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Native American Language Bill Passes U.S. Senate Committee

Posted October 21, 2015, 01:45 PM HST
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United States Senator Brian Schatz. U.S. Senate photo.

Legislation having to do with the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, which was introduced by United States Senators Brian Schatz, Jon Tester, Martin Heinrich, Heidi Heitkamp, and Tom Udall, was advanced by the Senate Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act creates a new grant initiative to establish or expand Native language immersion programs. Under the bill, overhead costs would be limited and resource demands on tribal and school administrators seeking language immersion funding would be reduced.

“Language is vital to every culture, and schools like Nawahiokalaniopuu on Hawai‘i Island have shown us how Native language education can revive a once near-extinct language and help preserve the traditions and customs of Native communities,” said Senator Schatz, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.  “With today’s key vote, we are one step closer to strengthening Native language schools and programs in Hawai‘i and across the country and ensuring the Hawaiian language and many others continue to thrive.”

According to the proposing senators, the grants will support the revitalization and maintenance of indigenous languages while increasing educational opportunities for Native Hawaiian, American Indian, and Alaska Native students.

“I’m glad this bill has passed another milestone in the legislative process, because it is much needed and so important for schools like Ke Kula O Nawahiokalaniopuu that are using our own native American language as the medium of instruction,” said Kauanoe Kamana, Director of Ke Kula O Nawahiokalaniopuu.  “For us in Hawai’i where such schooling now serves approximately 3,000 students statewide, this support is greatly needed by parents and teachers to support growing demand.  It is exciting that Senator Schatz has been able to help advance this bill on our behalf.”

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The grant program totals $5 million per year for five years and 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.

“We could not have asked for better champions than Senator Tester and Senator Schatz,” said Leslie Harper, Director of the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs.  “They have a firm grasp of the issues and a strong commitment to native communities within their own states and across the nation.  The establishment of new programs to support Native American language medium schools is critically important for our children that represent the future of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities.  Without such schools, the languages of their ancestors will remain out of the reach of our children, and unique academic benefits of indigenous language schools will be lost to them as well.”

There are about 148 remaining Native languages in the United States that are at the risk of extinction within the next 50 to 100 years.

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