Alaskans Celebrate the Native Language Restoration Bill
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Condensed by Native Village

State lawmakers have signed Senate Bill 130 to help restore the languages of Alaska's first people.

Since Westerners arrived in North America, native languages have declined. At one point, native speakers were even punished for using their languages in the classroom.
Recently, however, language recovery efforts have grown thanks to programs from native groups.

"I believe the momentum, the energy, the desire is there now. I see a stirring in a lot of young people, and they just want somebody to tell them, yes, it's not only possible, but it's desirable. And I think there's a lot of young people that will truly respond to that," said Rep. Alan Dick of McGrath.

To protect native dialects from the same fate as the Eyak language, (it recently lost it's last fluent speaker,) lawmakers will target tribes with the least amount of resources.

"We're gonna try to emphasize those languages out there that have been put on the backburner, those languages that are kind of almost fading away. I see this as a way to continue on with the preservation of society, the values that are out there, the priorities that those cultures had that allowed them to go ahead and survive up here in Alaska for the last 10,000 years," said Sen. Donny Olson.

Senate Bill 130 established the Alaska Native Language Advisory Council. ANLAC consists of five voting governor appointees and two non-voting members of the legislature. They will evaluate Native languages and recommend changes to the governor and legislature every two years.

"Until the notion of conveying the language permeates to every individual, to every mother, and every father and every family it's not gonna work. It has to be a swelling up of desire to convey the language within our homes, and also using the institutions that we do have," said former state Sen. Willie Hensley.

Additionally, the council will coordinate efforts by various state agencies like the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Alaska Native Language Center
. In 2007, UA's Native Language center released a report that stated only 22% of Native Alaskans can speak their language.

"When you and I were born there were 6000 languages spoken on Earth, and now, fully half are not being taught to school children. What this means is we are living in a period of time in which within a single generation or two by definition, half of humanity's cultural legacy is being lost in a single generation. Alaskans, we're gonna help turn that tide," said Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

The first report from the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council is due July 1, 2014.