Senator Schatz, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Support Native American Languages

Honolulu, HI – U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) 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 indigenous languages while increasing educational opportunities for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students.

“Immersion schools in Hawai‘i have shown us that if we incorporate culture, traditions, and language into education, we can preserve Native languages, improve student outcomes, and lift native communities,” said Senator Schatz.  “Our bill builds on the success of schools like Nawahiokalaniopuu and preserves our Native languages and cultures for this generation and the next.”

“Native languages connect students with their culture, history and heritage,” said Senator Tester.  “This bill increases access to critical funding for language immersion programs and ensures the survival of Native languages before it is too late.”

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. 

“The National Coalition of Native American Schools and Programs is thrilled with this bill as it supports the use of Native American languages as the primary language of instruction,” said N?maka Rawlins, Co-Chair of the National Coalition of Native American Schools and Programs.  “We are also working hard to ensure that the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act  aligns to the Native American Languages Act. And, we thank Senator Schatz for his strong support of our efforts.”

“Over the last thirty years, Hawai?i has developed distinct Native language medium-immersion models of education from the infant toddler through doctoral levels that are demonstrating successful and promising student achievement results as it revitalizes its Native language,” said Dr. Keiki Kawai?ae?a, Director of the UH-Hilo Hawaiian Language College.  “As a Hawaiian medium-immersion parent, grandparent, teacher educator and administrator, I am elated and sincerely grateful to Senator Tester and Senator Schatz for reintroducing the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act that supports the revitalization and stabilization of Native American languages through Native language medium-immersion education.”

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.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act is available here.