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How You Can Support Indigenous Languages in America Today

Native Americans have endured everything from the Trail of Tears to abusive Indian boarding schools. While we still work to repair the relationship with the Native peoples in our country, one particular initiative, the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Program , has already accomplished so much in revitalizing native languages.

Between 2012 and 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services has continued to allocate funds for these grants, with about $10 million distributed to indigenous communities in FY 2018. After the original act expired in 2012, Congress has kept it alive via a series of annual appropriations. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced the Reauthorization Act (S256) which is moving to the House for final approval. The Act would reauthorize the program through FY2024 and further revise the qualifications for grants.

Who was Esther Martinez?

Esther Martinez was a Tewa speaker and member of the Pueblo tribe, born in Ignacio, Colorado.She attended, and survived, the Santa Fe Indian School and Albuquerque Indian School graduating in 1930. Despite the harsh conditions of this upbringing, she would go on to work almost single-handedly to revive the Tewa Language. Tewa is part of the Tanoan language family, spoken by the Pueblo people of New Mexico. She would produce a translation of the New Testament into Tewa and create the San Juan Pueblo Tewa Dictionary in 1982.

In December 2006, the Esther Martinez Native Americans Preservation Act (HR 4766) passed authorizing funding for new programs on focusing on preventing the loss of tribal heritage and culture. Despite the Act expiring in 2012, the program has been kept alive via annual appropriations. In April 2015, Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) introduced HR 2174 to reauthorize appropriations until FY 2020.

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Program

According to the National Indian Education Association, “The Esther Martinez Initiative funds immersion programs that are successfully passing on indigenous languages to American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students. Native American language revitalization is a critical priority because language preservation goes to the heart of Native identity. In many ways, language is culture. Learning and understanding traditional languages helps Native students thrive. As a result, immersion programs ensure that a student’s language will be carried forward for generations to come.”

The program works specifically works to:

  • Ensure the survival of Native languages. The survival of native languages is fundamental to the success of Native communities and survival of traditional Native cultures.

  • Establish immersion programs, which has been proven to be the best model for creating fluent speakers and successful Native leaders.

  • Create grants provided under Esther Martinez, to empower Native communities to establish immersion programs to revitalize Native languages and improve Native economies.

Current Status of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization

The Senate has already unanimously passed the bill to reauthorize the program , and it now moves to the House for final approval. The Reauthorization specifically will:

  • Reauthorize the language grants program until 2024;

  • Expand eligibility for those programs to smaller-sized Tribal language programs; and

  • Allow both programs to offer longer grant periods.

According to the CBO estimate, this law would authorize the appropriation of $13 million for each year from 2020 through 2024.The CBO estimates that implementing the bill would cost $51 million for the same time period.

Upon the reauthorization passing the Senate, Sponsor Udall stated, “I am proud to join Chairman Hoeven and the leadership of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee – Senator Tester and Senator Isakson – on the Tribal HUD-VASH bill. We are all aware that the issues facing Indian Country do not stop at the doors of this Committee. I hope S.257 will be the first of many cross-committee efforts in this Congress to advance legislation benefiting Indian Tribes.”

How Can I Help?

Follow the steps below to write your House representative and let her know you would like to see the Esther Martinez Act Reauthorized!


You can find how to contact your representative using this directory:


I urge you to support H.R.912, the “Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Reauthorization Act,” as a co-sponsor, and to vote for its swift passage through Congress.

Sample Phone Script:

Below are suggested talking points to help you draft a letter or use on a phone call:

Hello, my name is ________________. I live in _________________ (provide City and Zip Code). And I am calling/writing to you today to urge my representative to support the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act. (H.R. 912).

  • The Esther Martinez bill is critical to revitalizing native languages and communities. These languages act as a torch, passed on from generation to generation, honoring the culture, the history, and the resiliency of Native communities.

  • Unfortunately, research suggests that many Native languages will face extinction in the coming decades without action.

  • This bill (H.R.912) reauthorizes and strengthens the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Program Grants through 2024.

  • As a language advocate, I believe that languages are more than a means of communication; they are the cornerstone of our tradition and culture. By revitalizing languages, we also invest in rebuilding connections between generations of Native Americans and promoting higher academic achievement outcomes among Native youth.

  • Thank you for your time and commitment to Native American Language revitalization efforts.

[IF LEAVING A VOICEMAIL: please leave your full street address to ensure your call is tallied]

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