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Native American Languages Could Count For Class Credit

Thanks to legislation introduced by Colorado Senator Suzanne Williams Native American languages could be accepted for school credit, just like Spanish or French.
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Goodbye, French and German. Hello, Dine, Lakota and other Native American languages—with some qualifications.

Under a proposed new program in Colorado, European and Asian tongues would remain options for foreign language credit in high school, but Native languages from federally recognized tribes could also be offered for that purpose.

The plan is described in a bill filed January 13 for submission to the Colorado General Assembly by Sen. Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), a member of the Comanche Nation, and co-sponsor Rep. J. Paul Brown (R-Ignacio).

Space is carved out in the proposal for teachers to obtain authorization for Native American language teaching without being required to complete a teacher preparation program or to have a baccalaureate degree, Williams said. The Colorado Board of Education would establish criteria for the authorization.

“Across the country, Natives have discussed in recent years that many Native populations are losing their Native languages,” Williams said. “Once you lose the language, the culture declines. We need an ongoing connection with the language.”

“So we worked with the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) as to whether or not this [proposed language program] could happen,” she said, and CDE is making the rules about language teaching.

Williams said Hawaii was the first state to initiate a similar indigenous language program in high schools and Montana followed, preparing a plan that is closely followed by Colorado. She said she was not aware of for-credit Native language programs elsewhere “though there may be some.”

Those applying for a credentialing waiver in order to teach a for-credit Native language would submit applications to the CDE describing the proposed curriculum and agreeing to follow CDE rules and regulations.

Under the bill, indigenous language instruction authorization could be extended to “a person proficient in one or more Native American languages of federally recognized tribes to allow a school district to employ the person” to teach the languages of recognized tribes.

Among state-required compliance provisions are objective standards for Native language proficiency and a prohibition for Native language teachers to teach other subjects unless licensed or authorized to teach them.

The bill, if passed in the state legislature, would be authorized for five years and could be renewed at that time.

Williams explained that high school students could earn foreign language credit if they “accomplished the goals of learning the language” in a fully documented curriculum and a program with an evaluation system.

The courses and evaluation plans would be submitted to school districts for possible school board acceptance as to whether students would get credit for proficiency in the indigenous languages they studied.

The Montana bill on which Colorado’s plan was modeled points out that only 34 percent of the 210 Native languages used in North America are still being taught to children as a first language, so Native communities are making language recovery and preservation one of their highest priorities.