Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee Lily Gladstone gives speech in Blackfeet When Lily Gladstone became the first Indigenous person to win a best actress Golden Globe, she said some words in Blackfeet. Her mother was behind efforts to get the language taught in classes.

Actor Lily Gladstone brings the Blackfeet language to the main stage

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1226019196/1226019197" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: One of the most memorable moments of the award season so far this year came from Lily Gladstone, the first Indigenous actress to win a Golden Globe for acting for her performance in "Killers Of The Flower Moon." And it wasn't so much what she said, but how she said it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "81ST GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS")

LILY GLADSTONE: (Speaking Blackfeet).

MARTIN: That is Gladstone speaking in the Blackfeet language. Gladstone was born in the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. She isn't fluent, but she made a point of noting that the reason she can speak Blackfeet language at all is that her mother, Betty Peace-Gladstone, pushed to get that language instruction into their classrooms at an early age. We wanted to hear more about this, so we called her, and she is with us now. Betty Peace-Gladstone, Lily's mom, thank you so much for joining us.

BETTY PEACE-GLADSTONE: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

MARTIN: So well, first, congratulations. I know that you accompanied your daughter to the Globes. I mean, she shouted you out, and there was a reaction shot of you looking like the proud mom that you no doubt are. What was that like?

PEACE-GLADSTONE: It was a lot of pride. Lily has always been a really exceptional person from the moment she was born, and I think the world is not an easy place for exceptional people. And to have arrived at that moment with her just felt so right to me.

MARTIN: She noted in her remarks that you're not Blackfeet yourself, that Lily's dad has that heritage as - also, as I understand it, Nez Perce.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "81ST GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS")

GLADSTONE: I'm here with my mom, who, even though she's not Blackfeet, worked tirelessly to get our language into our classroom. So I had a Blackfeet language teacher growing up.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: What made you think about language immersion, especially at very early ages?

PEACE-GLADSTONE: I moved to the reservation as a single woman to work with the Head Start program as their education coordinator. I have a master's degree in child development. It's really a look at the development of human beings. What makes a person the person that they are? The concept of family, community, culture was ever-present, and language is a big part of culture. And then when I moved to the reservation, I saw it in action. Just having the experience of children be reflective of who the community is. And that became even closer to my heart once I became a mother.

MARTIN: People who have spoken languages other than English have been severely sanctioned for it. You know, we know that kids who spoke Spanish in schools, in some places, they were slapped for it or...

PEACE-GLADSTONE: Right.

MARTIN: ...Hit for it. I think many people are starting to know about the history of the boarding schools where kids were taken from their parents and put into these environments deliberately to kind of strip them of their, you know, Native identity.

PEACE-GLADSTONE: Yes.

MARTIN: So tell me more about why you think it matters to have kids be able to speak the language as they speak at home or to learn about them.

PEACE-GLADSTONE: To start with, there aren't a lot of Blackfeet households left in the United States anyway where the language is fluently spoken at home on a regular basis. But there are ceremonies - really important ancient ceremonies that take place on the Blackfeet Reservation that are done totally in the Blackfeet language. The language carries a - and I think this is true of all Indigenous languages - it carries a reflection of the people's relationship to the land, the creatures, the elements that exist in the land and kinship terms, as well. It describes the social relationships between people. And as people study their own language, even if they aren't growing up speaking it, those elements of culture become a lot more apparent to them and a lot more dear.

MARTIN: It helps them understand who they are.

PEACE-GLADSTONE: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MARTIN: So how did you go about - and you and the people who worked with you, obviously - go about getting this instruction going?

PEACE-GLADSTONE: Finding the speakers was not the challenge. There were enough fluent speakers in the community who would love to be in a position to teach the language. The challenge was in overcoming institutional barriers to making that happen in a public school setting. So finding the funding to support their work and also working with the powers that be - the county superintendent in this case - to be sure that we could build this into the curriculum on a regular basis without calling into question any accreditation issues or anything like that for the school.

MARTIN: Oh, that's interesting. So is it that they didn't have the kind of credentials that public schools generally recognize?

PEACE-GLADSTONE: Yeah. That can be a big barrier. We brought in the teachers through a side door as a parent-initiated supplemental activity that was funded through this small pocket of money called Indian Education Funds. The Johnson-O'Malley Act is a federal act that allocates funds for schools that serve Native kids so that there can be supplemental activities that support their academic success.

MARTIN: Was anybody against it?

PEACE-GLADSTONE: If they were, they were not very vocal about it.

MARTIN: One of the things you're telling me is that this was kind of brought in as, you know, supplementary. It didn't...

PEACE-GLADSTONE: That's right.

MARTIN: ...Supplant language instruction in English, OK? But for some people, they feel like, oh, well, it just holds you back, that kids need to be - this is an English-dominant country and that kids need to really be fluent in English. And I guess what I'm hearing you say is that that didn't really come up.

PEACE-GLADSTONE: If it had come up, I would have addressed it, because the studies actually show that bilingual people excel in their native language after about 10 years of age. All of the scores of bilingual kids tend to really take off in terms of reading comprehension, in terms of, you know, the richness of their writing, vocabulary, that type of thing. And the brain really welcomes multiple languages. You know, it makes the brain more complex. It makes thinking more complex.

MARTIN: What difference do you think it made in Lily's life?

PEACE-GLADSTONE: She became a really good self-advocate. She, I think, felt very empowered to address some misperceptions about Natives, to share more about who she was with her peers, even in high school, to even be granted the opportunity to create kind of a parallel exploration in curriculum in some of her classes. That she could say, you know, I'd really like to look at this from a Native perspective or Blackfeet perspective. So I think because she grew up in that kind of bicultural, somewhat bilingual environment, she just felt that was the way education should be.

MARTIN: Well, you did good, Mom.

(LAUGHTER)

PEACE-GLADSTONE: Well, I was just, you know, a combination of the right person, the right time, the right place and supporting other folks in their efforts.

MARTIN: Well, thank you so much. That's Betty-Peace Gladstone, Lily's mom. Thank you so much for talking with us.

PEACE-GLADSTONE: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD HOUGHTEN'S "JUST WOKE UP HERE")

Copyright © 2024 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.