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Federal grants to help tribes preserve Native languages

By: - December 28, 2021 1:35 pm

Pictured (Left to Right): Third-grade Cherokee Immersion School teacher Cindy Collins, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. listening to third-grade students Hunter Sanders, Henry Johnson, and Riley Aimerson. Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Nation.

Tribal nations across the U.S. have an opportunity to go after funding to help their communities develop programs that help preserve their traditional Native languages.

Tribes apply for funding through the Living Languages Grant Program, which is run through the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs’ Office of Indian Economic Development. 

“Preserving Native languages is fundamental to preserving all aspects of Tribal cultures and traditions,” Bryan Newland, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said in a press statement.

The program is part of a new interagency initiative to preserve, protect and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice and develop Native languages, according to the department.

“The Living Languages Grant Program can help sustain Indigenous knowledge that can only be transmitted through Tribal languages,” Newland said in a press release. “I encourage Tribes interested in developing their language preservation programs to apply under this solicitation.”

Native language preservation has for many years been cited by Indigenous leaders as important to their self-preservation, self-determination and sovereignty, according to the department. Native preservation and language revitalization is a critical priority because languages go to the heart of a tribe’s unique cultural identities, traditions, spiritual beliefs and self-governance.

The program was announced in December after First Lady Jill Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited the Cherokee Nation’s immersion school, where they saw firsthand how the tribe is successfully preserving and perpetuating the Cherokee language.

“The Cherokee Language Department is not only preserving the Cherokee language, but also finding innovative ways to perpetuate it so that it remains the lifeblood of Cherokee culture for generations to come,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a press release. “The Cherokee Nation remains committed to preserving our language because we know it is at the heart of our identity.”

The Living Languages Grant Program seeks to document, preserve and revitalize Native languages that are used for face-to-face communication; Native languages that can be used by a child-bearing generation, but are not being transmitted to children; Native languages whose only active users are members of the grandparent generation or older; Native languages whose only active users are members of the grandparent generation or older but who have little opportunity to use them; and Native languages that serve as a reminder of heritage identity for an ethnic community, but which lack proficient speakers.

The Office of Indian Economic Development is accepting proposals for funding from federally recognized tribal nations and tribal organizations to fund Native language instruction and immersion programs for Native students not enrolled in a Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) school, including those tribes in states without BIE-funded schools, according to the department.

The office is seeking to fund about 15-60 grants ranging in value from about $25,000 to $200,000. Proposals must be submitted by March 7, 2022.

While only federally recognized tribes or tribal organizations may apply for the grants, grantees may select or retain for-profit or nonprofit tribal organizations to perform a grant’s scope of work to support tribal programs to document Native languages or build tribal capacity to create or expand language preservation programs, according to the department.

Questions about this solicitation may be addressed to Mr. Dennis Wilson, Division of Economic Development Grants Manager, Office of Indian Economic Development – Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, at 505-917-3235 or [email protected]

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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