Just before Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) took up the gavel of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in February, he introduced the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act.

Native Advocates Ramp Up Support for Sen. Tester’s Language Bill

Rob Capriccioso
3/11/14

Just before Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) took up the gavel of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in February, he introduced the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, which would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to provide increased federal financial support to Native American language programs at American Indian-focused schools.

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

If passed, the bill would establish a grant program to support schools using Native American languages as their primary language of instruction. The legislation would appropriate $5 million for fiscal year 2015, and “such sums as may be necessary for each of the succeeding 4 fiscal years.” The secretary of the Department of Education would be responsible for making grant awards to eligible institutions each of the years, and grantees would be required to submit annual reports.

“We are racing against the clock to save and revitalize our sacred Native American languages,” Tester said when he announced the bill. “Preserving Native languages will strengthen Indian culture and increase student confidence—leading to greater academic achievement and a stronger economy.”

Support from the National Congress of American Indians and many Native-focused organizations, which plan to hold a congressional briefing March 12 on Capitol Hill to heighten awareness of the bill, has been widespread.

“In introducing the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, Sen. Tester has answered the call from Indian country to invest in Native language immersion schools,” says Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians. “Not only are these unique schools our best hope to save and revitalize our sacred Native languages, but they offer Indian education the purest form of intellectual sovereignty, because no right is more sacred to Native peoples than the right to freely speak our Native languages.”

Native education advocates widely view the bill as an opportunity to influence ESEA reauthorization discussions that are ongoing in the Senate. While the ESEA, which includes the Indian Education Act, still faces some hurdles in passing this Congress, advocates are hopeful that Tester’s legislation can ultimately be included in that broader education legislation.

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