HELENA, Mont. - Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and an overflow crowd of
onlookers honored Blackfeet educator and Native language preservationist
Darrell Robes Kipp at a Capitol ceremony on Feb 17.
Kipp, 60, was one of seven recipients of the 2005 Governor's Humanities
Awards. Also known as Ah Pin Nuk Wah Pee Tah, or Morning Eagle, Kipp was
recognized as a co-founder of the Browning-based Piegan Institute and
Nizipuhwahsin (Real Speak) Center, which focuses on language immersion for
kindergarten - eighth grade students, as well as many other notable
achievements in his long and distinguished career.
Kipp, who holds a bachelor's degree in English from the former Eastern
Montana College, a master of Fine Arts degree from the former Goddard
College in Vermont and an Education master's degree in Social Policy and
Institutional Change from Harvard University, is also a U.S. Army veteran,
a poet and a former editor for Time-Life. He spent the early part of his
working life helping various tribes make their education programs and
schools more relevant for their members.
In the early 1980s, Kipp taught English at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo
before returning to his hometown of Browning. About this same time, he met
Dorothy Still Smoking, who later would become president of Blackfeet
Community College. The two educators began what would become long-running
discussions on what had happened to Native languages and interlocking
traditional cultures. In time and with the help of others, they
brain-stormed strategies on how best to bring each back from the brink of
In 1987, working with fluent Blackfeet speaker Ed Little Plume, Kipp and
Still Smoking founded the nonprofit Piegan Institute and devoted it to the
preservation of American Indian languages. With the invaluable assistance
of private and foundation donors from around the country, the Institute
seven years later established the Moccasin Flat Immersion School. The Cuts
Wood School opened in 1996, followed by the Lost Child School in 2000.
"I think language was the first gift the Creator gave us," Kipp said
shortly after the third school began enrolling students. "The Creator gave
us a gift, and he wonders why we gave it away."
One of the Institute's main goals now is to create a $3 million endowment
to keep the immersion programs solvent into perpetuity.
"This is not a project for the faint-hearted," Kipp has noted.
At the rotunda ceremony, Schweitzer said the Montana Committee for the
Humanities selected this year's winners because each has an unwavering
sense of community and "believe in something greater than self."