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House Passes Bi-partisan Bill to Make Alaska Native Languages Official State Languages

“Losing a language is losing a way of understanding the world”

Today, the Alaska state House of Representatives voted to make each of the Native languages in Alaska an official language of the state. Supporters of the legislation in the House galleries broke into applause upon passage of the legislation (HB 216).

"Losing a language is losing a way of understanding the world,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “Alaska’s Native languages have immeasurable value. This legislation will add even more momentum and energy to the revitalization of Alaska Native languages."

The bi-partisan legislation is sponsored by Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), Representative Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage), Representative Benjamin Nageak (D-Barrow), Representative Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham), and Representative Bob Herron (D-Bethel) and has received broad support from around the state.

In current state law, English is Alaska’s only official language. This bill would expand the list to include Iñupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Alutiiq, Unangax╠é, Dena'ina, Deg Xinag, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Gwich'in, Tanana, Upper Tanana, Tanacross, Hän, Ahtna, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. Making these languages official languages of the state of Alaska is a symbolic gesture to acknowledge their importance to Alaskans and the state’s heritage. Passage of the bill will not require public signs and documents to be printed in multiple languages, and it will create no additional costs to the state. 

"Native culture enriches the lives of Alaskans in so many ways," said Millett. "Naming Alaska's twenty indigenous languages as official languages of the state of Alaska demonstrates our respect and admiration for their past, current, and future contributions to our state."

“This legislation will highlight the importance of preserving and revitalizing the rich and diverse cultural legacy inherent in Alaska Native languages,” said Edgmon, chairman of the House Bush Caucus. “We recently celebrated our 50th year of statehood. In another 50 years I would like to see the many languages of our first Alaskans playing a vibrant role in the lives of people all over the state.”

“This vote recognizes the past, encourages the present, and secures the future of our earliest Alaska languages, said Herron.

“Uum alerquutem ikayurciqaakut tamanritlerkaaun yugtun qaneryararput [This law will help our future through the preservation of our languages], said Alaska Federation of Natives Co-Chair Ana Hoffman, first in Central Yup’ik.

“I want to thank Representative Kreiss-Tomkins for starting the process of the passage of this bill. We, the co-sponsors, feel this bill will be a positive and long overdue formal legislative recognition of all the Native languages still spoken in this great state of ours and the people who still speak their own language,” said Nageak.

“Aarigaa, uvluluataq uvlupak. Una Pitquraq aquqtugumaaqtaqput piqpagnaqtuq Alaskam Inuqqaanginnun. Iluqaisa ataullugit Inuqqaangisa Alaskam uqausingat  atugaisuli. Uvagut Atanauruagut Alaskam Govamangata tavra taamna pitquraq inilakkipput. [Very good, this is a good day. This bill we are considering is highly regarded to the First People of Alaska. All of the languages of the First People of Alaska used in our long history are still in use today.  We want to preserve that.  We in the House of Representatives will collaboratively pass this bill.], said Nageak, first in Inupiaq.

The enthusiastic reaction to the bill’s passage was similar to the public response to the legislation in the House Community and Regional Affairs and House State Affairs committees. The bill generated extraordinary grassroots interest, abundant written and verbal testimony, and standing room only crowds throughout the committee process.

The bill now goes to the Alaska state Senate for consideration. 

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