The Senate on Wednesday unanimously backed a House resolution urging Gov. Bill Walker to acknowledge a linguistic emergency for Alaska Native languages.

Ten years ago, Alaska lost its last fluent Eyak speaker.

A recent report from a language advisory council warns that most of Alaska’s 20 recognized indigenous languages could become extinct by the end of the century.

The resolution calls for the legislature, state agencies and Alaska Native groups to follow policies that encourage the use of Alaska Native languages.

Before taking a vote, the Senate reversed a change made in the State Affairs Committee. The Senate approved using the word emergency to describe the state of indigenous languages; it had been changed to urgent.

“While we debate this, Alaska’s elders are dying,” said Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage). “They are taking the language and the culture with them. It’s happening right now. That’s a loss that once gone, it’s gone, so I believe it is an emergency and it’s a death of a culture that’s happening today.”

The Senate stopped just short of calling on Walker to formally declare the emergency with an administrative order.

Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) said in a morning committee hearing that it’s not the Legislature’s place to push that on Walker.

“If we want to do a statute, that’s up to us, and if the governor wants to do an administrative order that’s up to him,” Kelly said. “We shouldn’t be asking him to do what we are able to do in the statute in the first place.”

Last month the House overwhelmingly passed HCR19 and most voted on it again and agreed with the Senate changes Kelly.

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