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Alaskans Refuse to Let Native Languages Disappear

June 15, 2012, Anchorage, AK – Alaskans gathered yesterday to celebrate a historic step forward in statewide Native language revitalization efforts. 

Familiar figures from Alaska Native language preservation efforts joined a celebration at the Alaska Native Heritage Center to commemorate the creation of an Alaska Native Language Council.  The legislature passed SB130 last legislative session, and the bill was signed by Governor Sean Parnell two weeks ago.

“Alaskans are facing the very real possibility of losing a wealth of culture, history, and scientific knowledge.  All of us are here today because we refuse to stand by and let that happen,” Lt. Gov. Treadwell said.

Treadwell joined Senator Donald Olson and Representative Alan Dick, who sponsored the bill in the legislature, and former state Senator Georgianna Lincoln.  Other leaders in language revitalization at the ceremony included Nelson Angapak, senior vice president of the Alaska Federation of Natives; Liz Medicine Crow, First Alaskans Institute acting president and CEO; Willie Hensley, First Alaskans Institute board chairman; Annette Evans Smith, president and CEO of the Alaska Native Heritage Center; and Dr. Larry Kaplan, director of the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska.

Speakers talked about the vital importance of Native languages in preserving thousands of years of culture, history, and scientific knowledge.  Some spoke of the lasting scars from years of being punished for speaking their native tongue.  State, tribal and university officials talked about the many years it has taken to get the widespread support the issue has today.                                                

Lt. Governor Treadwell hosted a roundtable discussion on language revitalizations last month.  Federal, state and tribal officials and members of the public filled a conference room for a day to discuss existing efforts, to consider the role of the Council, and to make recommendations.

The governor will appoint to the Council five voting members who are professional language experts and who represent diverse regions of the state.  The House speaker and Senate president will each appoint one nonvoting member.

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