Senate passes bill to protect, promote Native American languages

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Congress has reauthorized a federal grant program that helps educational programs teach Native American languages and focuses on the revitalization of Native languages.

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act revises a grant program managed by the Administration for Native Americans within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The program provides funding opportunities to assess, plan, develop and implement projects that ensure the survival and continuance of Native languages.

The bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 9, authorizes $13 million annually for the program through fiscal year 2024. It also expands eligibility to smaller-sized tribal language programs and increases the time frame for grants.

A joint press release from the New Mexico congressional membership states the reauthorization will help combat the threat of extinction for 148 Native languages.

The release also states that biennial evaluations by the Health and Human Service Department show the program increases fluency with 4,000 speakers and trains between 170 to 280 Native language teachers each year.

The bill will go to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Rep. Deb Haaland

Sen. Tom Udall introduced the bill in the Senate in January. It was approved by the full Senate on June 28.

"Native languages in the U.S. represent some of the greatest linguistic diversity in the world and embody the cultures, histories and resiliency of the Native communities that speak them," Udall said in a statement.

The bill was named after Esther Martinez, an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo traditional storyteller and advocate for the Tewa language, who died in 2006. 

"Our indigenous languages and traditions help keep our rich culture alive, but the programs that support language preservation are underfunded and often times lack funding altogether," U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland said in a statement.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján spoke in favor of the bill in remarks he made on Dec. 9 on the House floor.

Sen. Tom Udall

"Today, we recognize the only existing federal Native language education grant programs. These programs give our First Americans crucial support to protect their languages from extinction," Luján said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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