For Immediate Release
May 26, 2021
Manu Tupper or Mike Inacay (Schatz) at firstname.lastname@example.org
SCHATZ CONVENES INDIAN AFFAIRS HEARING TO EXAMINE COVID-19 IMPACT ON NATIVE LANGUAGES
Committee Also Received Testimony on 2 Schatz-Led Bills to Support Native Languages
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led an oversight and legislative hearing on “Examining the COVID-19 Response in Native Communities: Native Languages One Year Later” and to receive testimony on S.989, the Native American Language Resource Center Act of 2021, and S.1402, the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2021. The committee heard from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Acting Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans Michelle Sauve, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs President Leslie Harper, ʻAha Pūnana Leo Chief Executive Officer Kaʻiulani Laehā, and Kawerak Eskimo Heritage Director and Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council Chair Bernadette “Yaayuk” Alvanna-Stimpfle.
In his opening statement, Schatz underscored the work Native communities have undertaken to maintain and revitalize their languages.
“When we enacted the Native American Languages Act of 1990, the U.S. expressly recognized the inherent rights and freedoms of Native Americans to use their indigenous languages,” said Chairman Schatz. “But the most important work has been done by the Native communities themselves, at the grassroots level, to build their own Native language schools and programs and revitalize their languages and cultures… In Hawaii, more than 18,000 people now speak Hawaiian at home – up from just 2,000 Hawaiian language-speakers in the 1970s. But even with increasing federal support over the last three decades, many Native languages remain endangered.”
Schatz went on to highlight the committee’s efforts to mitigate COVID-19 impacts and bolster Native communities’ language revitalization efforts.
“Congress [included] $20 million dollars in dedicated funding to address the pandemic’s impacts on Native languages in the American Rescue Plan Act,” said Chairman Schatz. “But while help is here, this Committee’s work to support Native languages does not stop at COVID-19 recovery. The two bipartisan Native languages bills before us today will advance the conversation, improve federal support for culturally-based Native language instruction, and ensure Native American language use continues to grow.”
Several witnesses testified in support of Schatz’s Native languages legislation.
“I want you to know how proud we are of the United States Senate and the leadership of this committee for considering the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. “Durbin Feeling was a great man… He was a patriot of the United States, serving the country, and he was a savior of the Cherokee language. And we do so much work in his name… S.1402 will build upon his work and extend his legacy for all of Indian Country.”
“Congress has funded multiple language resource centers at various universities that serve to improve the nation’s capacity to teach and learn foreign languages. But Native American languages have been overlooked. So this sort of invisibility of the unique legal and political rights of the original languages of the United States of America leaves a gap in access. And this is a place where we see opportunity for Congress to fulfill that responsibility to Native American language communities as intended in the Native American Languages Act of 1990,” said National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs President Leslie Harper. “So we wholeheartedly support the Native American Language Resource Center Act. We also support the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act because that can provide even more representation of our unique linguistic and cultural efforts.”
“Over the last four decades the tireless efforts of advocates and educators has led to a resurgence of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, the Native Hawaiian language. It’s also allowed us the opportunity to encounter and overcome challenges that other Native language communities will face along their journey of language revitalization,” said ʻAha Pūnana Leo Chief Executive Officer Kaʻiulani Laehā. “I believe that both S.989 and S.1402 are crucial steps and vital to the progress of Native American language revitalization.”
“I am speaking to you in a second language I learned as a five-year-old. Inupiaq is my first language,” said Bernadette “Yaayuk” Alvanna-Stimpfle. “I represent myself here today speaking in favor of the Native American Language Resource Center Act and the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2021.”
To view the full video of the hearing, click here.