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Native Americans Ask Feds To Help Keep Languages Alive

Native Americans told aides of federal lawmakers how they could change the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to better serve Native American students in a "listening session" hosted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs this week.

Some of their suggestions at the March 3 gathering on Capitol Hill had to do with how the U.S. Department of Education can help tribes keep their native languages alive.

Kathleen Tom, a tribal council member for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, in Oregon, for instance, called on Congress to authorize creation of an office for Native American languages within the U.S. Department of Education. She envisioned such an office as supporting language-immersion schools and helping high schools and colleges to provide credits for the study of Native American languages.

Representatives of the Navajo Nation asked for the federal education law to recognize the Dine department of education (Navajos call themselves Dine) as the equivalent of a state education agency and eligible to receive federal education dollars directly. Willy Tracey Jr., a Navajo tribal leader, said such a move would enable his tribe to focus more on the teaching of language and culture. Andrew Tah, the superintendent of schools for the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, Ariz., said his tribe would like support from the federal government to develop an assessment tool in Navajo and teach ke, the Navajo concept of character development.

John E. Echohawk, a Pawnee and the executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, in Denver, also asked federal lawmakers to enable tribal education departments to be recognized as the equivalent of state education agencies.

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