GREAT FALLS, Mont. - For more than a century, the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe was fighting for federal recognition. 

In December of 2020, congress passed a law officially recognizing the tribe

In under a year, they have purchased land, started a food sovereignty program, and opened a health clinic

But that isn't all they've done; the cultural committee says one of the most important things they've been able to do is name a female white bison.

"We were asked to go over to the Bitterroot Valley Buffalo Ranch in Lolo... We had the privilege and the honor to go there and do the pipe ceremony and the naming of this beautiful female white buffalo... In Indian country it’s very rare for a newly federally recognized cultural committee to do this honor," said Glenn Gopher, a member of the Little Shell cultural committee.

Another accomplishment is they were able to talk with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and we're approved to put a sweat lodge up at the First Peoples Buffalo Jump.

"We have already picked out a spot where we’re going to do this sacred sweat lodge and this sacred sweat lodge is going to be open to all Indian nations," said Glenn.

Our reporter, Joee Taylor, was able to sit down with tribal members to learn more about who they are and what is important to them.

"One of the most important things that the creator gave us is our culture, our tribe and our language. All three of them combined into one was a special gift that the creator gave us. That's according to the elders that I have spoken to in my lifetime," said Glenn.

With the tribe being in Great Falls, Glenn says it's something that has been lost to urban living.

Now they are reclaiming who they are and the first step is reconnecting with the younger generation.

"These are some of the most important things the young people need to understand, is be proud of who you are and what you are. And if you follow your Indian culture it will make you a better person," said Glenn.

Members say music is the heart of Indian culture.

"Some of these songs today are centuries old. No one knows where they came from. They were composed by a non-human and they were given to us through dreams, through vision. That's how we got these songs," said Blair Gopher, a member of the Little Shell cultural committee.

While music may be the heart of their culture, Glenn says the language is the key to it.

"Any time elders used to pray they prayed in their own language. They expressed their feelings with the language. The language is the most important thing in our Indian culture. I've seen it as a young man, so that's why I stress it," said Glenn.

However, right now, the language is pretty much lost.

"To destroy a culture you had to destroy its language first. So, now other tribes they have limited numbers of elderly speakers but in our tribe, we have zero... one left," said Rylee Mitchell, a youth in the tribe.

"We were pretty much told that we couldn't talk our language in schools. I'm sure you've heard or remember stuff about the boarding schools. I went through them too... The push to have our children learn what was taken away from us, basically we were actually beat because if we talked wrong we got sent to the principal's office, and stuff like that. I don't want to see our kids go through that," said Frank LaPier, member of the Little Shell honor guard, cultural committee, and elders society.

Julie and her daughters, Rylee and Madison, have been learning to speak Ojibwa since 2016.

"If you're Ojibwa, well we should start to speak Ojibwa and you know learn our own language to be to learn our identity and who we are inside," said Julie Mitchell, member of the Little Shell cultural committee.

While they aren't fluent yet they do hope to be soon so they can teach the next generation.

"It’s like bringing back who we are. All of our existence we have been told not to be who we are. Just to hide who we are, you're not native, you gotta try to live in these two worlds where we live and stuff. And to be... Learn our own identity and who we are inside and be proud of who we are, our language needs to come first," said Julie.

The cultural committee brought photos, pipes, drums to show us and say everything connected back to nature.

"Native people have the most beautiful culture in the world I believe because we respect nature. we are in one with nature. We respect our elders the unborn. All these songs, sacred songs, that's what they're there for to pray for our future to pass on to our young ones," said Blaire.

Glenn says it's easier to learn about their culture than you might think.

"This tobacco here, people go and give that to someone and say to the elders, I want to know more about our Indian culture... Our Indian way though is gather something to give to gift to that person. Show your appreciation of what you're asking for so this person can do his best, so you will get your blessings," said Glenn.

Members say it's not just important for the next generation to learn these things, it's important for everyone.

"I encourage young people to learn their culture as well, especially, there's elderly people that don't know their culture as well. and it’s there you just gotta learn it. It's like learning how to read how to walk," said Blaire.

"There is a beautiful culture out there, all we have to do is go seek it," said Glenn.

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