Olson wants council on Alaska Native languages

JUNEAU — Linguists and Native groups from around the state are lining up behind a proposal aimed at preserving and revitalizing Alaska’s 20 Native languages.

Sen. Donald Olson, D-Nome, is recommending that the state create the Alaska Native Language Preservation Council, which would advise the governor on programs and projects that will make the most of resources available to Native groups.

After waiting almost a year, Olson’s bill, SB130, made its way before the State Affairs Committee on Tuesday. Linguists and representatives from various Native groups voiced their support and called for lawmakers to do what they can before time runs out.

Lawrence Kaplan, a native language professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, is one of the measure’s supporters. If the bill passes, he said, it will be important that the council consults with specialists in language revitalization to help them understand techniques that can be used.

“Rebuilding (languages) is an extraordinarily complicated process, but the most important part is getting people to practice their languages,” Kaplan said.

Teaching students from an early age and working fast while elderly native speakers are alive, Kaplan said, is paramount to avoiding extinction of languages, as was the case with Eyak when the last living speaker of that language died.

“This is a good start,” Kaplan said of the bill.

State Affairs Chairman Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, held the bill in committee pending further dialogue with Native groups.

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