The LSA has been a long-time advocate for federal (US) programs that support Native American language preservation and revitalization efforts. The information below is organized in reverse chronological order, and lists past legislative efforts. Please be advised that legislation not enacted in a prior session of Congress must be reintroduced with new bill numbers in order for it to advance in the current session of the Congress. In some instances, legislation referenced below has been enacted and signed into law. But much work remains to be done on bills that have never received a floor vote or been sent to the President's desk for signature and must therefore be reintroduced in each session. For current and ongoing efforts, please check our Public Policy Page.

Why Linguists Should Support these Causes

  • 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, described below.

Taking Action: What Linguists Can Do Now 


Information on Federal Programs and Legislation


The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act

Victory! This bill was passed in the US House of Representatives on December 9 and was signed by former President Trump on December 20, 2019.

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Reauthorization Act reauthorizes two grant programs that support projects to preserve and revitalize Native languages in tribal communities: the Native American Languages Preservation and Maintenance (P&M) grant program and the Esther Martinez Initiative (EMI) grant program. These 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 makes it possible for more Native communities to receive resources to revitalize and maintain their mother tongues. These programs are a crucial source of funding for efforts to revive Native languages in tribal communities. 

Updates from 2019:

  • ACTION ITEM (Fall 2019): Address your support for Esther Martinez to House Leadership (The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, The Honorable Steny H. Hoyer) or to your Representative (see link below) urging H.R. 912/S. 256 be brought directly to the House floor for immediate consideration. We strongly support this reauthorization and urge House Democratic leaders to bring this legislation to the House floor for a vote and urge Members of the House to cosponsor. Read on for more background information [pdf] from the lead sponsor in the House.

  • On June 27, the United States Senate passed S.256, the “Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act” (unanimously). The Joint National Committee for Languages put out an Action Alert to help get Esther Martinez across the finish-line in House.

  • On March 25, S.256 was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders; Calendar No. 42. 

  • On January 30, the House companion bill H.R.912 was introduced, and had 16 co-sponsors at that time.

  • On January 29, S.256 was introduced in Senate and referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs. At that time, it had 7 co-sponsors.

The LSA offered an option to send a message to officials thanking them for their support of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Reauthorization Act. A sample letter and phone script were provided.

Updates from 2018:

  • Unfortunately, the House never referred the bill out of committee and it did not receive a vote on the floor. It therefore needed to be re-introduced in the next session of Congress (see above).

Updates from 2017:

  • On November 30, S.254 passed in the Senate and was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

  • 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.

  • On February 8, 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.


The Every Student Succeeds Act

Victory! This bill was passed in the US Senate on December 9 and was signed by former President Obama on December 10, 2015.

The Every Student Succeeds Act was the most recent reauthorization of the 1964 Elementary and Secondary Education Act since the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. While No Child Left Behind addressed Native American education, it did not address language. ESSA includes specific reference to language education. It includes a grant program and an amendment that supports the ongoing effort to revitalize Native American and Alaska Native languages, including support for language immersion programs, promoting the rights of Natives to use, maintain, promote, and revitalize their languages and cultures, and to improve educational opportunities within native American and Alaska Native communities, and more. Any Native American tribe, school, university, or educational agency, “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," is elligible for this support. Click here to read the bill.

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.

Updates:

  • On December 10, 2015, the bill was signed into law by former President Obama..

  • On November 17, 2015, the ESSA was passed in the House of Representatives.

  • On July 16, 2015 the bill was passed in the Senate.

  • On April 30, 2015, this amendment was introduced by Senator Alexander (R-TN), as S.1177.


The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act (H.R. 312)

This bill was passed was passed in the US House of Representatives on May 15, 2019, but the issue has yet to be taken up by the U.S. Senate. Please check our Current Public Policy page to see if any information has been reintroduced.

This bill was meant to reaffirm the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reservation as trust land in Massachusetts, and required actions, including actions pending in federal court, relating to the land to be dismissed.

Updates and Resources:


The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act

This bill was not brought to a floor vote before the end of the Congressional session, but the programs from it have been incorported into more recent legislation.

In the 113th Congress (2013-2015), The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act was proposed in both houses of Congress, as H.R.4214 in the House and as S.1948 in the Senate. This bill sought to enhance efforts to revitalize Native American languages, authorizing the Secretary of Education to award grants to educational institutions to fund Native American language immersion programs.

Updates:

  • The programs from S.1948 were included in Title VI of the 2015 reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
  • This bill gained bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, but was not brought to a floor vote before the end of the Congressional session.
  • On January 16, 2014, the act was introduced in the Senate as S.1948, and on March 12, 2014, the act was introduced in the House as H.R.4214.

The Native American Languages Reauthorization Act

This bill was not brought to a floor vote before the end of the Congressional session.

In the 113th Congress (2013-2015), The Native American Languages Reauthorization Act was introduced in both houses of Congress, as H.R.726 in the House and as S.2299 in the Senate. This bill sought to 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.

Updates:

  • This bills gained bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, but was not brought to a floor vote before the end of the Congressional session.
  • On February 14, 2013, the act was introduced in the House as H.R.726, and on May 7, 2013, it was introduced in the Senate as S.2299.

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.

Adapted with permission from:


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