Feds award $7M for tribal language programs

By: - June 16, 2022 5:05 am

Jac Peynetsa sings while his son Brentyn Peynetsa observes during a memorial and honor song Saturday afternoon at the Native American Community Academy. (Photo by Sharon Chischilly for Source NM)

Santo Domingo Pueblo and Diné College are part of the 45 tribes and tribal organizations that are receiving federal money to boost traditional language programs.

The Living Language Grant Program is part of the Indian Affairs Office of Indian Economic Development and is designed for language revitalization programs for Indigenous communities.

“For more than 150 years, Native languages in the U.S. have been subjected to suppression and elimination from a variety of factors such as federal boarding and other types of schools that forced American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children to forgo speaking the language of their people,” according to a statement from the Indian Affairs Department.

In total, $7 million in grants will go to tribal communities across the U.S.

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Diné College, located in Tsaile, Arizona, was awarded $60,189. Santo Domingo Pueblo will receive $123,795.

Nearly $10 million was requested from 59 different tribes. The grant proposals were determined based on how the money would be spent on language programs that are dealing with a significant loss of the traditional language within the tribal community.

Other factors included a basis for how instruction could prevent “intergenerational disruption,” and an estimated number of students that would take language courses, according to the Indian Affairs Department.

Traditional language preservation is essential for boosting student outcomes in public schools while rebuilding stronger ties to tribal culture and community, according to the department.

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In 2021, the Department of Interior announced an initiative to restore and protect Native languages. In the Interior’s report on federal Indian boarding school initiatives, it cited language loss as an outcome of the generational trauma inflicted on Indigenous communities stemming from the genocidal school programs.

“Native language preservation has for many years been cited by Indigenous leaders as important to their self-preservation, self-determination and sovereignty,” said Assistant Indian Affairs Secretary Bryan Newland. “Native preservation and language revitalization is a critical priority because languages go to the heart of a Tribe’s unique cultural identities, traditions, spiritual beliefs and self-governance.”

In New Mexico, education reform advocates say traditional languages are paramount to any future that seriously takes into consideration the needs of Native American students.

The state recently signed into a law a new pay scale that will boost traditional language teachers salaries upward toward $60,000 a year.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.