In a meeting with President Joe Biden, the principal chief of Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation Chuck Hoskin Jr. said that he believes the current administration’s bipartisan infrastructure bill has the potential to help Native American communities boost language revitalization efforts.
“We have 2,000 fluent speakers (of Cherokee) left. Most of them are over the age of 70, which is a jarring statistic in and of itself,” Hoskin said, according to KOCO 5, a local affiliate of ABC. “So, how do we connect young people who are hungry to learn the language with elders who still possess the language? Well, it is doing so virtually, particularly in the midst of this public health crisis we’re in where we have to stay separated.”
The $1 trillion infrastructure bill has gotten a lot of attention in the media recently, in large part due to its “uncommonly bipartisan” nature — the bill, which allocates funding for road and bridge repairs, climate change initiatives, and broadband initiatives, was passed 69 to 30, according to a report from the New York Times.
The broadband initiatives are key to Cherokee revitalization efforts, Hoskin said — the infrastructure bill will send $11 billion to Native American communities across the country, making the internet more widely available among these groups. Hoskin said that the lack of internet access among Native American communities stifles their ability to connect with the rest of the country, and even the entire world — language revitalization efforts are especially dependent upon access to the internet, which can be a powerful tool for language preservation.
“It turns out that broadband is the key to saving one of the most important and endangered languages in the world,” Hoskin said.
The infrastructure bill comes on the heels of other federal legislation that would help protect Native American languages and support revitalization efforts — earlier in August, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed two bipartisan bills that would support such programs.