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Peter MacDonald: Code Talkers support language immersion bill

The following opinion was written by Peter MacDonald. All content © Native Sun News.

Peter MacDonald. Photo from Donovan Shortey / Wikipedia

Navajo Code Talkers stand behind language immersion effort
By Peter MacDonald

The Navajo Code Talker Association Proudly endorses the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, S.1948 and H.R.4214. This long overdue legislation would amend Title VII Indian Education of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to create a grant program to support Native American Immersion schools.

The Navajo Code Talker Association supports this crucial legislation because immersion schools offer the only sure way in today’s rapidly changing world to transmit Native languages to future generations and enhance academic achievement.

The Navajo Code Talker Association is proud of immersion efforts at Navajo including Tsehootooi Dine bi’olta, Rough Rock, Rock Point and Many Farms. These immersion opportunities need to be expanded throughout the entire Navajo Nation.

Four decades ago I was the honored keynote speaker at the annual National Indian Education Association Convention. It was an exciting time in Indian Country specifically Indian education. On the heels of the famous Kennedy Indian Education report Congress passed the Indian Education Act in 1972. My address to NIEA and Indian Country focused on Indian control of Indian education, on establishing an educational vision for tribal communities and bringing Native languages and culture into Indian educational institutions.

Forty years later we know now it is not enough to have language instruction for 50 minutes a day, or a pow-wow once a year as a cultural experience. Our sacred children need and deserve better. They deserve the opportunity to attend schools where their own tribal languages are utilized as the medium of instruction.

This is what the Navajo Code Talker Association endorses the Native language Immersion Student Achievement Act. When the original Indian Education Act passed Congress 40 years ago we didn’t know about immersion schools, we didn’t have research to support these schools because they didn’t exist in Indian Country. We were at ground zero in so far as inclusion and ownership of our educational destiny.

Today thanks to our Polynesian relatives and brave pioneering schools in the far reaches of Indian country we have an emerging best practice in Indian Education. Immersion schools work, what we are doing now in Indian education is wedding ourselves to past failed policies that have proven to not have worked.

It is important that the Obama Administration keep its promises to Indian Country surrounding immersion schools. It is important that Congress acknowledge the growing body of research based evidence that supports immersion schools. Congress could both honor the research and Indian Country by swiftly passing the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act.

The seeds of self –determination were sown during the Johnson Administration when Dr. Jim Wilson chaired the Indian Desk at the Office of Economic Opportunity. All things seemed possible and OEO dealt a decisive blow to the stranglehold the Bureau of Indian Affairs had on Indian Country. The BIA literally held a monopoly on Indian affairs and Indian decisions until OEO.

Indian Country must complete what was started in those important days of Indian affairs. In Indian education this means not being satisfied with symbolic governance, symbolic cultural inclusion and symbolic participation. It means utilizing our languages to the fullest extent and confronting forces that wish to devalue them. Immersion schools provide us a window into the purest form of Indian education.

The Navajo Code Talker Association answered a call to action by NIEA in the historic campaign to pass the Esther Martinez Native Language Preservation Act of 2006. Today I am the sole survivor of my comrades who took to Capitol Hill promoting Native languages. The remaining members of the Navajo Code Talker Association and myself remain ready if called upon again.

Our many honors and recognitions are dwarfed by the urgency to stem the tide of language loss. We want our country, Nihi ma’,(America) to honor both the warrior and the language that the warrior used as a weapon to defend the freedoms and liberties we enjoy today.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act deserves support from Democrats and Republicans, it deserves support from president Obama. Indian Country has waited too long, we can wait no longer. It is time our languages take their proper place in Indian education

(Peter MacDonald is the president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association and a former President of the Navajo Nation)

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