Nkwusm Salish Language Institute
The Nkwusm Salish Language Institute in Arlee, Montana is trying to preserve the Salish language.

Senators Fight to Preserve Tribal Cultures Through Native Languages

Sen. Tim Johnson
1/17/14

Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) is teaming up with Senators Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to preserve Native languages and help strengthen Indian culture and education.

Tester and his colleagues this week introduced the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act. The bill establishes a grant program to fund Native language educational programs throughout Indian Country in order to improve high school graduation rates, increase college enrollment and better prepare students for jobs.

“We are racing against the clock to save and revitalize our sacred Native American languages,” Tester said. “Preserving Native languages will strengthen Indian culture and increase student confidence—leading to greater academic achievement and a stronger economy. I am proud to help strengthen Indian Country and the languages and traditions that make it a special place.”

Sen. Jon Tester

“Native American languages are an integral part of American Indian culture and history,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, throughout the decades, many Native languages have become extinct. I believe this legislation will encourage schools and colleges to develop and strengthen language programs to help our young children develop a fluency in their Native language.”

“Preservation of Native American languages through revitalization efforts like this bill is extremely valuable,” Begich said. “Through no fault of their own, our nation’s first peoples have suffered from various policies and reform efforts aimed at terminating Native languages. But Alaska Natives are a resilient people who have worked hard to preserve almost two dozen various indigenous languages.

“Today, immersion schools and programs offer students tremendous learning opportunities and are indicators of student achievement and success,” Begich continued. “I’m honored to join Senator Tester in this effort and will work hard to advance this important legislation.”

RELATED: Tester, in Line to Be SCIA Chair, to Introduce Indian School Language Bill

“Forty years ago, the people of Hawai’i faced the possible death of their native language.  Today, through the dedicated and concerted efforts of a strong people, the vibrant Hawaiian language lives through thousands of speakers. The people of Hawai’i understand the richness and importance of Hawaiian customs, tradition, and language. We have worked to support incorporating Hawaiian culture, tradition and language into education,” said U.S. Senator Brian Schatz. “I’ve seen first-hand visiting immersion schools, the vital role immersion and other Native language-medium schools play in preserving Native languages and improving education. This bill will support this important work.”

Tester, Johnson, Begich and Schatz are all members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Their bill, which is supported by the National Indian Education Association, would award grants to eligible programs serving students from pre-kindergarten to graduate school that use Native American languages as the primary language of instruction.

Tester recently brought Indian Affairs Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) to Montana, where they visited the Nkwusm Salish Immersion School, in Arlee, Montana.

A copy of the Senators’ Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act (S. 1948), which would provide $5 million in 2015, is available online. It is also co-sponsored by Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana).

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