Akaka introduces native language legislation

United States Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawai‘i, told the story of being discouraged from speaking his native tongue when he was young, told it might hinder him from succeeding in the Western world.

As Native Hawaiians like Akaka and others work hard to keep the Hawaiian language alive, he said he is proud to introduce federal legislation aimed at perpetuating native languages, Hawaiian and otherwise.

He introduced legislation to promote the rights and freedoms of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages.

The bill, the Native American Language Amendments Act of 2006, is cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai‘i, and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

“This bill is of particular importance to me because as a young child, I was discouraged from speaking Hawaiian and practicing Hawaiian customs and traditions because I was told that it would not allow me to succeed in the Western world,” said Akaka.

“Through this legislation, I am working to ensure that our children and families in Hawai‘i and across the country are never put in a position where they are forced to relinquish their language or culture.”

Native Hawaiian language immersion schools in Hawai‘i are achieving great success by shaping youth who are steeped in not only the language, traditions, and knowledge of their ancestors, but who are also empowered and equipped with the tools to combat contemporary challenges that confront communities, Akaka said.

“Language is the heart of all cultures,” said Inouye.

“When a language withers, so too does its culture. Hawai‘i has shown that when there is renewed interest in the native language, the native culture flourishes,” Inouye added.

“This legislation will ensure that native languages and native cultures will have the opportunity to thrive and flourish. It also encourages elders to teach our future leaders about their unique cultures,” Inouye continued.

The NALA Amendments Act of 2006 will:

• Amend the current NALA to authorize the secretary of education to provide funds to Native American language educational organizations, Native American language colleges, Indian tribal governments, or a consortia of such organizations, colleges, or tribal governments to establish Native American language nest and survival school programs;

• Authorize the secretary to make grants to or enter into contracts with such organizations, colleges, governments, or consortia to operate, expand, and increase Native American language survival schools throughout the United States to Native American children and Native American language-speaking children;

• Establish at least four demonstration programs in geographically-diverse locations to provide assistance to nests and survival schools and participate in a national study on the linguistic, cultural, and academic effects of nests and survival schools;

• Authorize demonstration programs to establish endowments for furthering their activities relative to the study and preservation of Native American languages, and use funds to provide for the rental, lease, purchase, construction, maintenance, and repair of facilities;

• Provide nests and survival schools with alternative methods of achieving national education standards with respect to Native American language education;

• Establish criteria to certify and designate eligible professionals at nests and survival schools for the secretary’s approval;

• Authorize sums as necessary to be appropriated for each of fiscal years 2007-2012.

“Action and investment in the preservation of native languages is needed,” said Akaka.

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