May 29, 2021

Vice Chairman Murkowski Highlights Continued Support to Revitalize and Protect Native Languages During Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (Committee), stressed the importance of revitalizing and protecting Native languages in Alaska during a Committee hearing on “Examining the COVID-19 Response in Native Communities: Native Languages One Year Later.” As part of the hearing, witnesses provided testimony on S. 1402 the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2021 and S. 989 the Native American Languages Resource Act of 2021. The Committee also held a business meeting where they considered and passed S. 1471, the Safeguarding Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, which aims to better shield Native communities from the illegal theft and trafficking of tribal cultural heritage items.


“Native languages are more than just words, they are a vital part of indigenous culture and identity and an important tool to understand indigenous histories and continue these cultures for future generations. In Alaska, there is an ongoing and worsening language loss taking place. Of the more than 20 Alaska Native languages, only one can be considered stable, two of them are no longer spoken, and over half of them have fewer than 20 remaining speakers,” as provided by Vice Chairman Murkowski in hearing opening statement. “I am proud to again join as co-lead on the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2021 to protect Native languages. Our bill will improve interagency coordination and require a survey of federal programs on their work involving Native languages. Through these efforts, Native communities across the country can continue revitalizing and protecting their identity through language.”


Pictured: Senator Murkowski providing an opening statement on May 26, 2021


During her questioning, Vice Chairman Murkowski posed questions to Mrs. Bernadette “Yaayuk” Alvanna-Stimpfle on the Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council’s work and the need to pass S. 1402, the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act. The bill, co-led by Vice Chairman Murkowski, would require a survey of all federal programs supporting Native languages. Click here to watch.


Vice Chairman Murkowski also posed questions to Acting Commissioner Michelle Sauve to better understand how the Administration for Native Americans will allocate $20 million in emergency language preservation grants appropriated through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.


The following witnesses testified during the oversight/legislative hearing:


Ms. Michelle Sauve, Acting Commissioner, Administration for Native Americans, Department of Health & Human Services, Washington, DC (Virtual)
The Honorable Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Principal Chief, Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah, OK (Virtual)
Ms. Leslie Harper, President, National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs, Cass Lake, MN (Virtual)
Ms. Ka’iulani Laehā, Chief Executive Officer, Aha Punana Leo, Hilo, HI (Virtual)
Mrs. Bernadette “Yaayuk” Alvanna-Stimpfle, Director, Kawerak Eskimo Heritage; and Chair, Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council, Nome, AK (Virtual)


For witness testimony and video of the oversight hearing, click here.


STOP Act Passing Committee


Prior to the oversight/legislative hearing, the Committee held a business meeting to consider S. 1471, the STOP Act. The bill, S. 1471, was passed by voice vote and will now proceed to the Senate floor for further consideration.


“Thank you, Chairman Schatz, for being so good and conscientious in passing S. 1471, the Safeguarding Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act that Senator Heinrich and I worked so hard on. I’ve been a partner with him on that bill for a period of time. So we thank you for that. And we look forward to not only being able to get it through the Committee but doing more,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski during the business meeting.