Gov. Sean Parnell has signed into law a bill creating an Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council.
Senate Bill 130, which passed nearly unanimously, was sponsored by Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, and Rep. Alan Dick, R-Stony River, with Juneau’s Sen. Dennis Egan and Reps. Cathy Muñoz and Beth Kerttula all signing on as co-sponsors.
Muñoz had been a prime sponsor of similar House legislation as well.
The council will assess the state of Alaska Native languages, re-evaluate the programs, and make recommendations to establish new programs or reorganize existing programs.
“Without language preservation, a culture dies,” Parnell said. “As Alaskans, we honor and celebrate our traditional cultures. The state will join with Alaskans to make sure these languages live on.”
Parnell signed the bill on Memorial Day, while in Dillingham attending a rural providers conference.
“If we lose our Native languages, I think we lose a big part of who we are as a people whether we are Native or not,” Muñoz said during the session.
The volunteer panel of language experts set up by the legislation would look at successful language programs, such as those in Juneau schools or at the University of Alaska Southeast that might be expanded locally or copied elsewhere, Muñoz said.
The council is expected to cost between $500,000 and $600,000 a year to operate, with money already budgeted for that cost.
Expenses would include travel for the seven council members to meetings around the state, along with two staff people, a committee administrator and research analyst.
Council members would come from various geographic areas of the state, including two from Anchorage, and one each from Fairbanks, Juneau, Kotzebue, Barrow and Bethel.
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