Kiowa Black Leggings (Carnegie, OK)

Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

Students in Tulsa Public Schools may soon have access to classes in an additional language.Monday night’s school board agenda includes a memorandum of understanding with the Kiowa Tribe to offer Kiowa language and culture classes to any interested TPS student in the 2022-23 school year, as well as professional development sessions for teachers.Although the Kiowa classes would be considered supplemental and would not count toward graduation requirements, if the memorandum of understanding is approved, it is thought to be the first time TPS has offered classes in any Indigenous language.

“We’ve talked to other tribes before about offering language classes,” TPS Executive Director of Language and Cultural Services Laura Grisso said, noting that the Kiowa Tribe initiated the conversation with the district. “There has been lots of interest but just haven’t been able to work out the logistics quite yet.”Under the terms of the proposed agreement, the tribe will provide the instructors and materials, while the district will provide space for classes.Headquartered in Carnegie, the Kiowa Tribe has about 11,000 enrolled citizens. A tribal spokeswoman did not respond to multiple inquiries for an estimated number of Kiowa citizens in the Tulsa area. However, prior to the pandemic, the tribe had a large enough population in the area to justify regular outreach events.With no fluent speakers under age 18, the Kiowa language is classified as endangered. It is also considered an “isolate,” not linguistically related to any other spoken language.

Kiowa classes are already available through the Tulsa City-City County Library’s American Indian Resource Center. However, Ramon Granado, a research assistant with the Kiowa Language and Culture Revitalization Program, said the classes offered through Tulsa Public Schools will be more structured and formal.“The classes at Zarrow (Regional Library, at 2224 W. 51st St.) are more community classes that are open to the public,” Granado said. “While the goal there is to get people to eventually speak Kiowa, it’s more relaxed.“In the school system, we’ll be able to implement and have more assessments and making sure that the students are reaching a level of proficiency that we want, as well as just acquiring more data to see where their progression is.”

In 2016, the tribe received a multi-year grant through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Native Americans to bolster its language revitalization efforts by partnering with school districts in and around areas with large Kiowa populations. Although implementation was delayed due to the pandemic, similar agreements are in place for the coming academic year with five other school districts around the state: Anadarko, Carnegie, Lawton, Norman and Western Heights.“Our hope is that by introducing this into the public school system, it will eventually be just another class that is taught like all the other classes are taught,” Kiowa Language and Culture Revitalization Program Manager Lillie Pinnell said. Pinnell’s program is also working with the University of Oklahoma and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha to train Kiowa language teachers.