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Native American Languages Act of 1990

Native American Languages Act of 1990
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An Act to reauthorize the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978 and the Navajo Community College Act.
Acronyms (colloquial) NALA
Nicknames Native American Languages Act
Enacted by the 101st United States Congress
Effective October 30, 1990
Public Law 101-477
Statutes at Large 104 Stat. 1152
Titles amended 25 U.S.C.: Indians
U.S.C. sections created 25 U.S.C. ch. 31 § 2901 et seq.
U.S.C. sections amended
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 2167 by John McCain (RAZ) on February 22, 1990
  • Committee consideration by Senate Indian Affairs (Permanent Select)
  • Passed the Senate on October 11, 1990 (passed voice vote)
  • Passed the House on October 12, 1990 (passed without objection)
  • Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on October 30, 1990

The Native American Languages Act of 1990 is the short cited title for executive order PUBLIC LAW 101-477 enacted by Congress on October 30, 1990. Public Law 101-477 of 1990 gave historical importance as repudiating past policies of eradicating Indian Languages by declaring as policy that Native Americans were entitled to use their own languages. The fundamental basis of the policy's declaration was that the United States "declares to preserve, protect and promote the rights and freedoms of Native Americans to use practice and develop Native American Languages".[1] In addition, to "fully recognize the right of Indian Tribes and other Native American governing bodies, States, territories, and possessions of the United States to take action on, and give official status to their Native American languages for the purpose of conducting their own business".[1]


  • Provisions 1
  • History 2
    • Assimilation 2.1
    • Recognition 2.2
    • Executive Order 2.3
  • Political figures/groups 3
  • Amendments 4
  • Effects 5
  • Reauthorization 6
  • See also 7
  • External links 8
  • Notes 9



Native American Languages have undergone extensive decimation through contact with social politically empowered colonial languages. Estimates place the number of Native languages at the time of European contact from three hundred to six hundred different ancestral tongues.


Legislation mandated English as the exclusive language of instruction enforced on reservations in the 19th century. The Native American boarding schools were the impetus for executing the paradigm of assimilation even further. Indian children were removed from their homes and placed in distant boarding schools run by federal government officials and missionaries. Many emotional and psychological issues today found in Indian communities have their foundations within the traumatic experiences of the children educated in such schools. The Dawes Allotment Act was another further impetus to assimilate the Indian people into private land owners and away from the communal life of the indigenous community. This Act enabled outsiders to chip away Indian land. Many non-Indian men married Indian women to own land and property, as did non-Indian explorers who were given land if marrying Indian women in Alta California and New Spain during early colonization.[2]


It was not until the Civil Rights movement that there began to be found traces of recognition and cultural revitalization. This started with President Johnson’s approval of the Bilingual Education Act of 1968. This Act was primarily an outgrowth within the Civil Rights Movement and it was to assist particularly minorities speaking Spanish in English schools to help students with English. Yet, Bilingual Education was expanded with the Lau v. Nichols case.[3] Lau reflects the now-widely accepted view that a person's language is so closely intertwined with their national origin (the country someone or their ancestors came from) that language-based discrimination is effectively a proxy for national origin discrimination. Though this act was aimed towards immigrant students, Native Americans took the opportunity to apply for funding to initiate projects for their own bilingual studies addressing their own language. Subsequent reform initiated by the Nixon administration during the Self-Determination Era gave back some sovereign power to tribes within self governance, with choices as to what federal programs to apply for funding for schools and health programs. In the wake of the Self-Determination Era, tribes and U.S. territorial communities were coming together to re-establish their cultures and language.

Executive Order

In 1974 the Native American Programs Act was enacted as Title VIII of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, to promote the goal of social and economic self-sufficiency for American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Native American Pacific Islanders through programs and projects that: (1) Advance locally developed social and economic development strategies (SEDS) and strengthen local governance capabilities as authorized by Sec. 803(a); (2) preserve Native American languages authorized by Sec. 803C; (3) improve the capability of the governing body of the Indian tribe to regulate environmental quality authorized by Sec. 803(d); and (4) mitigate the environmental impacts to Indian lands due to Department of Defense activities. Communities who were re-establishing their cultures sought support through these programs. In response to the language decline in Native American communities and also responding to English-only attempts a powerful grass roots movement was initiated in 1988 at the International Conference at the Native Languages Issues Institute. The conference produced a resolution that found its way to Senator Daniel K. Inouye, chair of the senate select committee of Indian Affairs. Two years later it became the Native American Languages Act which officially addresses the fundamental rights of Native American peoples.[4]

Political figures/groups

The Act's provisions came from the International Native American Language conference with most of the texts drawn from a resolution adopted by the Hawaiian Legislature in 1987, which addressed Congress to enact legislation in support of Native American Languages. The founders of 'Aha Punana Leo, an educational program revitalizing the Hawaiian language, William Wilson, Chair of Hawaiian Studies at Hilo and his wife Kauanoe Kamana, were the major players whose efforts affected the Hawaiian resolution. Their advocacy to change national policy was joined by American Indian language advocates. In 1988 Senator Daniel K. Inouye introduced a joint resolution, but Congress adjourned without any action.

The following year Inouye introduced a revised version (S. 1781) with nine sponsors, but the Bush administration opposed it because of the funding costs. Inouye revised the bill regarding the administrative concerns and was approved by the Senate on April 3, 1990 and sent to the House of Representatives ".[5] Key members of the House refused to allow the bill out of the committee because of the use of languages other than English in America. Lurline McGregor, Inouye's aide and manager of the bill looked for a bill with a title that did not mention the word 'language' in it. A bill that Robert D. Arnold, on the professional staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, who was managing a bill met the requirements. Inouye took the bill to the floor and offered an amendment with the text of his Native American Language Bill.[6] It was approved by the Senate and later concurred by the House. The billed signed by Bush was titled "Tribally Controlled and Navajo Community Colleges, Reauthorizations," on October 30, 1990, and he was also approving Title 1, the Native American Languages Act of 1990.


U.S. English support encouraged Inouye to present a substitution of the bill".[5] The new provisions encouraged tribal governments to establish partnerships with schools, colleges, and universities. Grant funds would be used for recording equipment and computers for languages programs. Passed unanimously in the Senate, the bill went on to the Committee on Education and Labor. Harris Fawell of Chicago opposed the passage of the bill. Even with provisions to increase local match funding of 10 to 20%, Fawell refused to allow the bill to go to the House. Hawaiians and language institutes and advocates were alerted and Fawell's phone received more phone calls from Indians and other Native Americans than all the terms he held in Congress. He was known to say "Please call off the troops, we'll let the bill move".[5]


Congress found convincing evidence that student achievement and performance, community and school pride, and educational opportunity are clearly and directly tied to respect for, and support of, the first language of the child.[8]

The Native American Language Act of 1990 has been a counterbalance to the English only movement and has been the catalyst for bilingual education on the reservations. "The Native American Languages Act of 1990 is the American Indian's answer to the English-only movement, and the Act's bilingual/multicultural educational approach is supported by the dismal historical record of assimilationist approaches to Indian education in the United States"Jon Reyhner.[9]

Funders such as ELF have helped start up pilot programs and advocates such as Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival have helped to create language nests,[10] and immersion programs.[11] The Blackfeet Piegan Institute and the Aha Punana Leo program are examples of this movement.[12]

From 2007-2012, funding for language instruction in public schools has been made available through the

  1. ^ a b Hinton, Leanne (2001). The Green Book of Language Revitalization. California: Academic Press. p. 45.  
  2. ^ Bouvir, Virginia (2001). Women and the Conquest of California 1542-1840. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.  
  3. ^ Hinton, Leanne (2001). The Green Book of Language Revitalization. California: Academic Press. p. 41.  
  4. ^ Finigan, Edward (2004). Language in the USA:Themes for the 21st Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  5. ^ a b c Hinton, Leanne (2001). The Green Book of Language Revitalization. California: Academic Press. p. 48.  
  6. ^ Hinton, Leanne (1994). Flutes of Fire. Berkeley: Heyday Books. p. 184.  
  7. ^ Crystal, David (2000). Language Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 134.  
  8. ^ Cantoni, Gina; Littlebear, Richard (1996). "Stabilizing Indigenous Languages". Northern Arizona University. Monograph series: Perspectives. 
  9. ^ Reyhner, Jon (Summer 1993). "American Indian Language Policy and School Success". The Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students 12 (Special Issue III): 35–59. 
  10. ^ "Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival". Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  11. ^ "The Piegan Institute-Cutwoods School". 
  12. ^ "‘Aha Pūnana Leo". Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  13. ^ "Bill Summary & Status - 109th Congress (2005 - 2006) - H.R.4766 - THOMAS (Library of Congress)". Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  14. ^ "Congressmen Introduce Native American Preservation Act". Native News Network. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  15. ^ "Local news in brief". The Santa Fe New Mexican. 2012-09-15. Retrieved 2012-09-27. 
  16. ^ Kelly, Casey (2014-05-10). "Murkowski introduces legislation to continue funding Native language programs". KTOO. Retrieved 2014-05-18. 
  17. ^ "Text - S.2299 - 113th Congress (2013-2014): A bill to amend the Native American Programs Act of 1974 to reauthorize a provision to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages". Retrieved 2014-05-18. 
  18. ^ Office of Senator John Walsh (2014-05-16). "Walsh Fights to Protect and Maintain Tribal Languages". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  19. ^ Johnson, Bridget (2014-01-17). "Bill Would Reward Schools That Teach All Curriculum in Native American Languages". The PJ Tatler. Retrieved 2014-02-27. 


  • Kelsey Klug (2012-07-19). "Native American Languages Act: Twenty Years Later, Has It Made a Difference?".  

External links

See also

A related measure, the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act, introduced on Jan 16, 2014, "would establish a grant program to fund Native language educational programs."[19]

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-South Dakota, introduced the Native American Languages Reauthorization Act of 2014 on May 5, 2014.[16] The full name is "S.2299 - A bill to amend the Native American Programs Act of 1974 to reauthorize a provision to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages".[17] Other supporters include Senator John Walsh (D-Montana).[18]


[15] As of Sept. 2012, the New Mexico Congressional delegation has introduced a bill to renew the funding.[14] "Since 2000, 390 grants have been awarded under the program for a total of nearly $50 million to help preserve Native languages through language immersion programs."[13]

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