Trump signs measure to preserve Native languages

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a measure that extends federal grant programs aimed at preserving Indigenous languages and expands eligibility so more tribes can participate.

The president’s signature came Friday, after the measure cleared the U.S. House with bipartisan support. Senate approval came earlier this year.

The legislation was named after Esther Martinez, a traditional storyteller and Tewa language advocate from New Mexico’s Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. She died in 2006.

Her family, tribal leaders and members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation say re-authorization of the programs through 2024 marks a commitment by the federal government to keep Alaska Native and American Indigenous languages alive.

Dozens of tribes and other groups from Alaska to Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Massachusetts have benefited from the programs over the years. Currently, there are over 40 active grants totalling more than $11 million U.S., that are being used for language preservation and immersion efforts.

Martinez’s own Pueblo was awarded a grant earlier this year after seeing a decline in fluent Tewa speakers and the increase of English as the primary language in the homes of tribal members.

This Aug. 1990, file photo shows Esther Martinez at age 78 in San Juan Pueblo, now Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, New Mexico. (Dean Hanson/The Albuquerque Journal via The Associated Press)

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat and Laguna Pueblo member who co-chairs the Congressional Native American Caucus, said programs that support language preservation are often underfunded.

“Now that our bill honouring the legacy of Pueblo storyteller and self-taught linguist Esther Martinez is signed into law, we will move forward on important work to revitalize our languages and traditions,” Haaland said.

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