In this blog post, WestEd expert Barbara Jones explores state efforts to systematically support Indigenous instruction and learning.
“I want to learn my language to make sure my younger sisters and brothers can speak it. I have to start with myself. It’s hard ‘cuz it’s not spoken in my home…”
– Pueblo High School youth (2014)
Where to Go Next
Supporting the revitalization of Indigenous languages in the U.S. is a complex, multi-pronged endeavor. In the previous article in this three-part series, we examined the role of state legislation, resource development, and teacher recruitment and retention efforts on Native language education. Now we’ll look more closely at the role of funding and tribal collaboration in state efforts to support Indigenous language education. These strategies together address Native language education holistically in terms of providing direct state support for language instruction and more broadly by providing Native students with opportunities to be successful in both their schools and their communities. Next we’ll explore innovative ways states are addressing funding of Native language programs in schools.
In New Mexico, there is new legislation to support significant funding for a series of initiatives intended to create greater equity for Native students, including support for Native language instruction. For example, as an outcome of the Yazzie Martinez court decision, which requires the state to allocate funds in support of equitable education for diverse student groups, New Mexico has created initiatives to advance the following goals:
- Provide parity in pay for Native language teachers,
- Support Indigenous language immersion schools and programs,
- Work to recruit and retain Native teachers, and
- Provide support for community-based schools.
In Nevada, there is also an initiative to support Native language instruction in schools using Title II funding. Their goals are to increase the number of Native language experts, elevate the importance of language teachers, and increase the number of teachers designated subject language experts. These goals support teaching the languages of the Northern Paiute, the Southern Paiute, the Washoe, and the Western Shoshone. This current work is building off of a legislative effort of the 1980’s called, Elevating Tribal Languages, Elevating Identity Project, which created a pathway for Indigenous language speakers to teach in public schools without a traditional teaching credential. The Nevada Department of Education (NDE) website states that to implement this legislation, they currently are,
“Working directly with Tribal communities to elevate the importance and strength of Tribal languages, which are inseparable from Native culture and traditions and essential to Native identity, this initiative is one effort toward language preservation and revitalization, and to create a space for healing historical trauma.”
In Utah, their work in this area is focused on:
- An effort to get Native language instruction categorized in public education as a world language with equivalent status and funding, and
- Establishing alternate credentialing for Native language teachers. The Utah State Board of Education (USBE) also hosts an annual conference to support Native students and languages in the state.
Their work is guided by a mission and vision statement developed by Title VI Coordinators. In 2021, Sydnee Dickson, Superintendent of Public Instruction in Utah wrote, “By teaching Native children their Native language, a sense of identity and belonging is being instilled, simultaneously teaching them to accept and be proud of their heritage and upbringing.” Languages that are the focus of this work include Goshute, Paiute, Shoshone, Ute and Dine.
Some Funding Challenges
With this funding focus, there is a tension for many tribal nations between wanting their language to be equitably funded and taught in school like other global languages, and wanting to retain control of how and by whom their language is taught. Many Native cultures have restrictions on who should appropriately speak in their language on different topics, at what times, in which places, and in which specific context. For example, certain words are only for ceremonial purposes and certain stories may be intended to only be told to certain audiences or within particular families.
Appropriating funding for Native language initiatives is an important step. Ongoing partnership between tribal and state education agency leaders is required to plan for sustainability and flexibility for tribes to utilize funds in ways that are most relevant for their communities.
Notes and Resources
- Student responses were gathered by the Indigenous Language Institute.
- These efforts were shared by state education leaders in a community of practice facilitated by the Comprehensive Centers in Regions 13 and 15. The Comprehensive Centers (CCs) develop and implement capacity-building technical assistance to support state education agencies (SEAs). Region 15 CC serves Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah. Region 13 CC serves New Mexico, Oklahoma, and the Bureau of Indian Education.