Senate Passes Bill to Protect Alaska Native Languages
Bill establishes advisory council to preserve and restore Alaska’s indigenous languages
The Alaska State Senate passed a bill this morning aimed at protecting and restoring Alaska Native Languages, a bill I sponsored. Senate Bill 130 will establish the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council to assess the state of Alaska Native Languages, reevaluate the programs within the state, and make recommendations to the Governor and Legislature to establish new programs or reorganize the current programs.
Alaska Native Languages are threatened by extinction. Indigenous languages are the most critical components in terms or preservation of cultural ideas and traditions and serve as the backbone of all cultural elements. The language is like the most important ingredient in a recipe and without it, there is no real substance. Senate Bill 130 ensures that these important Alaska Native customs continue on.
According to the University of Alaska’s Language Center’s Population and Speaker Statistics published in 2007, only 22 percent Alaska Natives statewide can speak their native language. More specifically, only 29 percent of the Eskimo Aleut population, less than 2 percent of the Tsimshian and Haida, and less than 5 percent of the Athabascan and Tlingit communities combined are fluent speakers. The Eyak language recently lost its last native fluent speaker.
Of the state’s 20 Alaska Native languages, only two (Siberian Yupik in two villages on St. Lawrence Island, and Central Yup’ik in seventeen villages in southwestern Alaska) are spoken by children as the first language of the home.
My hope is the advisory council will give effective representation for Alaska Native languages at the state level, which would be a monumental event for many elders who still remember being scolded in school for speaking their first language. This legislation is the most significant piece of legislation affecting Alaska Native languages since 1972 when laws were passed requiring mandatory bilingual education in state-operated schools where children speak Alaska Native languages.
The council would be comprised of endangered language experts from across the state appointed by the governor, plus two non-voting legislators from the bush caucus.
Senate Bill 130 now heads to the House for further consideration.