US Senators Introduce Bill to Preserve & Expand Native American Languages

Ojibwa Anthony Roy keeping Native lanuage alive in Chicago

Ojibwa Anthony Roy keeping Native lanuage alive in Chicago

WASHINGTON — United States Senators Jon Tester (D-Montana), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) have introduced a bill to preserve endangered native languages.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act creates a new grant initiative to establish or expand native language immersion programs.  The grants will support the revitalization and maintenance of tribal languages while increasing educational opportunities for  American Indian and Alaska Native students.

“Native languages connect students with their culture, history and heritage,” Tester said.  “This bill increases access to critical funding for language immersion programs and ensures the survival of Native languages before it is too late.”

“Preserving Native languages are integral to maintaining cultural identity. Instruction in these languages promotes creativity, boosts high school graduation rates and college enrollment, and yields long-term benefits outside the classroom.  Fostering an environment where Native students are connected to their language makes them leaders in their community, and ensures their rich culture and traditions are handed down to future generations,” said Heinrich.

“In North Dakota, we have seen the benefits of Native language programs – including at Lakota Language Nest at Standing Rock where children learn about their history and culture, and they sang last year for the President and First Lady in their Lakota language,” said Heitkamp. “By enabling Native children to learn their languages, we aren’t only helping the languages thrive for future generations, but we’re also helping these kids grow, do better in school, and start off on the right foot. We need to do everything we can to give every Native child an opportunity to succeed, and this bill is an important step.”

“Immersion schools in Hawaii have shown us that if we incorporate culture, traditions, and language into education, we can preserve Native languages and improve student outcomes,” said Schatz.  “Our bill builds on the success of schools like Nawahiokalaniopuu and preserves our Native languages and cultures for this generation and the next.”

“Native language education fosters pride and a feeling of interconnectedness between generations and has been linked to higher academic achievement among Native youth. I’m proud to support funding for Native language immersion programs that are so important in New Mexico and across the country,” said Udall.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act establishes a grant program under the Department of Education.  The bill seeks to limit overhead costs and reduce the resource demands on tribal and school administrators seeking language immersion funding.

Individual grant levels and lengths are flexible. The grant program totals $5 million per year for five years.  The grants can be awarded to tribes, tribal organizations, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and public or private schools to establish or expand existing immersion classes for students ranging from Pre-K through post-secondary education levels.

All of the approximately 148 remaining Native languages that are still spoken in the United States are at the risk of extinction within 50-100 years unless preservation actions are taken.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act is available HERE.

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  1. Lena Toledo 5 years ago
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