Original URL: http://regulus.azstarnet.com/hourlyupdate/story.php?id=32

Legislation introduced to preserve American Indian languages
July 9, 2003
The Associated Press

New Mexico’s congressional delegation introduced legislation Tuesday to preserve American Indian languages.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., and Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., introduced the Southwest Native American Language Revitalization Act of 2003. The bill would encourage the development of American Indian language to help reduce the impact of past discrimination against Indian language speakers.

“For years many schools across the country did their best to eradicate languages used by tribes and pueblos,” Bingaman said. “Punishments were carried out on those students who spoke their native tongue. Thankfully, in more recent years, we have come to see the importance of preserving Native American languages.”

The bill would create a center through the University of New Mexico’s Native American Studies Department to work with the Linguistic Institute for Native Americans in promoting the teaching of languages native to the Southwest.

“Native languages contribute to overall linguistic and cultural richness of our society,” Domenici said. “We only need to look to our own Code Talkers in New Mexico to understand just one of the benefits  to keeping native languages alive.”

The Navajo Code Talkers used a military code based on their native language to communicate troop movements and other orders during the World War II. Wilson says she was approached by the Jicarilla Apache Nation about setting up Native American language schools.

“I was very excited about the idea,” she said.

The legislation would provide federal money to train American Indian language mentors, conduct community education and outreach, examine the effects of government education policies on survival of native languages and establish endowments to further study and preserve American Indian

“This legislation empowers Native Americans for whom language builds a bridge of understanding that connects the wisdom of the past, the experiences of the present and the hopes of the future,” Udall said. “It is imperative to tap the experiences of native elders as quickly as possible to stem any further loss of native languages.”