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Senate Committee Advances Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act

Cherokee Nation
The late Durbin Feeling

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday passed the Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act of 2021, a bill named in honor of the late Cherokee linguist.

The bill was introduced by Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawai'i and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

"Today is a great day for the Cherokee language and all Native American languages," said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. "I now urge our elected leaders at the U.S. Capitol to not only consider this crucial law, but to vote for its passage in the Senate after its upcoming August recess."

The first language preservation bill — the Native American Language Act — was passed under President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and was meant to fund and strengthen tribal language programs across the country. This new act means to do the same.

Specifically, the act would provide proper review of federal agencies' compliance with the Native American Language Act requirements. It would also authorize a federal survey of Native language use and the unmet needs of language-revitalization programs in five-year intervals.

Feeling died in August 2020 at the age of 74. The "modern day Sequoyah" wrote a Cherokee language dictionary in 1975, added the Cherokee syllabary on a word processor in the 1980s and got the Cherokee language on Unicode, something that makes it possible to use the language on smartphones.

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
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