Tester introduces bipartisan bill to preserve Native American languages

Senator: it’s time to preserve vibrant history of Indian Country

(U.S. Senate) – Senator Jon Tester introduced the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act to preserve and protect endangered Native languages in Indian Country.

Tester’s bill reauthorizes the Native American Languages Program through 2020, expands the initiative’s eligibility to include smaller class sizes, and lengthens the amount of time before an organization has to reapply for a grant.

“Preserving Native languages connects students with generations of rich history and culture,” Tester said. “This bill strengthens cultural identity, helps keep students in school, and preserves the vibrant history of Indian Country. We need to act to ensure the survival of Native languages before it’s too late.”

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. Four tribes in Montana who receive federal funding for Native language schools.

Tester’s bill amends the Native American Languages Act of 1990 to create and fund Native language nests, Native language survival schools, and Native American language restoration programs throughout Indian Country.

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 preserve Native American languages. Language immersion has been proven to improve a student’s academic, social, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.

The Esther Martinez Native American Language Preservation Act is named for the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo master 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.), all members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.