Senator Jon Tester today took another step forward to revitalize and expand Native American languages after his Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act was unanimously passed by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Tester's bill reauthorizes the Native American Language Program through 2020. The initiative funds Native language classes and restoration initiatives throughout Indian Country.
"Promoting Native languages strengthens students' cultural identity and ensures the preservation of rich historical languages," said Tester, Vice Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "Students who take Native language courses do better in school and are more connected to their community. It is critical to Indian Country that this legislation and other Native language bills move forward on the Senate floor."
The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act will also expand the Native American Language Program's eligibility to include smaller class sizes, and lengthens the time before an organization has to reapply for the grant.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, applications for grants through the program almost doubled from 2013 to 2014, highlighting the urgent need and demand to revitalize Native American languages.
In October, Tester's Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. This bill, which creates a new grant opportunity for tribes to establish or expand Native language immersion programs across Indian Country, was incorporated into and enacted as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Schools serving Native students will be able to apply for the first round of grants under this program starting in 2017.
All of the approximately 148 Native languages that are still spoken in the United States are at risk of extinction within the next 50 to 100 years, unless drastic measures are taken. Eighty-three percent of these languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers each.
The Esther Martinez Native American Language Preservation Act is named for the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo linguist and storyteller Esther Martinez and is cosponsored by Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii.). [press release]