• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 3s

Native language bill passes committee with applause

By Rhonda McBride 11:26 AM February 19, 2014

'It’s not just symbolic, it’s an acceptance'

JUNEAU – When a Native languages bill moved out of the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee on Tuesday, sounds of applause erupted in the room, causing Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux to remark, “You know I’ve never seen clapping after a bill passes from committee. This is a first.”

Applause wasn’t the only sound that filled the room. There were words spoken in Inupiaq, Yup’ik and Tlingit.

The room was also bursting with pride over the renaissance of Native language and culture taking place across the state.

Those who testified said House Bill 216 would help to keep the momentum alive. It would list 20 Native languages as the state’s official language along with English.

Not too many decades ago, there were fears that some of the Native languages spoken in the committee room would completely disappear.

Rep. Bob Herron, a Bethel Democrat whose wife is Yup’ik, said he has been pleasantly surprised about the resilience of Native languages. He said his wife Margaret stopped speaking Yup’ik as a child, because of the pressure to use only English.

“Her parents could speak, but didn’t teach it,” said Herron, who thought the language would be lost to his family until his daughter learned Yup’ik through language programs in the schools.

Herron did take one of the bill’s main sponsors to task for calling the bill “symbolic.”

“It’s not just symbolic, it’s an acceptance,” Herron said.

Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, the Sitka Democrat who introduced the bill, apologized if people thought he was minimizing the importance of the bill.

Kreiss-Tomkins called the bill “profound” and said he referred to it as “symbolic” to convey that the measure was not so much an act of law, but an act of respect. It would not require the state to publish official documents in Native languages, but it would acknowledge their importance.

Rep. Ben Nageak, (D) Barrow, like many of those who testified spoke at length in Inupiaq to make a point that his language has survived. He said he is the only Alaska Native in the legislature fluent in his Native tongue and makes a point of speaking it every day.

Nageak told a story that drew some laughter from those in the room.

He said when he was growing up in Kaktovik, the teacher banned Inupiaq from the class room.

But the teacher, Nageak said, was from “down south where it was warm” and didn’t like to go outside for recess “where it was cold.”

So recess turned out to be an educational experience for Nageak, an English-free zone where he and his friends could speak their language to their heart’s content.

It’s Tlingit, one of the main languages in Southeast Alaska, which elder David Katzeek has kept alive. He addressed the Community and Regional Affairs Committee in Tlingit and said,”I want you to know. You’ve heard the voice of my ancestors through me. I’m not really anything. All I am is a person who is expressing those words that were spoken to me as a child.”

Katzeek said it’s important for young people to know their language, because it helps them to know who they are.

“Every human being needs to know who they are,” he whispered quietly.

Esther Green, in her early years, lived in a sod house on the tundra in Southwest Alaska, where speaking Yup’ik was as natural as breathing.

“Language and culture go together,” Green said. “They cannot be separated. They go together and they journey together.”

The measure now moves forward on its legislative journey to hearings in the House State Affairs Committee.

Latest Stories

  • Lifestyle

    3 key things to know about the Senate health care bill

    by CBS News on Jun 22, 18:36

    The Senate’s health insurance bill is finally available for scrutiny. While Washington watchers analyze its chances for passage, let’s take a look at the consequences for consumers. Here’s what you should keep an eye on as the bill moves forward toward inevitable tweaks and an expected vote next week. Subsidies. The Senate bill has edged […]

  • News

    UA system takes $8M cut in proposed agreement

    by Bonney Bowman on Jun 22, 17:46

    The University of Alaska Board of Regents is moving forward after the legislature announced a funding agreement for the university system. The House and Senate agreed to a $317 million budget for the university and the regents voted to approve it. It’s a cut of $8 million, less than the regents asked for, but also […]

  • News

    Investigators probing if Trump campaign got info from Russian hacks

    by CBS News on Jun 22, 17:04

    CBS News has confirmed that congressional investigators are interested in whether Trump campaign associates obtained information from hacked voter databases. A source indicated it is still early on in the process of scrutinizing the issue, but the House Intelligence Committee is said to be scrutinizing relevant documents to see if there is a connection. TIME […]

  • EggFest, Strawberry Festival, Quidditch this weekend

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jun 22, 16:39

    Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm Strawberry Festival When: June 23 and 24 Location: Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm 4350 Bodenburg Loop, Palmer Price: $7 to $25 Houston Music Festival When: June 23 through 25, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Location: Zero Lake Road, Houston Price: $10 to $90 GPS Scavenger Hunt When: June 23, 2:30 p.m. to […]

  • News

    ASD teachers likely keeping positions

    by Steffi Lee on Jun 22, 16:16

    New developments out of Juneau are leading to optimism among Anchorage School District officials. A conference committee agreed on a budget to fully fund K-12 education and it could mean the 220 teachers from the district who were given layoff notices will likely get to keep their jobs. Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop says it’s good […]

  • Politics

    Committee compromise caps PFD, funds schools

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jun 22, 15:58

    The Alaska conference committee reached a tentative compromise Thursday that could help the state avoid a government shutdown. Among the agreements are fully funding education, limiting the PFD to $1100 this year and paying for the operating budget out of the Constitutional Budget Reserve rather than Permanent Fund earnings. The latter is something Governor Walker […]

  • News

    Photos show close encounter between armed Russian jet, U.S. warplane

    by CBS News on Jun 22, 15:31

    Military officials have released images showing a Russian jet that came within five feet of a U.S. reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea this week. The Russian aircraft came within five feet of a wing tip of a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance plane, then flew under the U.S. aircraft and came up near the other wing […]

  • U.S. missile defense test fails to intercept target over Pacific

    by CBS News on Jun 22, 15:23

    A joint missile defense test conducted by the U.S. and Japan failed to intercept a targeted rocket over the Pacific on Wednesday, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said. The failed attempt was the second intercept test of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile, which is being developed by the U.S. and Japan to […]