WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples, introduced the Native American Language Resource Center Act. The bipartisan legislation aims to bolster Native American language schools and programs with coordinated, experienced support. Schatz and Young are co-chairs of the America’s Languages Caucus.
“Native speaker-led language programs have proven that culturally-based instruction is key to revitalizing and maintaining indigenous knowledge and traditions,” said Chairman Schatz. “The Native American Language Resource Center will build on this grassroots momentum to support Native American language programs and schools by providing them with the resources they need to continue to thrive.”
“There is no Alaska history without the rich culture and traditions of Alaska Natives, who have called our state home for centuries. Language is one of the most important ways that our Alaska Native communities pass on stories and customs to future generations,” said Congressman Don Young, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples. “With around 20 Native languages spoken in Alaska, we must be doing all that we can to foster learning and long-term resilience for them. Here at home, we are all too familiar with the loss of language. Sadly, the last speaker of the Eyak language passed way in 2008, and in 2018, the Alaska State Legislature passed legislation declaring a linguistic emergency in the state. Too many languages spoken by Indigenous people in Alaska and across the country face the threat of being forgotten; that must not happen. I am proud to introduce the Native American Language Resource Center Act alongside Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández. This bill is crucially important. Through it, we can ensure that our universities and other learning institutions provide needed support for Native languages so that future generations can learn the traditions of their ancestors.”
The Native American Languages Resource Center will comprise a consortium of institutions housed at multiple locations throughout the country, reflecting the geographic diversity of Native American languages, cultures, and communities. It will support Native language students at all levels of learning, act as a central nexus for Native American language schools and programs across the nation, and provide additional resources to enhance distance learning capacity.
The bill is supported by the National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Education Association, National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs, Joint National Committee for Languages – National Council for Languages and International Studies, and the Hawaiian Language Renormalization Committee.
Diana Cournoyer, Executive Director, National Indian Education Association: “NIEA is thrilled Congress is taking steps towards fulfilling their federal trust responsibility to Native people by addressing persistent inequities in access to resources and funding. Native languages are fundamentally connected to the well-being and sustainability of Native culture thought and philosophy. Therefore it is critical that the federal government strengthen the ability for Native peoples to effectively engage in Native language revitalization and preservation. We look forward to working with Senator Schatz, and other members of Congress to preserve the gains resulting from decades of work to prevent the disappearance of Native languages through this and future legislative proposals.”
Leslie Harper, President, National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs: “The National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs (NCNALSP) extends our gratitude to Senator Schatz for introducing a bill to establish a resource center for our Native American languages. The U.S. recently commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the passage of the Native American Languages Act of 1990, in which Congress acknowledged their responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival of our unique cultures and languages. Congress is now taking this next step to ensure that Native American Languages will have more support, in collaboration with experts in the field, to address Native American Language vitality and to develop our citizens to participate in a global world. We look forward to working with members of Congress and with language experts, to improve Native American language support opportunities through a Center.”
Amanda Seewald, President, Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS): “The Native American Language Resource Center Act will demonstrate our nation’s commitment to preserving and expanding endangered Native American languages and the cultures . JNCL-NCLIS thanks Senator Schatz for his leadership in authoring this bill and advancing equitable language education policy. We look forward to working closely with him to ensure that this legislation becomes law and his vision is implemented faithfully.”
Dr. Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa, Chair, Hawaiian Language Renormalization Committee: “Native American languages are a national treasure, and yet far too many are endangered and close to extinction. The Native American Language Resource Center will support the efforts of Native American communities to protect and revitalize the languages of their ancestors. We are most appreciative of Senator Schatz’s effort to support all Native American languages and want to thank him for his bill and for all of his efforts to ensure that our precious Hawaiian language lives on and is spoken by Native Hawaiian children and families now and forever.”
The full text of the bill can be viewed here.