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
The fate of both requests now lies in the hands of the House
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
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
Native Languages Bill:Esther
Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act
House Appropriations Committee - http://appropriations.house.gov
National Indian Education Association - http://www.niea.org
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