Murkowski Stresses Urgency in Support of Native Languages Immersion

“When a Person Knows Their Language, They Know Their Culture”

Senator Lisa Murkowski today spoke before the National Indian Education Association – pledging her support for native language immersion programs across the country. Murkowski committed to work with her colleagues to advance two bills currently before the United States Senate: S.1948, the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, and S.2299, a bill to amend the Native American Programs Act of 1974 to reauthorize a provision to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages.


(Murkowski addresses NIEA about Native language immersion – click image to watch.)


In her speech, Senator Murkowski berated the federal government for its lack of urgency in addressing the revitalization of Native languages, saying:


“I think our policies need to reflect the urgency that we have here to keep our Native languages alive. In Alaska, we see Native languages that are just bordering on the brink of extinction. We lost Marie Smith Jones, who was the last speaker of Eyak in the past 5 years or so. But when you can, in your lifetime, identify the last person who has spoken this language and we don’t act with a level of urgency to help to address that, shame on us.”


Murkowski also spoke about the connection between language and identity:


“When a young person knows their language, they know their culture. They know who they are, their identity. Knowing who you are infuses pride in one’s self and a stronger connection to one’s family and community. When you know your own dignity, you honor yourself, you honor your family, and your ancestors. You know when you succeed it’s a reflection of your community’s strength, and when you fail, which you do, it’s not only yourself that you let down, but your entire community. This is because languages are truly the foundation of how you live and express your culture. And with so many of our Native communities, it’s the cultures and customs that bring families together, whether it’s the extended families or the broader communities. Strengthening our Native languages strengthens both the community and the individual. It’s just so much of a win-win.”


(Senator Murkowski answers a question from the audience by recounting the significance of language immersion programs in her own family’s life, touting the need to expand those programs to cover Native languages – click image to watch.)