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Bryan Brewer: Bill for Native language immersion a high priority

The following letter to the editor was written by Bryan Brewer, the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. All content © Native Sun News.

Bryan Brewer. Photo from Facebook

President Brewer gives thanks to NCAI
By Bryan Brewer

As President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe I would like to say kudos to the National Congress of American Indians for including the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act (S.1948) as a priority legislative issue in the upcoming NCAI Unity Impact Week.

In my first public appearance as the President elect of the Oglala Sioux Tribe I called for Congress to introduce this crucial legislation. I have often through Congressional testimony and communications with the Obama administration expressed the need for a more robust Native language Immersion agenda.

NCAI in highlighting this issue is doing two good things. The first is that NCAI is responding to “language Tribes” and their desire to see immersion, and language revitalization move closer to the front of Indian country’s agenda.

The second is that NCAI is recognizing that through its web page, budget recommendations, Congressional testimony, lobbying efforts, and speeches it is providing Congress, the Administration and Indian Country with both implicit and explicit messages that devalues Native languages, Immersion Schools when they are not included.

Administration officials, Congressional members and tribal leaders quickly internalize these messages and come to feel Native languages are not a priority. We in the immersion and language revitalization community have been told “no” so often that we have almost accepted the diminished and trivialized role of Native languages in Indian Affairs.

NCAI is doing more than allowing “Language Tribes” symbolic inclusion; NCAI is actually honoring both its founding principles and the title of the advocacy event “Unity Impact Week”. Unity is hard to come by in Indian country we all know that, but out here on the Great Plains we are fully capable of unity with other tribes and regions so long as we are respected. In understanding what language means to us and other tribes still practicing their languages, traditions and ceremonies NCAI is creating a venue where unity is possible through respect.

Over the last week the Oglala Lakota said goodbye to one of our iconic treasures, former chairman Gerald One Feather. Gerald helped usher in a cultural revival among the Lakota and in founding the award winning Oglala Lakota College he made the Lakota language a number one priority. As a former Vice President of NCAI Gerald would be happy and proud to know NCAI is advancing the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act.

Long before Gerald would serve on the NCAI executive committee an Oglala named Helen Peterson would come along and save NCAI from its doors shuttering. In saving NCAI she saved Indian country during the tumultuous termination era. Chuck Trimble, another Oglala Lakota and past NCAI executive director, would fondly call Helen Peterson the best director in the prodigious history of NCAI.

Oglala Lakota Leo Vocu would also serve in a short stint as director. In recent years Teresa Two Bulls would maintain the tradition of Oglala engagement when she became NCAI recording secretary in 2008.

One of the great secrets of Indian country was the quite hand of Dr. Jim Wilson (Oglala Lakota) who singlehandedly kept NCAI afloat in the late 1960’s ad early 1970’s while he chaired the Indian Desk at the Office for Economic Opportunity. Dr. Jim viewed NCAI as a political necessity for Indian country. He set out to transform Indian affairs and to this day remains unmatched in his contributions.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has a long history with NCAI; we want to have a long future with NCAI as well. I view the prioritization of the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act by NCAI as a turning point in NCAI’s relationship with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Great Plains Tribes and Language Tribes.

The spirit and legacy of NCAI does not belong to any one tribe or tribal region, it does not belong to any one president or executive director it belongs to all of us – all of Indian country. Many years from now when immersion schools are given their proper legitimacy and Indian children are talking Indian again we will all remember the National Congress of American Indians signaled to both Congress and the Obama administration that the time is now for immersion schools to gain their rightful place in Indian Affairs.

Wopila Tanka NCAI!

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