Senators Udall, Heinrich Introduce Bill to Preserve and Expand Native American Languages

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced yesterday they have introduced a bill to preserve endangered Native languages.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act creates a new grant initiative 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.

“Native language education fosters pride and a feeling of interconnectedness between generations and has been linked to higher academic achievement among Native youth. I’m proud to support funding for Native language immersion programs that are so important in New Mexico and across the country,” Udall said.

“Preserving Native languages are integral to maintaining cultural identity,” Heinrich said. “Instruction in these languages promotes creativity, boosts high school graduation rates and college enrollment, and yields long-term benefits outside the classroom. Fostering an environment where Native students are connected to their language makes them leaders in their community, and ensures their rich culture and traditions are handed down to future generations.”

The bill was led by Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) also cosponsored the measure.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act establishes a grant program under the Department of Education. The bill seeks to limit overhead costs and reduce the resource demands on Tribal and school administrators seeking language immersion funding.

Individual grant levels and lengths are flexible. The grant program totals $5 million per year for five years. The grants can be awarded to Tribes, Tribal organizations, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and public or private schools to establish or expand existing immersion classes for students ranging from Pre-K through post-secondary education levels.

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.

Udall and Heinrich are longtime supporters of improving opportunities for students to study Native languages. They also have introduced the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act to provide grants to Native American language educational organizations to preserve disappearing Native languages in Indian Country. The bill reauthorizes the Native American Languages Program until 2020, and includes improvements to expand the program’s eligibility to smaller-sized classes and allow for longer grant periods.