Association stresses importance of languages

Carolyn Hepburn Carolyn.Hepburn at SAULTCOLLEGE.CA
Tue Aug 8 12:58:54 UTC 2006




Association stresses importance of languages


August 02, 2006

by: Jerry Reynolds <>  /
Indian Country Today


WASHINGTON - The Native code talkers of wartime and national lore took
another tour of duty July 12, serving as the centerpiece of the National
Indian Education Association's effort to win congressional backing for
Native language immersion school funding. 

The Navajo and Lakota veterans, all in or near their 80s, needed all the
military bearing they could muster for a day that began in the
mid-morning on Capitol Hill and ended that night with a celebratory
reception at the National Museum of the American Indian. They were still
standing when NIEA President Ryan Wilson urged them to take a seat; and
still a turnout in the hundreds couldn't get enough, snapping picture
after picture as the crowd thinned. In the meantime, former Sen. Ben
Nighthorse Campbell and Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall hailed
their accomplishments and the long track record of volunteer military
service among Natives. 

Their presence pointed up the practical value of Native languages in an
English-only political climate. In World War II and conflicts since,
young soldiers from Navajo, Lakota, Comanche, Choctaw, Sac and Fox, and
13 other tribes helped to develop and deploy American Indian
language-based communications codes for the U.S. military. 

Famously, the World War II code was never broken. Code-breakers could
never decipher its patterns because its ancestral source languages were
unfamiliar outside Native communities. One of the Navajo code talkers,
Peter MacDonald, said to general concurrence that young men today might
not be able to do it because those source languages are becoming
unfamiliar inside Native communities. 

On Capitol Hill, Wilson delivered the take-home message for
congressional members: ''Not only do we cherish these languages, but
we're asking America to cherish them as well.'' 

He said that tribes are in the last minute of the last hour in which
their languages can be preserved. ''This is the best species you could
save, these languages - it really isn't something that we can go on
anymore without advancing. We are the ones who have not been advancing

Lionel Bordeaux, longtime president of Sinte Gleska University at
Rosebud in South Dakota, could not be in Washington July 12 but sent a
similar message that NIEA included among its advocacy materials: ''Our
young people want to learn the language. Without the support of
Congress, retaining our tribal language will be next to impossible.'' 

NIEA is citing national studies on language learning and data from
language immersion schooling as evidence that increased language
learning increases academic achievement in students. In addition, NIEA
maintains that for many Native students, learning their Native language
through culturally guided pedagogy is the point of interest that makes
other studies relevant and so moves them along toward higher overall
academic achievement. 

A cluster of bills that had come before Congress sought to recognize
Native code talkers, create American Indian language grant programs
within the Department of Education, establish American Indian language
demonstration programs within the early school grades, and set forth
alternative standards of teacher qualification and student assessment to
those found in the No Child Left Behind Act that dominates the national
educational landscape. 

But the week of July 17, the leading bill in the Senate, S. 2674, was
withheld from a markup hearing by its lead sponsor, Sen. Daniel Akaka,
D-Hawaii. Wilson said that if it had gone to the full Senate, the bill
would have been subjected to a hold by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., objecting
to its Native Hawaiian provisions. Kyl was a leading opponent of Akaka's
bill to authorize a process for the appointment of a Native Hawaiian
governing entity that would have been eligible for federal recognition. 

With no bill active in the Senate, a reform law along the lines laid out
by NIEA will have to wait until the 110th Congress. Wilson said that on
Aug. 31 in Albuquerque, N.M., the Education and Workforce Committee in
the House of Representatives will hold a field hearing on a Native
languages bill introduced in the House by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.,
and co-sponsored by Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz. The hearing will
demonstrate Republican support for the issue and help build its
prospects for the next Congress, Wilson said.


Carolyn Hepburn

Director, Native Education and Training

Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology

443 Northern Avenue

Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A 5L3


Phone: (705) 759-2554 ext. 2499

Fax:     (705) 759-0175



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