Senators Tester and Schatz’s Native Language immersion bill clears first hurdle

Senate Indian Affairs Committee passes legislation to preserve and strengthen native languages

(U.S. Senate)-Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) today hailed the passage of their Native language immersion bill out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act creates a new grant opportunity for tribes to establish or expand native language immersion programs. The grants will support the revitalization and maintenance of tribal languages while increasing educational opportunities for Native American students.

“Preserving Native languages will keep students connected with their culture and heritage,” said 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.”

“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 Senator 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.”

“We could not have asked for better champions than Senator Tester and Senator Schatz,” said Leslie Harper, Director, National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Program. “They have a firm grasp of the issues and a strong commitment to native communities within their own states and across the nation. The establishment of new programs to support Native American language medium schools is critically important for our children that represent the future of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities. Without such schools the languages of their ancestors will remain out of the reach of our children, and unique academic benefits of indigenous language schools will be lost to them as well.”

All of the approximately 148 remaining Native languages that are still spoken in the United States are at the risk of extinction within 50-100 years unless preservation actions are taken.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act establishes a streamlined grant program under the Department of Education.

The bill would make up to $5 million in grants available per year for five years. The grants can be awarded to tribes, tribal organizations, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and local education agencies to establish or expand existing immersion classes for students ranging from Pre-K through post-secondary education levels.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act is available HERE.