Bill Would Reward Schools That Teach All Curriculum in Native American Languages

Five Senate Democrats this week introduced a bill to offer financial incentives to classes from pre-kindergarten through graduate school that immerse students in Native American languages.

The Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act cites reports from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and educational institutions "that use primarily Native American languages to deliver education" and "have indicated that students from these schools have generally had high school graduation and college attendance rates above the norm for their peers."

"There is a critical need that requires immediate action to support education through Native American languages to preserve these languages," states the legislation, which would establish a grant program to fund Native language educational programs.

“Preserving Native American languages is crucial to protecting the culture and heritage of our nation’s First Peoples,”

said Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Through no fault of their own, our Nation’s First Peoples have suffered from various policies and reform efforts aimed at terminating Native languages. Fortunately, Alaska Natives are a resilient people who have worked hard to preserve almost two dozen various indigenous languages."

Begich's co-sponsors are Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

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

Schools eligible for the grants would be "using Native American languages as the primary language of instruction of all curriculum."