Education leader urges federal preservation of Native languages - National Indian Education Association convention opens in Alaska

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Indian educators have been called upon to unify in a lobbying effort to restore federal legislation that will curb damage to Native language programs.

Ryan Wilson, president of the National Indian Education Association, chose the venue of the association’s 37th annual convention to rally about 1,500 educators to curb the loss of Native languages by supporting efforts to push federal legislation that will increase educational immersion programs.

About 1,900 registered delegates gathered in downtown Anchorage Oct. 19 – 22 to address issues of research on student achievement, best education practices, development of a federal plan and higher education.

Describing House Bill 4766 as the most crucial piece of legislation in three decades, Wilson inspired attendees with promises that the education organization “will never back down” in its advocacy for Native language preservation and revitalization.

“We’ll never back down from our responsibility and control of Indian education,” he declared in the opening State of the Association address, as he described efforts during the past year to confront challenges in the form of program and school budget cuts.

Wilson referred frequently to arguments that language immersion programs are one of the few effective ways to create fluent speakers in Native languages. NIEA has argued that Native students who participate in language immersion programs perform better academically than Native students who don’t.

“We chose to dissent from No Child Left Behind,” he added, “not because it was comfortable, but because it was hard.”

Wilson described the efforts of NIEA to hold regional hearings in Indian country on NCLB to collect testimonials from school practitioners on its impact upon their students.

“NIEA stands with you,” he concluded, following frequent interruptions of applause.

“We’re known as the vanishing race, with nothing to look forward to,” Wilson added, “but we will honor our ancestors … who lived for us, prayed for us and died for us.”