East Hawaii News

Senators Introduce Native Language Bill

May 5, 2015, 8:07 AM HST
* Updated May 5, 8:08 AM
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A Bipartisan Bill, the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act, was introduced Monday by United States Senators Brian Schatz of Hawai’i, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Heidi Heikamp of North Dakota, John Tester of Montana, and Al Franken of Minnesota.

The bill would provide grants to Native American language education organizations to preserve disappearing Native languages. Under the bill, reauthorization would go to the Native American Languages Program until 2020. In addition, the bill would include improvements that would expand the program’s eligibility to smaller-sized classes and allow for longer grant periods.

“Once nearly extinct, the Hawaiian language lives today through thousands of speakers in Hawai‘i and across the country,” said Senator Schatz.  “Visiting schools in Hawai‘i, I have seen first-hand how critical Native language schools and programs are in preserving the Hawaiian language and culture. Our legislation will help strengthen language programs and ensure the Hawaiian language and many other indigenous languages continue to thrive for generations to come.”

In 2006 the bill’s reauthorization was initially passed. Named after Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo master storyteller Esther Martinez, the act amends the Native American Language Act of 1990. The bill aims to strengthen Native language education by creating and funding Native language nests, Native language survival schools, and Native American language restoration programs.

Current authorization expired in 2012, but annual appropriations have continued during the lapse.

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Improvements made to the program in the current bill reduce the class size eligibility fpr the grants and allow longer grant periods of up to five years. In addition, the bill reduces the number of students required for eligibility from 10 to five for Native American language nests, which provide childcare and instruction for children up to the age of seven and their parents.

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Native language survival schools under the bill will also see a reduction in class size required for eligibility from 15 to 10 students. These schools aim to have their student achieve Native language fluency, and provide teacher training and development to support successful language learning.

The Department of Health and Human Services says applications for grants through the program doubled in the 2013-2014 fiscal year

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