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Lawmakers seek funds for Indian education programs
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Filed Under: Education | Politics

Members of the Congressional Native American Caucus are urging their colleagues to allocate funds for two critical Indian education programs.

One program is new. The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Act, singed into law last fall, seeks to preserve hundreds of Native languages by teaching them to a new generation of speakers.

The second program is familiar to Indian Country. Johnson O'Malley grants help Native students in public schools across the nation with school supplies, tutors, counseling and a wide range of services not available through other programs.

Under the budget proposal President Bush submitted to Congress earlier this year, there is little to no funding for either program. The Administration for Native American provides just $500,000 for Native languages while the Bureau of Indian Affairs entirely eliminates JOM.

The bipartisan Congressional Native American Caucus hope to change the picture. In an April 27 letter, the leaders and several members of the group asked for $10 million to fund the Esther Martinez Native Act.

"Native languages are not spoken anywhere else in the world; and, if they are not preserved, they will disappear forever," the letter stated.

In a second letter, also on April 27, the caucus sought the restoration of $16.4 million to JOM. The lawmakers noted that Bush has tried to cut the program two years in a row for "unfounded" reasons.

"JOM provides students with academic-enhancing services and items, including culturally-based tutoring, school supplies, summer school, scholastic testing fees, financial aid counseling, caps and gowns, accelerated college preparation classes, writing competitions, and small but important personal needs, such as eyeglasses," the letter said.

The fate of both requests now lies in the hands of the House Appropriations Committee. The ANA budget is handled by the subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education while the BIA budget is the responsibility of the subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Washington), the chairman of the Interior subcommittee, has expressed support for JOM. "On the whole, the president's budget request for the Bureau of Indian Affairs is the same as we have seen in the past," Dicks said at a hearing on March 13. "Relatively flat, or reduced, funding has left many programs at the Bureau struggling."

The Native language program is fresh on the books, so Rep. David Obey (D-Wisconsin), the chairman of the Labor, HHS and Education subcommittee, would be charting new ground. The law authorizes ANA to award grants for Native language nests, language survival schools and language restoration programs.

Of the more than 300 languages spoken in the U.S. at the time of European contact, only 175 remain, according to the Indigenous Language Institute. By 2050, only 20 will be spoken with regular use, the organization says, unless efforts are taken to teach the languages to new generations

The law was named in honor of Esther Martinez, a Pueblo linguist and storyteller who was killed last September, just days after she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship for her efforts to preserve the Tewa languages. Martinez was from Ohkay Owingeh in northern New Mexico.

The Congressional Native American Caucus is chaired by Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Michigan) and Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Arizona). It has more than 100 members of both parties.

Congressional Native American Caucus Letters:
Esther Martinez Native American Languages Act | Johnson O'Malley

Native Languages Bill:
Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act (H.R.4766)

Relevant Links:
House Appropriations Committee - http://appropriations.house.gov National Indian Education Association - http://www.niea.org

Related Stories:
Kempthorne touts Indian initiatives in new budget (03/21)
NCAI 2007: Updates from winter session in Washington (03/01)
Bush budget cuts health, education and housing (02/08)
Native language preservation bill becomes law (12/15)
Native language bill finally clears Congress (12/8)
Navajo Code Talkers lobby for Native language bill (11/14)
Opinion: English comes first, not Native languages (9/27)
Esther Martinez language act up for House vote (09/25)
Man arraigned for crash that killed Pueblo storyteller (9/22)
Hundreds pay tribute to Pueblo storyteller, linguist (9/21)
Man charged with death of Pueblo storyteller (9/20)
Funeral for Esther Martinez set for Wednesday (9/19)
Esther Martinez, linguist and storyteller, dies at 94 (9/18)
House committee holds field hearing on languages (09/01)
House committee to hold field hearing on languages (08/30)
Pueblo woman keeps Tewa language, culture alive (08/28)
Opinion: Native language preservation can't wait (8/28)
Pueblo woman wins National Heritage Fellowship (06/16)
Native languages slowly losing fluent speakers (7/28)

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