Native American language teaching won a victory March 21 when a bill that would help to preserve tribal languages sailed through an education committee of the Colorado House of Representatives by unanimous vote. The bill, already approved in a Senate hearing, appears destined for the governor’s signature and enactment.
The bill would allow tribal elders and other fluent speakers of the Native languages of federally recognized tribes to teach the languages even though they may not have teaching licenses. They would be under the supervision of qualified teachers in order to obtain license waivers from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE).
The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), a member of the Comanche Nation, and Rep. J. Paul Brown (R-Ignacio). It was endorsed by the Colorado Association of School Boards.
“It’s a great bill that is needed, especially in my district and southwest Colorado,” Brown said. “It’s very important to the Southern Utes and Ute Mountain Utes for their kids to learn the language so they can continue their culture.”
In addition to committee testimony by education officials and others, two young students spoke up for the bill. Testifying were Justice Hollingsworth, 12, Sicangu Lakota, and Deuschesne Ventris, 13, Diné/Potawatomi, who said young people may be pulled away from their culture and “we want to use this opportunity to bring it back.”
The value of Native language-learning was underscored by two teachers of Lakota, both of whom have master’s degrees—Eileen Little Thunder Masquat, Lakota, and Gwen Holmes, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Holmes said it is fair to Native students “that it be among other languages being taught.” Masquat said both Native and non-Native students in her Lakota class “learned the language very well.”
Rose Marie McGuire, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, who heads the Indian education program in Denver, said she has learned that students who take Lakota classes do better academically in other areas.
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.
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.