Bill Would Help Preserve Alaska Native Languages

The Alaska Senate State Affairs committee heard testimony Tuesday on Senator Donny Olson’s bill to create an Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council.  Annette Evans Smith, the President of the Alaska Native Heritage Center, says the time for action on keeping languages alive is now.

The committee heard about the status of the state’s native languages. Inupiaq and some Athabascan languages are classified as “severely endangered” by UNESCO. A number of Aleut and Southeast Alaska languages are “critically endangered,” and the Eyak language lost its last remaining speaker in 2008.

Dr. Rosita Worl of the Sealaska Heritage Institute testified that multi-lingual instruction programs have been proven to have impacts beyond language.

Scott Ruby, the Director of the Community and Regional Affairs Division in the Department of Commerce, says state administration supports the bill as written. The council would cost $240,000 the first year, and $216,000 in following years.  It would be comprised of language experts from across the state appointed by the governor, plus two non-voting legislators from the bush caucus.

The committee held the bill and will be taking amendments in the coming days. The House State Affairs Committee will also hear a version of the bill.

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Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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