A bill that would symbolically make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages is heading to the House floor for a vote.
The House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday unanimously passed House Bill 216 from Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, less than a week after some Republicans on the panel raised concerns about the bill’s potential ramifications.
Tlingit elder Selina Everson teared up during public testimony.
“Our language is our very being. It’s our culture,” Everson said. “We were brought up with such respect to each other, to the Tlingit people, the Haida people, the Tsimshian people, the Yup’ik, the whole state of Alaska with all the different languages being spoken. It would be an honor to be recognized.”
While English is the only official language of Alaska, the state Supreme Court in 2007 struck down part of a 1998 voter initiative requiring it to be used for all government business.
Last week, Republican Reps. Doug Isaacson of North Pole, and Lynn Gattis and Wes Keller of Wasilla, raised concerns that HB 216 would be misinterpreted by future legislatures or the courts. They worried that could lead to unintended consequences, such as ballots or legislation having to be printed in every official language.
A new version of the bill adopted at Tuesday’s hearing makes clear that the official designation for Alaska Native languages is only symbolic. But Lance Twitchell, a Native languages professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, said the bill means more than that to supporters.
“This is more than symbolic. This is historic,” Twitchell said.
He went on to reference two bills the state affairs committee passed last week while Isaacson, Gattis and Keller struggled with the idea of making Alaska Native languages official languages.
“History will not remember you for specialized license plates and parking ticket processes,” Twitchell said. “History will remember you for this moment right here. What you say and do when we ask you to help us live, to find a brighter future for our languages, cultures and people.”
HB 216 must still be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. The bill has not been considered by the state Senate.
- A swath of downtown Juneau went dark for about a half hour on Friday morning. AEL&P blamed the outage on unspecified equipment failure in a feeder circuit.
- It aims to preserve Alaska Native culture by giving tribes and tribal organizations the ability to oversee local child welfare problems, rather than social workers coming in from outside their communities. That often results in children being removed from their communities.
- Dressed in full Gwich’in regalia, Potts recounted growing up in a modest dirt-floor hunting cabin in Eagle, losing someone close to suicide, and taking the conventions theme of strength in unity to get back to enjoying life again.
- The Juneau School District wants to consolidate its two high school football programs and cheer squads. Superintendent Dr. Mark Miller said at a press conference Thursday afternoon that the decision to send a formal request to the Alaska School Activities Association has been two years in the making.