United States Statement: Annual Discussion on International Year of Indigenous Languages

Jason Mack
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 17, 2019


Thank you, Mr. Chair. And thank you to all of the civil society speakers, including representatives of the native Hawaiian and Cherokee Nation Communities.

The United States recognizes that validating, revitalizing, and sustaining indigenous languages strengthens indigenous communities’ culture and sense of solidarity. To address the decline in the number of Native American languages, in 1990 the U.S. Congress enacted the Native American Languages Act. The Administration for Native Americans – part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children and Families (HHS/ACF) – helps implement the Act by funding projects that promote the survival and vitality of these languages.

Since 2012, the Departments of Interior and Education have joined HHS on a number of national initiatives, including the formation of a Native Language Workshop to facilitate collaboration and resource and information sharing across federal agencies and partner communities. An annual Native American Languages Summit has grown out of this partnership, and we are pleased that the well-attended sixth annual Native American Languages summit in October 2019 – entitled “Our Native Languages, Our Educational Sovereignty” – highlighted successful school and community-based efforts to promote Native American languages.

The Department of Education also independently supports initiatives on a sub-national level. In the last several years, it has awarded six multi-year grants to develop, maintain, improve, or expand programs for elementary and secondary schools to use Native American and Alaska Native languages as the primary languages of instruction, as well as to train American Indian and Alaskan Native educators in teaching Native American Languages. In addition to supporting local school districts in Native American language instruction, Department of Education grants support increasing the English language proficiency of Native American students served.

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) is another actor working independently through Native Language Immersion and other grants to staff and train in-school education specialists and regional coordinators who help develop, integrate, and sustain native language programs throughout the BIE school network.

We recognize that the validation and preservation of indigenous languages is a global need and, accordingly, are pleased to support international activities as well. Currently, the United States proudly helps support the All Children Reading program in Senegal, Senegal’s first national effort to use minority and local languages to improve reading for ethnically, socially, and economically diverse children. It provides reading instruction for students in five languages across six provinces. The U.S. and Senegalese Governments are discussing extending the scope of the program over the next several years to include additional languages. We are also proud of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s work with Zambia’s Ministry of General Education to develop, print, and distribute literacy textbooks in seven Zambian languages and in English. The program enables teachers, administrators, and officials to deliver high-quality community and public-school instruction. In doing so, it expands opportunities for boys and girls, with a focus on orphans, vulnerable children, and the most marginalized learners in Zambia’s rural Provinces.

The United States regrets that in some countries, governments repress the use of traditional languages. We remain particularly concerned regarding restrictions on the use of Uighur or Tibetan languages in the People’s Republic of China, particularly in the context of education, and we urge the PRC authorities to demonstrate respect for the linguistic heritage of communities in Xinjiang and in Tibetan areas. We call upon all States to respect our indigenous communities.

Thank you Mr. Chair.