Skip to main content

Funding for Native language immersion moves forward

WASHINGTON – In a race too close to call until two weeks after the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Republican Heather Wilson has regained her seat in the House of Representatives. New Mexico’s District 1 voters, including many Indians, provided Wilson with just enough votes to edge Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid. Wilson’s margin was fewer than 1,000 votes when Madrid conceded.

Wilson’s presence in Congress now and next January will continue momentum toward passage of a law to provide federal grant funding for Native language immersion schooling. Wilson introduced House Bill 4766 in the House. With the support of committee chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the bill passed in the House prior to the election and now awaits Senate action.

Ryan Wilson (no relation) said the Native vote protected Heather Wilson once her commitment to Native languages became evident. Ryan Wilson, president of the newly formed National Alliance to Save Native Languages, campaigned for the bill as president of the National Indian Education Association, which continues to support H.R. 4766 among its other priorities. In Washington for an appearance on Capitol Hill of Navajo code talkers, he said tribes had rallied as never before behind the bill. He called on American citizens at large to join them.

“Nothing is more American than the languages of her first people,” he said. “This is part of the sacred heritage of America, not just a treasured form of expression in Indian country.”

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Noting the contribution of code talkers to U.S. war efforts, he referenced the recent film “Flags of Our Fathers,” focused on the iconic flag-raising at Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima island during World War II. Only days after the opening of a Marine museum near Washington, its architecture abstractly modeled on the famous photograph of U.S. Marines – including Ira Hayes, a Pima soldier – transfixed the mid-Atlantic seaboard region and much of the nation, Wilson underscored the profound contribution of code talkers to the Pacific theater of operations in particular. By putting their oral language to use as an unbreakable code that kept military intelligence from imperial Japan, Native code talkers helped U.S. forces stage the storied combat that ultimately broke the islands.

“It was the Navajo, through their language, who helped uplift that flag at Iwo Jima,” Wilson said. “It was that language that helped get them up the mountain.”