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Two AZ tribal entities get grants to preserve Native languages

By: - June 16, 2022 10:47 am

An app to teach students the Navajo language. Photo by Cronkite News

In an effort to help tribal nations preserve and revitalize their traditional languages, an Arizona tribe and a Navajo college will receive a portion of $7 million in grants from the Indian Affairs Office of Indian Economic Development.

The grants were awarded to 45 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and tribal organizations as part of the Living Languages Grant Program, which provides an opportunity for tribes to receive funding to document and revitalize languages that are at risk of disappearing because of a declining native-speaker population. 

“Native language preservation has for many years been cited by Indigenous leaders as important to their self-preservation, self-determination, and sovereignty,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said in a press release.


The San Carlos Apache Tribal Council and Diné College are the two Arizona tribal organizations that received funding as part of the program. 

The San Carlos Apache Tribe, located in southeastern Arizona and home to more than 10,000 tribal citizens, received $184,344. 

Diné College is a four-year tribal college located on the Navajo Nation with six campuses and two microsites across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The college primarily serves Navajo students and was established in 1968, making it the first tribal college in the United States. Diné College received $60,189 in funding. 

The Living Languages Grant Program is run through the U.S. Department of Interior Indian Affairs’ Office of Indian Economic Development and it was part of a new interagency initiative launched after several government agencies entered into a memorandum of agreement in 2021 to further the Native American Languages Act of 1990.

“The cornerstone of any culture or community is its language. Languages are where oral histories are passed down, knowledge is shared, and bonds are formed. As part of our commitment to strengthening and supporting Indigenous communities, the Interior Department is resolute in its efforts to ensuring Native languages are preserved and protected,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a press release from the launch of the program in 2021. “From our libraries and schools to museums and cultural centers, the Department is proud to help lead this interagency effort to encourage programs and projects to include instruction in and preservation of Native languages.”

For more than 150 years, Native languages in the United States. have been subjected to suppression and elimination from a variety of factors, the Department of Interior said. For instance, the federal boarding school system forced Indigenous children to forgo speaking the language of their peoples.

“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,” Newland said. 

“Through the Living Languages Grant Program and other interagency efforts, the Biden-Harris administration is working to invest in and strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship and ensure that progress in Indian Country endures for years to come,” he added.

The program went through 59 applications, according to the Indian Affairs, and the funding requests totaled $9.37 million. The funding requests would support Tribal programs that either documented traditional Indigenous languages or built Tribal capacity to create or expand language preservation programs.

Each of the grant proposals was rated on four main things, the extent to which funding would document, preserve or revitalize a traditional Indigenous language; the degree to which the language addressed by a proposal risks extinction; the likelihood that the instruction to be funded would revitalize the language by preventing intergenerational disruption; and the number of students or percentage of Tribal members the proposal would benefit.

For a full list of the Living Languages Grant Program grantees and their funding amounts, please visit the U.S. Department of the Interior website.


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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.