December 21, 2019

Legislation to Reauthorize Native American Language Programs Becomes Law

NM Delegation hails passage of bipartisan bill that honors Esther Martinez, an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo traditional storyteller and Tewa language advocate

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Representatives Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) applauded the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act – to strengthen Tribally-developed Native American language revitalization programs – becoming law.

The bill, S. 256, is named after Esther Martinez, an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo traditional storyteller and Tewa language advocate who passed away in 2006. It amends existing law to reauthorize two federal Native American language programs at the Administration for Native Americans until 2024, expand eligibility for those programs to smaller-sized Tribal language programs, and allow both programs to offer longer grant periods. 

The legislation, authored by Udall, passed the Senate in June on a bipartisan voice vote after being reported out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, with a bipartisan group of Senate cosponsors. It passed the House on December 9th – also on a bipartisan voice vote – and was co-sponsored by nearly every House Democrat, including members of Democratic Leadership, along with bipartisan members of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

“I am proud to have championed this legislation that recognizes Esther Martinez’s legacy of Native languages advocacy in New Mexico and across the country,” said Udall. “When we invest in revitalizing Native languages, so are we also investing in rebuilding connections between generations of Native Americans and promoting higher academic achievement outcomes among Native youth. This bill becoming law is an important step forward in the Federal government living up to its promise of working with Tribes to protect and renew Native languages.”

“Preserving Native languages is central to maintaining cultural identity,”said Heinrich. "I’m proud to continue honoring 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.”

“Esther Martinez was a champion for Native languages who spent her life teaching others and promoting the growth of indigenous languages and culture. With this bipartisan legislation, Congress has delivered results on this top priority for Native communities who are working to preserve their languages,”said Luján. “I was proud to help spearhead the passage of this legislation to ensure language justice for future generations.”  

“Our indigenous languages and traditions help keep our rich culture alive, but the programs that support language preservation are underfunded and often times lack funding altogether. Now that our bill honoring the legacy of Pueblo storyteller and self-taught linguist, Esther Martinez, is signed into law, we will move forward on important work to revitalize our languages and traditions,” said Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

“The preservation of Native and tribal languages is essential to protecting our state’s unique cultural identity for generations to come. I’m proud to join the delegation in honoring Esther Martinez’s legacy by removing the barriers schools and organizations often face when accessing resources for Native language programs. This is especially critical to our rural communities, and will ensure Native students in all corners of our state have the opportunity to thrive,” said Torres Small.

The full text of the bill is available HERE.