Native American Languages Receive Support at White House Summit

On Nov. 15, a group of United States government agencies launched a new initiative geared to protect and preserve Native American languages that have been historically spoken in the country.

A total of eight agencies, led by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health & Human Services, have signed a memorandum of agreement which will build upon the Native American Languages Act of 1990. The initiative will encourage the use of and development of languages indigenous to the country, and set new goals for the education of Native American languages throughout the country.

“The cornerstone of any culture or community is its language. Languages are where oral histories are passed down, knowledge is shared, and bonds are formed. As part of our commitment to strengthening and supporting Indigenous communities, the Interior Department is resolute in its efforts to ensuring Native languages are preserved and protected,” said Deb Haaland, the secretary of the Department of the Interior.

The move is a part of the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit, which took place Nov. 18-19. This is the first year that the White House has hosted this summit since 2016, and the initiative comes on the heels of a handful of other legislative moves from earlier this year designed to improve the status of Native American languages and promote their use. This summer, MultiLingual reported on two acts passed in the Senate which would support revitalization efforts and develop a federally funded education center for indigenous languages.

“Preserving Native languages, at a time when many communities have lost a great many linguistic experts, is critical. Throughout the pandemic, many people have not been able to practice or access cultural resources due to a high risk of COVID-19 infection,” said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services. “Investing in linguistics is key to supporting our tribal communities and protecting their history, and today’s investment should help achieve this important goal.”

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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