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FAIRBANKS (AP) — Native studies officials at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are praising efforts to reauthorize federal legislation funding immersion programs for Native American languages.
Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and others this week have introduced a measure reauthorizing the funding for Native language learning initiatives, including immersion programs, language teacher training, and additional teaching materials and curriculum, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
It would also maintain two national programs and expand programs to smaller tribes, as well as lengthen grant periods.
The reauthorization measure is a positive step for Alaska Native languages, said Sandra Kowalski, the university's director of Indigenous Programs for Rural, Community and Native Education.
"There are 20 distinct and formally recognized Alaska Native languages that are in various states of decline," Kowalski said. "Decades of colonialism and recent globalization have created chasms between older first language speakers and younger generations."
But language education is on the rise, giving hope for a more culturally connected future, Kowalski said.
"Alaskan Native individuals whose first language is English have, through immersion programs, master-apprentice partnerships and some working individually, become proficient in their own Alaska Native language," Kowalski said. "These second language speakers' stories have inspired interest and demand for opportunities for other Alaska Natives to learn to speak their own language at home and throughout the community."
Culture is intertwined with language, making the revitalization of Native languages important, Murkowski said.
"We understand our past, ourselves and our relationships with our family and community through our language," Murkowski said in a statement. "For Native peoples, language is truly the foundation of their cultures and their identity."