Indian Affairs Committee Approves New Education Bill
October 25, 2011
Native Americans, like many other indigenous populations world-wide, treasure their native languages as an essential connection to their cultural heritage. In response to the impending disappearance of many Native American languages, an impressive number of Indian communities have implemented either a community-based or in-school native language educational program. Research shows that these programs not only lead to a richer cultural awareness among Indian students but also enhance their academic performance. In addition to concerns about the loss of native languages, Indian youth are much less likely to graduate from high school than white youth and are increasingly being incarcerated without having access to other alternative or preventative programs, according to a report by the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in 2008.
On October 20, the Senate Committee on Native Affairs unanimously approved a bill to address these issues. The Native Culture, Language, and Access for Success in Schools Act (S.1262), also known as the “Native CLASS Act,” was introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka (HI).
Among its many provisions, the bill would establish the Tribal Language Immersion Schools program. This program would provide funding to schools (elementary through university level) that use a native language as the primary language of instruction. It would also expand curricula that include native language and cultural instruction. As a way to expand these programs, it would give tribes the ability to create their own certification program for the teachers of native language and culture classes.
Also, in order to decrease the number of incarcerated Indian youth, the bill would establish the Indian Children and Youth At-Risk Education Program. This program would support educational opportunities within correctional facilities and authorize the creation of educational programs that would be an alternative to serving time in detention or correctional facilities. Furthermore, it will give Indian students a path to employment by creating programs to recruit Indian youth who will go on to be teachers and agree to serve in an Indian school or in schools serving a significant number of Indian students.
Both of these proposals are very positive contributions to the vitality of Indian peoples and to the development and education of Indian youth. FCNL wrote a letter to the Indian Affairs Committee on October 18 expressing support for the legislation and urging its passage. The bill could now go to the Senate floor as a stand-alone bill or as an amendment to the larger education authorization bill (S.280), which is due to be considered in the Senate.More about FCNL's lobbying on Native American issues