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Darrell Robes Kipp, seen here in 'Summer Sun, Winter Moon' walked on November 21.

Leader in Preserving Blackfoot Language Darrell Kip Walks On

ICTMN Staff
11/29/13

Darrell Robes Kipp was an educator, historian, author, filmmaker and a co-founder of the Piegan Institute in Browning, Montana. Kipp walked on Thursday, November 21 at Blackfeet Community Hospital, reports the Great Falls Tribune. He was 69.

Kipp, whose Pikuni name was Apiniokio Peta, or Morning Eagle, was dedicated to preserving the Blackfoot language and co-founded the Piegan Institute, which is dedicated to promoting and preserving the Blackfeet language, in 1987. The institute’s Cut Woods School, a private Blackfeet language immersion school, has been an inspiration for a number of startup immersion schools across the country.

“Tribal languages can be revitalized to sooth our children’s hearts again if people stop long enough to embrace them,” Kipp wrote on the Piegan Institute’s website.

Rosalyn LaPier, a faculty member of the environmental studies program at the University of Montana and board member of the Piegan Institute, says White Clay Immersion School on the Fort Belknap Reservation and the Nkwusm Salish Language Institute in Arlee were inspired by Kipp’s work. She worked with him at the institute since 1999 and had known him since the early ‘90s.

“It’s one of those things that his legacy will be felt nationwide more than local,” LaPier told the Great Falls Tribune. “He both encouraged a lot of people and inspired a lot of people to work on Native language revitalization. A lot of programs started all over in different Native communities.”

Others, like Ryan Wilson, Oglala Lakota, president of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages, remembers Kipp urging people to not wait to save their languages.

“You don’t have to ask permission to speak your language, educators must take it upon themselves to ensure their tribal customs don’t go extinct,” Wilson remembers Kipp saying. “Don’t ask permission to save your language, Just Do It!  If we don’t help Indian children embrace their languages, American Indian children will continue to turn into a faceless conglomeration of everyone else. We need to fill the air with the sound of our language. I tell people if you can’t help, get the hell out of the way!”

Kipp was born October 24, 1944 and grew up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation—his grandfather was a survivor of the Baker Massacre of 1870. In 1966, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Montana College in Billings and in 1970 he earned a teaching certificate. He earned a master’s from Harvard University and a master of fine arts from Vermont College.

He and his son Darren were close and shared a love of filmmaking, his son told the Great Falls Tribune. In 2004, Kipp and composer Robert Kapilow worked together on a documentary called Summer Moon, Winter Moon that was commissioned for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. Darren was also invovled in the project.

“A lot of guys spend time going hunting and fishing with their fathers,” said Darren Kipp, a documentary filmmaker who lives on Lower St. Mary Lake. “I went to sweats, bundle openings and pipe ceremonies. That was my relationship with my father. We had a very good relationship.”

Wilson, while sad he is gone, was pleased at all Kipp saw accomplished in his lifetime.

“While he left us far too soon he lived long enough to witness a fundamental shift in thought regarding immersion schools. He lived long enough to see passage of the historic Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act. He lived long enough to see this last week’s presentation of Congressional medals to descendants of American Indian Code Talkers. He lived long enough to see a sitting U.S. President ride a wave of tribal support in large part due to his campaign promise to invest and promote Native American Immersion schools. He lived long enough to witness both National political parties adopt pro Native language and immersion school provisions in their respective Native American platforms. He lived long enough to see the National Congress of American Indians create a Tribal Leaders Task Force on Native Languages,” Wilson said. “Finally he lived long enough to see his beloved home state of Montana pass through its legislature an unprecedented bill to provide direct tax payer support for Native language projects amongst the nine Montana tribes.”

RELATED: Blackfeet Educator Honored

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
We will miss this brother of the people. Not many were like this man who worked endlessly for First Nations peoples all over the place. Family of this special leader & friend to many across Indian Country, I am thankful for your sharing this man who walked in a good way & helped so many in so many places across Turtle Island. Blessings & peace to each of you always in our Creator's watchful eyes & loving arms as He comforts each of you as only He can.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
We must ALL lament the passing of an elder who saw the importance of retaining his language. Linguists agree that language provides unique insights to how a people think. Nothing could be more true of our traditional tongues and all NDNs should strive to keep their language and culture alive. My sympathies to his family, friends and students. Without him, learning traditional Blackfoot has become more difficult and (no doubt) less enlightening.
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