WASHINGTON - An appropriations subcommittee in the House of Representatives made June 7 a hopeful day for Native language revival, marking up an extra $3 million for the Administration on Native Americans to implement the language immersion learning and revival programs of last year's Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act.
The current ANA budget of $44 million calls for expending $4 million on Native language program grants. The new funds will almost double ANA's spending on Native languages, to $7 million out of a $47 million budget.
The National Alliance to Save Native Languages has taken a prominent role in persuading Congress of the importance, practical, academic and otherwise, of maintaining Native languages. Alliance president Ryan Wilson spread credit to many others for an appropriation he deemed significant beyond its dollar amount in a tight national budget. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., supported the Esther Martinez legislation in 2006, Wilson said in a release, ''And when he became a member of the Appropriations Committee this year, made it a personal priority to secure funding for its programs.''
Other indispensable congressional members he identified as Reps. Dale Kildee, D-Mich.; Rick Renzi, R-Ariz.; Heather Wilson, R-N.M.; George Miller, D-Calif.; and Buck McKeon, R-Calif.
Indian country has united behind its languages, Wilson said. Besides the National Alliance, the National Indian Education Association, National Congress of American Indians, Navajo Nation ''and literally scores of other tribes and tribal organizations'' have worked together to get funding for the new grant opportunities in Native language nests, immersion schools and restoration programs.
The appropriation is both a beginning and a turning point, Wilson said, adding that continued success will depend on continued unity.
Appropriations bills must pass both the House and Senate. Appropriations aren't final until the federal budget is enacted into law on the president's signature. But Appropriations Committee numbers carry great weight on Capitol Hill, and the full committee in each chamber generally takes the lead of its subcommittees.
The full House Appropriations Committee provided further benchmarks for Indian funding in the federal budget for fiscal year 2008, commencing Oct. 1.
Within the Interior Department, the BIA budget of $2.347 billion would weigh in at $39 million above current levels. The IHS would see an increase of $204 million to $3.384 billion. The Johnson O'Malley educational program would see its $16 million funding restored after President Bush zeroed it out in his proposed budget. Likewise for the urban Indian health clinics, zeroed out in the president's budget but made whole again with $32 million from Congress.