Establish a Native American Language Resource Center
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Over the past 30 years, a great deal of work has been done to develop and establish incredible Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian language programs to prevent the loss of vast amounts of knowledge contained in them. As most speakers of the majority of Indigenous languages are over the age of 65, COVID19 poses a substantial and dire threat to these languages.
As someone who cares greatly about the survival of these languages, for the health of humans and the planet, I urge you, as members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, to work as quickly as possible to establish a Native Language Support Center with technological support resources that can exist outside of specific classrooms, but rather be available for all Native languages.
The framework for this center has already been laid out and supported by Senator Brian Schatz as follows:
A Native Community-Focused Center: The Native American Languages Resource Center would not be located on a single university campus, but as a consortium of institutions that reflect the diversity of Native American languages, cultures and communities throughout the United States. It would provide support for Native American language medium/immersion programs and schools serving children of all ages and at all levels of learning, from Pre-K to PhD. It would provide a central outreach to other Native American language programs. The Center would also provide necessary resources and best practices to support distance learning.
Centuries of Suppression: It was long federal policy and practice to eliminate Native American languages through punishing children for using their languages. By 1990, the some 150 remaining Native American remaining languages were dying out.2
Native Americans Rescue Indigenous Languages. Although their indigenous languages were on the brink of extinction, there were few Native American language learning or teaching resources, they often had to operate outside of public and tribal school systems, a dedicated core of Native American groups took on what seemed an impossible challenge to initiate and operate Native language medium/immersion schools.3
Role of Immersion Schools in Language Survival: Experience and research has shown that the only programs succeeding in reversing Native American language extinction have been NALA-based medium/immersion schooling. It can be used for adults, but is most successful when begun at an early age and extends through compulsory schooling.
Data Driven Results and Distinctive Benefits. Parallel to foreign language immersion, Native American language medium/immersion education produces strong academic outcomes and increased high school graduation and college attendance rates. For Native Americans, these programs also create a strong identity and a commitment to contribute to Native community sustainability. 4 They are also the only programs that have suceeded in reversing the extinction of Native American lanuages. 5
A Call for Parity: Congress has funded 16 Centers for Foreign Language Excellence in various universities to provide support for foreign language learning. These centers also access resources from foreign countries. And yet, no such center has been established for Native American languages, despite enactment of NALA, and the existence of a special legal relationship and the trust responsibility of the United States. 6
2 Testimony on hearing for NALA from Linguist Dr. Michael Krauss, pgs 22-26 https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED354136.pdf
3 America’s Languages by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: https://www.amacad.org/publication/americas-languages 4 Benefits of Native language immersion by Dr. Teresa McCarty et al.
5 Report by Dr. Jenine Pease-Pretty On Tophttp://www.aihec.org/our-stories/docs/NativeLangugageImmersion.pdf 6 Home for National Foreign Language Centers https://www.nflrc.org/
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