U.S. Representatives Martin Heinrich, Ben Ray Luján, and Steve Pearce introduced legislation today to reauthorize a program to preserve Native American languages. The Esther Martinez Native American Language Act provides grants to support Native language immersion programs and is scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. The bill introduced today would extend that authorization for an additional five years.
"Our rich cultural heritage in New Mexico includes the many Native languages spoken across our state, and I am proud to help give tribal communities the tools to preserve their languages," said Rep. Heinrich. "Our state is strengthened by our linguistic diversity, and this program helps to ensure that the these languages will continue to thrive."
"Language is an integral part of our history, culture and way of life in New Mexico," said Rep. Luján. "The reauthorization of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act is critical to preserving language in our tribal communities and would make important resources available to achieve this vital goal."
"I'm honored to cosponsor this bill, in support of preserving Native American languages," said Rep. Pearce. "I hope this bill ensures that the work of Esther Martinez lives on, and Native languages not only survive, but flourish. These languages are a valuable part of American and New Mexican culture, and represent an important piece of the American story."
Since 2000, 390 grants have been awarded under the program for a total of nearly $50 million to help preserve Native languages through language immersion programs. Language preservation is an important element of broader efforts to preserve and protect Native cultural traditions because cultural nuances may be lost when translated out of their original language. Expanding fluency in Native languages helps tribal communities preserve their cultural traditions and ensures that these languages will not be lost to future generations.
The Esther Martinez Native American Language Act, which was originally authorized in 2006, was named after a woman who taught the Tewa language at Ohkay Owingeh and helped develop language preservation strategies around the southwest.
U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (SD-D) introduced the companion bill today in the U.S. Senate.