The Bearer of This Letter


The Bearer of This Letter

Language Ideologies, Literacy Practices, and the Fort Belknap Indian Community

Mindy J. Morgan

Indigenous Education Series

344 pages
3 maps


November 2009


$50.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2009


$50.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

The Bearer of This Letter illuminates the enduring effects of colonialism by examining the decades-long tension between written words and spoken words in a reservation community. Drawing on archival sources and her own extensive work in the community, Mindy J. Morgan investigates how historical understandings of literacy practices challenge current Indigenous language revitalization efforts on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana.
Created in 1887, Fort Belknap is home to the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine peoples. The history of these two peoples over the past century is a common one among Indigenous groups, with religious and federal authorities aggressively promoting the use of English at the expense of the local Indigenous languages. Morgan suggests that such efforts at the assimilation of Indigenous peoples had a far-reaching and not fully appreciated consequence. Through a close reading of federal, local, and missionary records at Fort Belknap, Morgan demonstrates how the government used documents as a means of restructuring political and social life as well as regulating access to resources during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a result, the residents of Fort Belknap began to use written English as a means of negotiating with the government and when arguing for structural change during the early reservation period while maintaining distinct arenas for Indigenous language use. These linguistic practices have significantly shaped the community’s perceptions of the utility of writing and continue to play a central role in contemporary language programs that increasingly rely on standardized orthographies for Indigenous language programs.

Author Bio

Mindy J. Morgan is an assistant professor of anthropology at Michigan State University.


"Morgan provides an excellent explication of the power of language/literacy in the reservation world and Indian efforts to manipulate literacy to privilege their cultures. Literacy was a colonial tool for domination, but American Indian societies may now be using it to anticipate a multilingual future as they turn their oral languages into written languages used for their own purposes, as at Fort Belknap. Anyone interested in the effort to revive indigenous languages will benefit from the summaries of issues and solutions."—G. Gagnon, Choice

"[The Bearer of This Letter's] ethnolinguistic relevance is obvious and central, but students of Indian history, culture, literature, and rhetoric will also find a good deal to occupy them. For educators and scholars focusing on Montana tribes, The Bearer of This Letter will quickly become an indispensable resource."—Matt Herman, Montana, The Magazine of Western History

"This book is an important and pioneering effort that brings ethnohistorical rigor to the task of understanding current literacy debates in the Fort Belknap (Montana) Indian community by understanding the evolution of relevant language ideologies there from pre-reservation times to current efforts involving language renewal."—Paul V. Kroskrity, Journal of Anthropological Research

Table of Contents

Notes on Terminology and Abbreviations
Introduction: Fort Belknap and the Question of Native Language Literacy
Chapter 1. Before the Reservation: Language Practices and the Documentary Record
Chapter 2. Creating Boundaries: English Literacy in the Early Reservation Era
Chapter 3. English Only: Language Ideology and the Limits of Literacy
Chapter 4. Shifts in Practice: Literacy during the Indian New Deal
Chapter 5. Bringing the Languages Back: Developing Bilingual Education at Fort Belknap
Chapter 6. The Nakoda Alphabet: Re-Imaging Literacy and Tradition
Summary: New Literacies and Old Ways

Also of Interest