Bill making 20 Native languages official advances

  • By MIKE COPPOCK
  • Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:41pm
  • News

JUNEAU — Amid cheers and clapping from spectators in a packed room, the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee advanced a bill symbolically making 20 Alaska Native languages official languages of the state along with English.

“I love to see clapping when a bill passes,” committee co-chair, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said. “I have never seen that before.”

Misty eyes and emotional voices accompanied much of the public testimony.

“There is no one in school to teach us our language,” said Savoogna High School student Chelsea Miklahook. “Our grandparents taught us our own language.”

When asked by Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, if she would want to learn Siberian Yup’ik in school, Miklahook and fellow student Beverly Toolie said they would. Savoogna High is located on St. Lawrence Island.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, told the committee his bill will make the 20 Native languages listed in it symbolically official rather than having the force of law.

“This is not a step for bilingual state paperwork or forms,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “But we hope it opens the door for more subsidiary measures down the road.”

Kreiss-Tomkins said he hopes next year that steps will be taken to allow for announcements on the ferry system in English and the Native language of the area. He also would like to see roadblocks removed in becoming teacher’s aides for individuals whose primary language is an Alaska Native language.

Konrad Frank of Angoon, who testified in favor of the bill, said he sees the measure as a first step toward replacing English with a Native language for a number of public functions, including education.

“This law also helps our grandparents and our parents who have fought to keep their language alive,” Frank said.

Many of the speakers gave testimony on how they were discouraged from using Native languages, including committee co-chair Benjamin Nageak, D-Barrow, who speaks Inupiaq.

“We grew up being punished for speaking our own language,” said Nageak, the only Alaska Native language speaker in the Legislature.

According to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, 19 of Alaska’s 21 indigenous languages are endangered of becoming extinct. Though roughly 10,000 still speak the Central Yup’ik language, the last Eyak speaker, Marie Smith Jones, died in 2008.

Currently only Hawaii recognizes an indigenous language as an official language.

The bill advanced with unanimous support. There was no testimony opposing the measure. It now goes before the House State Affairs Committee.

More in News

Sockeye salmon. (Photo via Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
Fish and Game seeks comment on 2022 sport fish stocking plan

The Sport Fish Division plans to release approximately 7 million fish into the Alaska water systems over the next five years.

A map shows which parts of the Chugach National Forest are open to motorized winter recreation use for the 2021-2022 season. (Map courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)
Parts of Chugach National Forest open to snowmachine use

The 2021-2022 winter motorized season will run through April 30.

Kenai Police Department Chief David Ross explains the purpose of a grant to be used for new radios during a meeting of the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Police to update radios using grant money

The department received almost $260,000 through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Democratic Party candidate for governor Les Gara attends a Zoom meeting with Homer residents on Nov. 18, 2021, from his Anchorage, Alaska, home. (Screen capture)
Gara makes election pitch to Homer

Democratic Party candidate for governor Gara visits virtually.

A man missing for more than 40 years was identified by the Alaska Bureau of Investigation as a Chugiak resident who was last seen in 1979. The man’s body was discovered on an island near Anchorage in 1989. (Courtesy photo/Alaska Department of Public Safety)
Body found in 1980s ID’d through DNA analysis

The body, found in 1989, had been unidentified until now.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID continues decline; 1 new death

The state had an estimated rolling average of 253.3 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days.

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham addresses state and Alaska Native leaders Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. Dillingham will travel to Toksook Bay, on an island just off Alaska’s western coast, for the first count on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Census reports minimal state population growth

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s population grew by about 3,400 people between the 2010 and 2020 census.

The old Homer intermediate school building, showing the Homer Boys & Girls Club and gym on the south side of the building at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Pioneer Avenue.
The old Homer intermediate school building on the corner of the Sterling Highway and Pioneer Avenue, as seen in October 2010. It’s now known as the Homer Educational and Recreational Complex, or HERC. (Homer News file photo)
Homer awards contract to study use of rec complex site

The goal is to help the city understand the maximum use of that property.

Genna Stormer gives Santa a hug during Christmas Comes to Nikiski at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Dec. 14, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
December brings the holiday cheer

Groups across the peninsula get into the spirit of the season with public events.

Most Read