding or conversion schools that stripped them of their language and culture.
That's why Rebecca started the Native Teaching Aids company in St. Ignatius. Rebecca, while working on her masters of Linguistics at the University of Montana, realized that a fun and interactive way to learn language would be through game play.
She got to take trips to the Piegan Institute in Browning and spent time at the Cuts Wood School, a Blackfeet immersion school. For kids, Rebecca could see that, “There was this whole environment inside of a board game where there’s this mini immersive environment.” During game play, kids would need to speak in their language and engage with their culture.
Now, NTA creates resources like board games inspired by traditional tribal games, history games, and language cards for decolonization. Through using these educational materials, kids could connect with their traditions and begin forging their cultural identity.
Rebecca outlined, “Identity is a huge thing. ‘Where do I come from? Who am I?’ ‘Where do I belong to?’"
And Native Teaching Aids has helped around 30 tribes find that answer. NTA lets Indigenous communities pick the products they want and the knowledge they would like shared through the educational resources.
She continued, “Every tribe is different. Every procedural Native American community operates differently. And so us being able to work with people in those ways and make sure they take the lead [is important].”
At Cuts Wood School, Rebecca sought insight and collaboration from the children. She brought games for testing to see what the children would latch onto. Some kids were so inspired that they started thinking of ideas for their own games. The game featured in the video is 'Powwow Highway' and was created by kids.
These games can be played by children and adults alike. They’re for anyone who’s seeking to further their connection to their culture. The unique materials can be found here.
NTA looks to older members of the Indigenous communities they collaborate with for lots of insight and guidence. “A lot of knowledge keepers or elders have said... language is the culture. To know your language is to know your culture.”
Not only can these resources be used by Indigenous people. Native Teaching Aids hopes that Indigenous culture, history, and language can soon be taught in the public school system.
Rebecca said, “I wish I had these history games in fourth grade. Because we don’t learn the other side of history in fourth grade. And I think there’s this whole other side of things that we would just figure out.”
This 'whole other side' is the side of history that she says is not often taught in classrooms, the history of the Indigenous peoples.
Brandon believes that if Indigenous history and studies were normalized in all schools, then there would be a greater sense of connection between people. He shared, “It’s [about] knowing your neighbor. You know we’re all a part of the community here in the broader sense.”
For a quick lesson on language go to https://nativeteachingaids.com/dictionaries/
There are also applications for download to learn more.