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Lakota Country Times: Native language bill clears a hurdle

Cutline: Native American children from across the country may gain better access to their traditional languages if the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act passes Congress. Photo courtesy Cheryl Crazy Bull / American Indian College Fund

Immersion school bill clears hurdle
By Brandon Ecoffey
LCT Editor

WASHINGTON— An important piece of legislation designed to provide funding solely for the purpose of sustaining and creating Native American language immersions schools cleared the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on October 21.

S.1419, the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, if passed by the full Congress will allocate funding for grant opportunities for tribal nations to both establish and expand native language immersions schools. The bill will also provide educational opportunities for native students engaged in the effort to save Native languages.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Senate Indian Affairs Committee Business Meeting October 21, 2015

“Preserving Native languages will keep students connected with their culture and heritage,” said Sen. Jon Tester, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.  “This bill will limit overhead costs that often keep tribes and schools from establishing Native language immersion classes and will ensure the survival of these historic languages.” 

According to a joint press release from Tester and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act would make up to $5 million in grants available per year for five years for tribes, tribal tribal organizations, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and local education agencies to expand immersion learning from Pre-K to the post-secondary education level.

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“Language is vital to every culture, and schools like Nawahiokalaniopuu on Hawai‘i Island have shown us how Native language education can revive a once near-extinct language and help preserve the traditions and customs of Native communities,” said Schatz.  “With today’s key vote, we are one step closer to strengthening Native language schools and programs in Hawai‘i and across the country and ensuring the Hawaiian language and many others continue to thrive.” 

According to the Lakota Language Consortium just over half of the Native American languages spoken at the time of first contact are still in use today and about 48% of those are nearly extinct. Recent estimates have stated that there are approximately 6,000 Lakota speakers but vast majority of them are elderly.

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