US Senators Introduce Native American Language Bill Named For Cherokee Linguist Durbin Feeling

Apr 30, 2021

The chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Thursday introduced a piece of legislation meant to help with Native American language preservation efforts, named for late Cherokee linguist Durbin Feeling.

“Congress made a commitment to promote and protect the rights of Native Americans to use their languages over three decades ago when it enacted the Native American Languages Act of 1990,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the committee's chair, in a statement. “The Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act will ensure we are living up to that commitment. Our bill will make 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.”

“I am proud to again join as co-lead in introducing a bill that works to protect Native languages. Our bill will improve interagency coordination and require a survey of federal programs on their work involving Native languages,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), committee ranking member, said. “With these efforts, Native communities across the country can continue revitalizing and protecting their identity through language. For Indigenous peoples, Native languages are foundational to identity and culture and I will continue supporting policies that help maintain and revitalize Native languages.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. also praised the bill: "Today only about 2,000 people can speak Cherokee fluently. Preserving and revitalizing the Cherokee language rank among my highest responsibilities. For decades, Durbin Feeling led the effort to not only save and preserve the Cherokee language, but breathe new life into the Cherokee language. We owe it to Durbin’s legacy to carry on his work and continue to advocate for Native language revitalization efforts. I commend Chairman Schatz and Vice Chairman Murkowski for reintroducing this important legislation."

A spokesperson for Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla), who also sits on the Indian Affairs committee, said the senator was unavailable to give a comment or indicate whether or not he supports the bill.