Navajo language programs deserve more support, quickly

Flag of Navajo Nation

Flag of Navajo Nation

Voice of America Radio: “Young Navajos Study to Save Their Language”

More than 100 years ago, the U.S. government began sending Native American children to boarding schools. All the instruction was in English. The native cultures and languages of the children were discouraged.

In the last 20 to 30 years, tribal governments have started to promote the teaching of Native American languages in schools. The U.S. Department of Education now also supports Native American language programs.
The 2010 United States Census showed that about 170,000 Navajos speak Navajo at home. It is one of the most robust Native American languages today.

But there is a growing worry that the Navajo language could disappear. Seventy years ago, nearly everyone on the Navajo reservation spoke Navajo as their first language. But today, few young Navajos can speak the language of their grandparents.

A study in 1998 found that only 30 percent of Navajos entering school spoke Navajo as their mother tongue. Just 30 years earlier, that was true of 90 percent of first-grade Navajo students.

Boosting these programs to save the language will probably require serious, long-term, and immediate financial commitments and other policy dedication. The Nation’s government is not flush with cash at the moment, and while that may change in the longer-term if fossil fuel energy development on Navajo lands goes forward, it would make the most sense (morally and practically) if the United States government really ramped up its contributions to sustaining Navajo language programs right now.

Between the U.S. government’s past actions against the Navajo people (and their language) and the U.S. government’s crucial reliance on Navajo language intelligence codes during World War II, this is owed.

Cherokee Nation approves largest budget ever

Flag of the Cherokee Nation. (Credit: Hosmich - Wikimedia)

Flag of the Cherokee Nation. (Credit: Hosmich – Wikimedia)

Less than a month ago, in September 2015, a major milestone for the Cherokee Nation was reached as its legislative body (the Tribal Council) unanimously backed the Nation’s largest budget ever, authorizing significant increases in the Nation’s government services to its people. Indian Country Today Media Network reported the good news and broke down the numbers:

The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council approved the largest comprehensive budget in the tribe’s history at $767 million during its meeting on September 14. As part of that, Cherokee Nation citizens are about to receive more services.

The tribe’s fiscal year begins October 1 and the new budget is $35 million more than the 2015 fiscal year.

The increased funding will be dispersed as such:
– Health services will receive a $30 million increase;
– Commerce will see a $3.5 million increase;
– Human Services will receive a $3 million increase;
– Career Services receives a $2.5 million increase;
– Higher Education College Scholarships will see a $1.5 million increase.

Cherokee Nation, one of the Oklahoma-based successor governments to the original Cherokee nation of the southeastern United States, represents the people of the largest (or perhaps second-largest) single tribe in North America. Reflecting on the challenges the community has faced, both recently and long ago, Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd commented on the budget:

“It is truly miraculous to see where our tribe is today in comparison to even our recent past. Against all odds, we continue to prosper and move forward, as indicated by this budget.”

Principal Chief Bill John Baker credited the increased available revenues to tribal businesses (presumably including not just casinos, but also the many small businesses of the Nation), federal assistance, careful financial management, and “strategic investments.”

The Cherokee Nation budget reached $767 billion for the first time with the budget approved in September. For comparison, the smallest U.S. state budget in FY2015 was Vermont’s $3.56 billion — nearly half of which is invested in public education at the K-16 levels. Of course, Cherokee Nation represents less than 300,000 people, whereas Vermont has a population more than twice as large. But even a proportionally smaller budget would probably be a billion dollars larger than it is, which likely points to continued under-development in the Nation and a need for further sustained investment and assistance.

Still, Cherokee Nation’s budgeting is far higher than that of Navajo Nation, representing about the same number of people over a very large area in the American Southwest, which this month approved a 2016 budget that is nearly $600 million smaller than the Cherokee budget. The Navajo budget has remained at around $172 million for some years now, according to my quick searches online.