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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Preserving Native American Languages

The Western Hemisphere has more distinctly different native languages than any other part of the world. Language is an important part of cultural identity,

When Europeans first arrived in what is now the United States, more than 300 different languages were spoken. Today, only 175 remain, but many are only spoken by a small number of elderly people, and are in danger of disappearing. When a language becomes extinct, it can take along with it much of the history and culture of the people who spoke it.

The loss of Native languages was hastened by U.S. government policies that focused on assimilating Native Americans into western culture. Many Native American children were sent to government-run boarding schools where they were prohibited from speaking their languages.

It wasn't until the mid-1900s that the preservation of Native culture and language began to gain support, and several more decades before any legislation was passed to accomplish that goal.

The Native American Languages Act of 1990 recognizes the language rights of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006 helps to keep Native American languages alive by providing federal grants to Native American language immersion programs.

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