Murkowski Leads Senate Effort to Protect Threatened Native Languages

Senator: When Languages Are at Risk, Heritage is Threatened

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Lisa Murkowski is introducing the Native American Languages Reauthorization Act of 2014 with Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), to reauthorize the Native American languages grant program – funding and maintaining the program administered by the Health and Human Services Administration for Native Americans through 2019.

“Our Alaska Native languages are alive and spoken today, yet we have much work to do to keep them alive,” said Murkowski, “Our Native languages are at risk, and if they are not passed to the next generation the richness of our native cultures are at risk. We must be doing all that we can, whether it be within our public schools, our universities, our Native institutions, or in the home.”

In 2006, the Native American Language grant program was reauthorized and expanded by the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act allowing tribes to establish Native American language immersion programs, including language nests, language survival schools, and language restoration programs. In addition to programs at the Administration for Native Americans, Alaska Native organizations may use Alaska Native Education Equity grants, administration by the Department of Education to support language revitalization activities.

“I also would like to add my thanks to the Alaska Legislature for enacting a bill making Alaska’s 20 Native languages official languages of our State,” added Murkowski.

According to the National Indian Education Association, by the year 2050, there may only be 20 Native American languages remaining. The Native American Languages Act was first signed into law in 1992 and established a grant program within the Native American Programs Act of 1974 to ensure the survival of Native languages. Language maintenance grant funding provides opportunities for grantees to assess, plan, develop and implement projects. It has been shown that, in addition to the preservation of Native languages, this type of learning promotes higher academic success for students.