Louis Soop and Language Restoration at Red Crow Community College

Volume 24, No. 4 - Summer 2013
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EMINENT SCHOLAR. Louis Soop’s membership in the sacred Horn Society has been central in developing his teaching philosophy. For Soop, Blackfoot culture and ceremony cannot be separated from the language. Photo by Neal Shade

EMINENT SCHOLAR. Louis Soop’s membership in the sacred Horn Society has been central in developing his teaching philosophy. For Soop, Blackfoot culture and ceremony cannot be separated from the language. Photo by Neal Shade

Louis Soop is a Blackfoot language instructor at Red Crow Community College (RCCC) located on the Blood/Kainai Reserve in southern Alberta, Canada. He is a fluent Blackfoot speaker and has been teaching the language for 20 years. A traditional singer, dancer, and actor, Soop is a member of the RCCC Eminent Scholar program, which was established to recognize elders who possess spiritual and cultural knowledge and who utilize their knowledge in various programs at Red Crow.

Soop belongs to the sacred Horn Society, a religious/spiritual society of the Blood Tribe Sundance. Although he holds both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of Lethbridge, Soop credits the sacred Horn Society for his Blackfoot language and spiritual knowledge. It is one of two religious societies on the Blood Reserve: The Horn Society consists of three members for each bundle—a man, his wife, and a male partner; while the Motokis Society is the Buffalo Women’s Society.

“My knowledge of teaching comes from the Horn Society where members learn all about the Blackfoot language, culture, ceremony and songs,” he says. Soop is passionate about teaching the language: “It’s important we know our language, also to know various sounds and spelling of our language… I teach it so they (his students) will know the different sounds and how to pronounce them.”

PASSIONATE ABOUT TEACHING. Louis Soop engages students in a Blackfoot language class. Soop always starts with the basics, noting, “You can’t use big words with 20 letters.” Photo by Neal Shade

PASSIONATE ABOUT TEACHING. Louis Soop engages students in a Blackfoot language class. Soop always starts with the basics, noting, “You can’t use big words with 20 letters.” Photo by Neal Shade

Soop explains that Blackfoot uses only 12 letters from the English alphabet and one sign, called a glottal stop, which divides a word into two parts. “Before you can teach the language you need a methodology of teaching. You can’t use big words with 20 letters,” he says. He starts with greetings, weather reports, days of the week, months, dates, seasons, colors, and numbers. And “you have to know the difference between past, present, and future,” he adds. Sometimes the class uses the Blackfoot Dictionary of Stems, Roots, and Affixes by Donald G. Frantz and Norma Jean Russell, but most of the time it’s not needed. He also employs Blackfoot language symposiums, which are hosted alternately by the four Blackfoot Tribes—Blood/ Kainai, Piikani/North Peigan, Siksika, and Aamsskaapipikani/South Peigan (or the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana). RCCC hosts this symposium, as does Blackfeet Community College across the border in Browning, Montana. The language is spoken at the symposiums, and participants discuss ways of transmitting it to their respective tribes. Although the four Blackfootspeaking tribes have their own dialects, they understand each other.

Soop often begins his courses with an orientation so that students will know what to expect of the language. He devises lessons on reading and writing, uses films like Circle of the Sun, and invites members of the RCCC Elders Advisory Council to make cultural presentations. Students do a research project pertaining to Blackfoot culture and take both midterm and final exams. He also assigns a family tree exercise. “It’s important you know who your relatives are,” he maintains. He often takes students on field trips to museums such as the Provincial Museum in Edmonton, the Glenbow Museum and Archives in Calgary, the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, and the Siksika Museum in Siksika, Alberta.

In teaching the Blackfoot language at RCCC, Soop has various resources at his disposal. The Kainai Studies Department—which also employs language instructors Duane Mistaken Chief, Ryan Heavy Head, and Narcisse Blood—utilizes a website that has its own Blackfoot phraseology and story applications devised by Blood Tribe elders. The Blackfoot Digital Library also has Blackfoot stories and other resources that RCCC students can access, while the RCCC Resource Centre’s First Nations Information Connection portal provides access to the Blackfoot dictionary. The portal offers free online resources which are shared with the other six tribal colleges in Alberta (RCCC is the only Canadian college to be a member of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium).

Although such modern technology can facilitate learning, Blackfoot incorporates traditional values, Soop states. Blackfoot ceremonies consist of language and song, about half and half. He feels that there is more interest in speaking the language when people join Blackfoot social or religious societies, believing people want to pray and speak in their own language. If you know the language, Soop maintains, you know your culture because culture is embedded in language.

Mary Weasel Fat (Blackfoot) is the library coordinator for Red Crow Community College. She has been working in the library for about 15 years, as a clerk, assistant, and coordinator.


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