Language

[Language] encompasses and expresses a worldview shaped by centuries, in some cases tens of thousands of years, of experience, knowledge, practices, spiritual beliefs, and relationships between a people, its neighbors, and its environment, which cannot be replicated in any other tongue. (r1)

The survival of American Indian and Alaska Native languages is essential to the success of tribal communities and Native ways of life. However, without urgent and sustained intervention, far too many Native languages risk extinction within the coming decades.

NCAI is committed to ensuring that tribes have the tools and resources necessary to revitalize and sustain their Native languages for current and future generations.

In 2010, NCAI declared Native languages to be in a state of emergency. According to UNESCO, 74 Native languages stand to disappear within the next decade (r2). Equally alarming, scholars project that without immediate and persistent action, only 20 Native languages will still be spoken by 2050. This crisis is the result of longstanding government policies—enacted particularly through boarding schools—that sought to break the chain of cultural transmission and destroy American Indian and Alaska Native cultures.

Native language revitalization is a critical priority for tribes because language goes to the heart of tribal identity. A language is not simply a collection of words; nor is one language interchangeable with another. In many ways, language is culture.

Immersion schools have proven to be one of the most successful models in producing fluent Native language speakers. Because children are learning the language, immersion schools help ensure that the language will be carried forward for a longer period of time. However, establishing and operating immersion schools carries a significant cost and is beyond the current means of many tribes. NCAI urges the federal government to provide tribes with sufficient funding, training, technical support, and educational flexibility to revitalize their Native languages.

Page References 

  1. “The Case for Revitalizing Indigenous Languages: Addressing the Global Language-Loss Crisis.” Cultural Survival
  2. Moseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd ed.. Paris, UNESCO Publishing. Online version