The LSA has been a long-time advocate for federal programs that support Native American language preservation and revitalization efforts, including:

Linguists Make the Case for Support

  • Native languages are endangered, and the predicted extinction of all of the approximately 148 Native languages still spoken within the next 50 to 100 years would deal a significant blow to our shared American and global heritage.
  • Native language programs reaffirm the value of indigenous languages and increase the self-esteem and self-efficacy of Native community members while also reducing the negative impact of the stereotype threats and toxic stress that many face in academic and professional environments.
  • Native language programs also bring together tribal members from multiple generations, which could help at-risk youth by giving them the opportunity to gain role models or mentors. Research has revealed that when at-risk youth have at least one role model, they are more likely to stay out of trouble and become productive members of their communities.

Tribal communities are currently fighting to preserve their languages. Congress can support these efforts by providing access to resources through programs like the Esther Martinez grant programs.

Taking Action: What Linguists Can Do Now

  • Legislation is currently pending in Congress that would reauthorize the programs mentioned above, and/or appropriate funds for these programs in the current and future fiscal years. We encourage you to contact your member of Congress in support of these issues. We have partnered with NHA to host this action alert you can use to contact your member of Congress directly. Alternatively, the U.S. House and Senate both have online guides to help you identify and contact your members of Congress. A sample letter and phone script is available.
  • Join the LSA's Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation (CELP) or the LSA Public Policy Committee to support collective action on legislation and pursue work with allied organizations to raise awareness within Congress about the importance of Native American language revitalization. In recent years, over 700 letters from LSA members and interested individuals were sent to Congress on this issue. 
  • If your members of Congress are listed as sponsors of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act, you may wish to send a thank-you letter.  If your member of Congress is not listed as a sponsor, please invite them to become a sponsor. We have partnered with NHA to host this action alert you can use to contact your member of Congress directly. Alternatively, the U.S. House and Senate both have online guides to help you contact your members of Congress.
  • If you would like to apply for a grant through the Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) program for a project related to the study and preservation of endangered languages, you can find application information and materials on the National Science Foundation’s website. DEL funding takes the form of one- to three-year project grants as well as six- to twelve-month fellowships. All DEL applications will be reviewed by NSF, and NEH or NSF will administer awards separately after the completion of the review process.

As Congress continues its work on these issues, the LSA will monitor the progress of these efforts and provide periodic updates to the membership via this page and other communication channels. You may also wish to follow the National Indian Education Association and the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools & Programs.

Background Information on Federal Programs

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act

This legislation aims to extend and update two grant programs administered by the Administration for Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services. These grant programs, the Native American Languages Preservation and Maintenance (P&M) grant program and the Esther Martinez Initiative (EMI) grant program, provide opportunities for tribal communities to assess, plan, develop, and implement projects that ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native languages. The legislation reauthorizes both programs through FY2022 and makes some key modifications: it increases the maximum possible duration of all Esther Martinez grants from three years to five, and it decreases the required minimum number of enrollees in Native American language nests funded by the grant program from 10 to 5 enrollees, and in the Native American language survival schools from 15 to 10 enrollees. This legislation would make it possible for more Native communities to receive resources to revitalize and maintain their mother tongues.

Action in 2017

  • On November 30, 2017, S.254 passed in the Senate and was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
  • On February 8th, 2017, S.254 passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The committee also approved this legislation in the last Congress. S.254 had 7 co-sponsors upon introduction.
  • A companion bill to S.254 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R.1169. The bill had 25 co-sponsors upon introduction. It is currently pending with the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) Program

In addition to the Esther Martinez grant programs, another key source of funding for the preservation of endangered languages is the Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) program, jointly funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation. 

  • Since 2004, the DEL program has facilitated the study and preservation of endangered human languages by awarding funding for projects related to the documentation, recording, and archiving of endangered languages.
  • Over half of funding is used to support fieldwork, but funding may also be used for other activities related to the digital recording, documenting, and archiving of endangered languages. Such activities include audio and video recording, linguistic analysis, and the preparation of lexicons, grammars, text samples, and databases.
  • The program seeks to support the professional growth of linguists and to capitalize on advances in information technology to create a digital infrastructure for the preservation of languages. It also aims to foster direct collaboration between linguists and indigenous groups.
  • Jack Martin, Professor of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary, received a DEL grant to record the nearly-extinct Muskogee, or Creek, language. With the help of Native American students from Bacone College and the Seminole Nation's Pumvhakv School, he is conducting audio and video recordings of elderly speakers of Muskogee in order to preserve contemporary Muskogee speech. DEL awards provide crucial support for projects that contribute to the preservation of Native American and other endangered languages.

Native American Revitalization Legislation in Past Sessions of Congress

The Every Student Succeeds Act 

In 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This bill is the most recent reauthorization of the 1964 Elementary and Secondary Education Act since the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. ESSA includes an amendment that supports the ongoing effort to revitalize Native American languages. This amendment was introduced by Senator Franken (D-MN), and the LSA was one of the leading organizations in support of it, working with groups including the National Humanities Alliance, ACTFL, and JNCL-NCLIS to raise awareness of the issue.

  • Sec. 6133 of Title VI of ESSA establishes a new grant program for schools and academic institutions that represents a leap forward for Native American language preservation and revitalization. These grants are intended to support Native American language immersion programs or otherwise support schools whose primary language of instruction is a Native American language.

(a) PURPOSES.—The purposes of this section are—
(1) to establish a grant program to support schools that
use Native American and Alaska Native languages as the primary
language of instruction;
(2) to maintain, protect, and promote the rights and freedom
of Native Americans and Alaska Natives to use, practice,
maintain, and revitalize their languages, as envisioned in the
Native American Languages Act (25 U.S.C. 2901 et seq.); and
(3) to support the Nation’s First Peoples’ efforts to maintain
and revitalize their languages and cultures, and to improve
educational opportunities and student outcomes within
Native American and Alaska Native communities.

  • While Title VII of the No Child Left Behind Act did address Native American education, it did not address language. The grant program included in Title VI of ESSA is a new program specifically intended to fund language immersion programs and promote the use of Native American languages and, in doing so, elevate academic performance in the Native American community and preserve Native American cultural identity.
  • Institutions eligible to receive such funds include any Native American tribe, school, university, and educational agency, among others, “that has a plan to develop and maintain, or to improve and expand, programs that support the entity’s use of a Native American or Alaska Native language as the primary language of instruction in elementary schools or secondary schools, or both.”
  • The language immersion programs included in Title VI of ESSA would be appropriated 20 percent of the funds reserved for national activities under Sec. 6152(c) of the bill. However, it remains to be seen whether the current Congress will fund any new programs for FY18 due to the likelihood of a very low budget ceiling for the Department of Education.

(b) PROGRAM AUTHORIZED.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—From funds reserved under section
6152(c), the Secretary shall reserve 20 percent to make grants
to eligible entities to develop and maintain, or to improve and
expand, programs that support schools, including elementary
school and secondary school education sites and streams, using
Native American and Alaska Native languages as the primary
languages of instruction.

The Native American Languages Reauthorization Act and the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act

In the 113th Congress (2012-2014), two bills were proposed in both houses of Congress which sought to enhance efforts to revitalize Native American languages: H.R.726/S.2299, the Native American Languages Reauthorization Act of 2014; and H.R.4214/S.1948, the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act. S.2299 would reauthorize and modify a grant program administered by the Administration for Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services to protect Native American languages, and S.1948 would authorize the Secretary of Education to award grants to educational institutions to fund Native American language immersion programs. Both bills gained bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, but were not brought to a floor vote before the end of the Congressional session. However, the programs from S.1948 were included in Title VI of the 2015 reauthorization of ESEA.

 

Adapted with permission from:

Downs, Mary. (2017, March 23). Native Students Help in Seminole Language Documentation. Retrieved from https://www.neh.gov/divisions/preservation/featured-project/native-students-help-in-seminole-language-documentation

Lee, Tanya H. (2016, February 1). 9 Ways the New Education Law is a Win for Indian Country. Retrieved from https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/education/native-education/9-ways-the-new-education-law-is-a-win-for-indian-country/

The National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities’ pages on the Documenting Endangered Languages grant program.