Education | Politics

NIEA heads to Capitol Hill to advocate for Native language bills






Students from the Lakota Language Nest sing to President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Cannon Ball Flag Day Powwow in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on June 13, 2014. Photo by Desiree Condon / Facebook

The National Indian Education Association is heading to Capitol Hill this week to lobby for passage of two Native language bills.

S.1948, the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, creates a grant program for Native language immersion schools. The bill will benefit programs where Native languages are the primary language of instruction, an essential step for generating new generations of speakers.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama saw first-hand the results of one such program during his visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota last month. A group of young students from the Lakota Language Nest sang the Lakota national anthem for the couple and powwow attendees.

"The purpose is to fully immerse three-year-olds in the Lakota language to create a younger generation of speakers," according to a FAQ from Sitting Bill College, a tribal college on the reservation that hosts the program. "Standing Rock currently has NO fluent speakers under the age of 15. Due to this critical state of the language we need to create a language nest."

Funding similar programs will help other Native languages, advocates told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee at a hearing on June 18. The bill authorizes $5 million in fiscal year 2015 and "such sums as may be necessary" for each subsequent fiscal year through 2019.

The second measure is S.2299, the Native American Languages Reauthorization Act. The bill extends the Esther Martinez Native Languages Preservation Act Act through the end of fiscal year 2019 to continue funding programs that are "already being successfully used in Indian Country," Ed Delgado, the former chairman of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, told the committee last month.

Both bills will be considered at the committee's business meeting on Wednesday afternoon. If they are approved, they can be sent to the Senate for a floor vote.

The House has yet to consider either measure so NIEA will keep Congress informed at a Legislative Advocacy Day briefing on Wednesday morning, from 9am to 11:30am in Room SVC-208 of the Capitol Visitors Center. Tribal leaders, Native educators and members of Congress are due to speak about the need to preserve Native languages.

Also Today:
John Ahni Schertow: Importance of Indigenous Languages: Ojibwa and Runasimi (Quechua) (Intercontinental Cry 7/26)

Related Stories:
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe welcomes Obama to reservation (6/16)