Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passes ‘Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act of 2021’

TAHLEQUAH — The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday passed the Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill named in honor of the late Cherokee linguist Durbin Feeling.

Senators Brian Schatz, (D-Hawai‘i) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the bill which was initially proposed by former Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) in 2020. Udall initially proposed the legislation on the 30th anniversary of the Native American Language Act signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

“Today is a great day for the Cherokee language and all Native American languages,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “Today, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed a bill that will ensure our Native languages get the support and resources they need to ensure not only the Cherokee language, but all Native American languages are thriving now and into the next seven generations. This bill is named in honor of the largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah, the late Durbin Feeling, who advocated tirelessly for Native language and revitalization efforts. No one is more worthy of this honor than Durbin. Now, with the approval of this bill by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I now urge our elected leaders at the U.S. Capitol to not only consider this crucial law, but to vote for its passage in the Senate after its upcoming August recess.”

The Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act would direct the president to review federal agencies’ compliance with the Native American Language Act requirements and make recommendations to improve interagency coordination in support of Native American languages. It would also authorize a federal survey of Native language use and the unmet needs of language-revitalization programs every five years. The surveys would allow Native communities and Congress to improve targeting of federal resources for Native American languages.

The Committee also approved the “Native American Language Resource Center Act of 2021” Wednesday.

“These bipartisan Native languages bills will improve federal support for culturally-based Native language instruction and ensure Native American language use continues to grow,” Schatz, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a statement. “[This bill], which I introduced along with Vice Chairman Murkowski, makes the federal government more accountable by setting clear goals and asking for direct input from Native communities about how federal resources can be more effectively used to support and revitalize Native languages.”

The Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2021 is supported by the Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Languages and International Studies, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Education Association, the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs, and the Cherokee Nation.

“Our Cherokee language is the soul of our people. It is the source of our pride and our strength as a tribe,” said Howard Paden, executive director of the Cherokee Nation Language Department. “The investments our tribe is making in our language programs are meant not only to preserve the Cherokee language today, but to encourage us as Cherokee people to embrace our language and to use it for generations to come. It is vital that federal leaders continue to acknowledge the efforts not just of the Cherokee Nation, but of tribes throughout this country, to grow and strengthen our native languages. Durbin Feeling was committed, heart and soul, to those efforts, and naming this legislation in his honor is very fitting.”

Feeling, who died in August of 2020, was the largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah.

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