Native languages are alive and well, and they need the
federal government to help their voices flourish.
was the message of a group of Indian educators who gathered for
the National Native Language Revitalization Summit on Capitol Hill
July 13 14 to make legislators and administrators aware of
their concerns and desire for support.
with Congress members and Obama administration officials took place
throughout, and some federal officials took part in the event, promising
to help strengthen Native languages.
Wilson, president of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages,
highlighted a plethora of reasons for increased language support
from the federal government. Chief among them is the ability to
save cultures that have been treaded upon for hundreds of years,
yet still survive, he said.
Survival Quarterly recently reported that "unless dramatic
action is taken now, more than 70 Native American languages will
become extinct within the next 10 years." The publication helped
sponsor the summit, citing its concern about the situation.
are at a unique moment in history for the federal government to
assist with the revitalization of Native language and culture,"
Wilson told a gathering of legislators and tribal officials at the
Senate Dirksen Office Building July 14.
hammer that point home, the group released a request for a White
House initiative on Native language revitalization with the idea
that it would oversee agency coordination and establish a national
working group and conference on the issue.
is not overstating the case to assert that without a coordinated
federal approach, increasing numbers of Native American languages
will go extinct in the immediate future," according to the
who may ask why the federal government has a role in revitalizing
Native American languages need only look to the sorry history of
federal regulations and practices to obliterate Native languages
and to the recent administrative efforts to undermine them
to find an affirmative obligation to help save those languages
Congress members seemed more than compelled. "I think you're
fighting for something that is so important," Sen. Tom Udall,
D-N.M., told attendees. "If you don't have language, the
Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, which
co-hosted the summit, said the organization passed a resolution
supporting a White House executive order on Native languages at
its June conference.
resolution declares Native languages in "a state of emergency"
and calls on the White House to take action.
asked Keel for NCAI to develop a press release regarding the resolution,
given its historical significance.
recent federal negative impacts on Native culture, many attendees
decried certain aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act under the
Bush administration. Parts of that law relied too heavily on testing
and accountability to the detriment of Indian cultural learning,
some educators said.
have also been positive federal developments in recent years, including
the Native American Languages Act and the Esther Martinez Act.
Wilson explained to several legislative aides that inconsistent
administrative rules and regulations have undercut some of the progress
provided for under those laws.
noted that some legislative rules that impact immersion schools,
which are important to some tribal communities, end up shortchanging
federal funding. Legislative staffers said they would look at ways
to address the issue in the appropriations process.
believes there is a need for a $3 million to $5 million specific
appropriation to eligible institutions.
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk said at the
event that his department needs to hear more from Native educators
on language revitalization matters. He invited Wilson to meet with
department officials on steps forward.