Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs the Native languages bill. He is flanked by the bill’s sponsors—Rep. J. Paul Brown, of Ignacio, (left) and Sen. Suzanne Williams, of Aurora, a member of the Comanche Nation.

Native Languages Go International

Carol Berry

With one stroke of an official pen, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill giving life to teaching Native American languages that now, as world languages, can count for high school credit.

People fluent in the languages of federally recognized tribes can teach those languages without full-fledged credentialing under the bills’ provisions. Currently credentialed teachers of Native languages would continue to be adjunct instructors, as at present.

After a months-long drafting and legislative approval process, sponsors applauded signing of the act that provides for Native language instructors to work in partnership with licensed teachers who currently teach world languages for their employing school districts.

State Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, a member of the Comanche Nation, termed the signing ceremony “a happy occasion” and said the Native languages program may prove to be a model for other states to follow.“Keeping our Native languages alive keeps the culture alive.”

The bill’s sponsor in the state’s House of Representatives, Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, recalled his years in southwestern Colorado, home to the state’s two Ute tribal nations, as he described the legislation’s value in cultural preservation. “It’s very important to the Southern Utes and Ute Mountain Utes for their kids to learn the language.”

The governor himself, who signed the bill in his office surrounded by Native students, their teachers, legislators and some parents and mentors, said the bill was important and described the value of the state’s Native cultures, but he also took the opportunity for some light-hearted instruction about ways to say “hello” and “thank you” in Lakota, Diné and Ute.

The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs’ executive secretary, Ernest House Jr., noted that a school district serving the Ute Mountain Ute area might have an elder teaching language and culture in a program co-designed with the tribe, and if the elder chose to do so, he or she could enlist others for cultural presentations.

The bill would apply statewide as an optional program for school districts to follow as they chose, and it mandates “a method to establish and document the expertise of the applicant” in the Native language and calls for the identification of a licensed partnering teacher who would work with the language instructor.

The state Board of Education will establish the approval process for Native language and culture authorization, and will require that the applicant for five-year authorization “meet any objective standards for language proficiency” established by the board.

The act will take effect August 8, or 90 days after the General Assembly’s adjournment date, currently scheduled May 9.

Related stories:

Native Languages Bill Takes Another Step Forward

Language Plan and Tribal Efforts Praised

Big Boost for Native Languages

Native American Languages Could Count for Class Credit

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