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NM Delegation Announces Senate Passage of Bill to Promote Preservation of Native American Languages

WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) announced that the full Senate passed the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act by unanimous consent late Wednesday. The bill, S. 254, is backed by the full N.M. delegation and provides grants to Native American language educational organizations to maintain and revitalize endangered Native languages in Indian Country. The bill will reauthorize federal Native American language programs until 2023, and includes improvements to expand eligibility to smaller-sized Tribal language programs and allow for longer grant periods. S. 254 is now headed to the U.S. House of Representatives, where Luján and Pearce introduced companion legislation.

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act, is named for an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo traditional storyteller and language advocate. It amends existing law to strengthen Native language revitalization programs that expand and fund Native language nests, Native language survival schools, and Native American language restoration programs.

“I am enormously proud that the Senate passed our bipartisan legislation to honor – and carry on — Esther Martinez’s fight to keep Native American languages and cultural heritage alive,” Udall said. “Native language revitalization builds connections between generations of Native Americans, and promotes higher academic achievement outcomes among Native youth. The grants made possible by the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act devote needed resources to the revitalization of Native languages in Tribal communities.”

“Preserving Native languages is central to maintaining cultural identity,” Heinrich said. "I’m proud to honor Esther Martinez’s legacy by ensuring that Native students are connected to their language and that their rich culture and traditions can be handed down to future generations.”

“The preservation of Native American languages is essential in protecting the rich culture and history of the various tribes in New Mexico. The grant money provided through the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act is critical to accomplishing this goal," said Pearce. "I’m pleased to see this legislation pass the Senate to preserve Native languages in New Mexico, and across the country, so that it can be passed down to future generations."

“The preservation of culture depends upon the endurance of native languages that have been an integral part of tribes in New Mexico and across the country,” said Luján. “I am proud to have partnered with tribal communities to introduce the Esther Martinez Native American Language Preservation Act in the House because it will help expand fluency in native languages, and in turn, will help tribal communities preserve their cultural traditions and ensure that these languages will continue to provide meaning and value to future generations.”

“New Mexico is a special place because we value our heritage and we work to preserve Native American languages that reflect our unique cultural identities," Lujan Grisham said. “We need to invest in robust educational programs so those languages live on and live through future generations. I am proud to join New Mexico’s delegation in honoring Esther Martinez for her incredible advocacy to preserve native languages and traditions.”

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act was part of a legislative package, which also included the following bills:

H.R. 228, Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act of 2017 

S. 343, Repealing Existing Substandard Provisions Encouraging Conciliation with Tribes Act

S. 669, Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act

S. 1285, Oregon Tribal Economic Development Act

S. 245, Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2017 

S. 772, AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2017 

S. 825, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2017 

S. 302, John P. Smith Act