US Senate Committee Advances Native Language Bill Named For Cherokee Linguist Durbin Feeling

Aug 9, 2021

Linguist Durbin Feeling signs the Cherokee Speakers Roll Book in 2019, a record of living Cherokee first-language speakers.
Credit Courtesy

A U.S. Senate committee advanced a pair of bills last week to help preserve Native languages, including one named for a renowned Cherokee linguist.

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz is a co-author of S.1402, the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act. It would direct the president to keep tabs on agencies’s compliance with existing law recognizing Natives's right to use their own language and implement surveys of revitalization programs every five years to see where resources are needed most.

"S.1402, which I introduced along with Vice Chairman Murkowski, makes the federal government more accountable by setting clear goals and asking for direct input from Native communities about how federal resources can be more effectively used to support and revitalize Native languages," Schatz said.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committe also advanced S.989, the Native American Language Resource Center Act. It would better coordinate and offer support to culturally based language programs.

"This is an effort that we all want to continue, which is to preserve and revitalize Native American languages, given how critical they are to sustaining Native culture and philosophy," Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said.

Durbin Feeling, who was a Vietnam veteran, has been called the most important contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah, who developed a syllabary making reading and writing possible.

Feeling wrote the first Cherokee-English dictionary and translated the language into Unicode for computer applications. Cherokee Nation named its language institute after him. He died last August at age 74.