Native American Languages Act of 1990

P.L. 101-477 (October 30, 1990)

This federal policy statement recognizing the language rights of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders was quietly enacted in the waning hours of the 101st Congress. Sponsored by Senator Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, the bill passed on a voice vote in both House and Senate without hearings or any vocal opposition. It authorizes no new programs for Native Americans, nor additional funding for existing ones, but is expected to facilitate efforts to preserve indigenous languages.


SEC. 101. This title may be cited as the "Native American Languages Act."


SEC. 102. The Congress finds that—

(1) the status of the cultures and languages of Native Americans is unique and the United States has the responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival of these unique cultures and languages;

(2) special status is accorded Native Americans in the United States, a status that recognizes distinct cultural and political rights, including the right to continue separate identities;

(3) the traditional languages of Native Americans are an integral part of their cultures and identities and form the basic medium for the transmission, and thus survival, of Native American cultures, literatures, histories, religions, political institutions, and values;

(4) there is a widespread practice of treating Native American languages as if they were anachronisms;

(5) there is a lack of clear, comprehensive, and consistent Federal policy on treatment of Native American languages which has often resulted in acts of suppression and extermination of Native American languages and cultures;

(6) there is convincing evidence that student achievement and performance, community and school pride, and educational opportunity is clearly and directly tied to respect for, and support of, the first language of the child or student;

(7) it is clearly in the interests of the United States, individual States, and territories to encourage the full academic and human potential achievements of all students and citizens and to take step to realize these ends;

(8) acts of suppression and extermination directed against Native American languages and cultures are in conflict with the United States policy of self-determination for Native Americans;

(9) languages are the means of communication for the full range of human experiences and are critical to the survival of cultural and political integrity of any people; and

(10) language provides a direct and powerful means of promoting international communication by people who share languages.


SEC. 103. For purposes of this title—

(1) The term "Native American" means an Indian, Native Hawaiian, or Native American Pacific Islander.

(2) The term "Indian" has the meaning given to such term under section 5351(4) of the Indian Education Act of 1988 (25 U.S.C. 2651(4)).

(3) The term "Native Hawaiian" has the meaning given to such term by section 4009 of Public Law 100-297 (20 U.S.C. 4909).

(4) The term "Native American Pacific Islander" means any descendant of the aboriginal people of any island in the Pacific Ocean that is a territory or possession of the United States.

(5) The terms "Indian tribe" and "tribal organization" have the respective meaning given to each of such terms under section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450b).

(6) The term "Native American language" means the historical, traditional languages spoken by Native Americans.

(7) The term "traditional leaders" includes Native Americans who have special expertise in Native American culture and Native American languages.

(8) The term "Indian reservation" has the same meaning given to the term "reservation" under section 3 of the Indian Financing Act of 1974 (25 U.S.C. 1452).


SEC. 104. It is the policy of the United States to—

(1) preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages;

(2) allow exceptions to teacher certification requirements for Federal programs and programs funded in whole or in part by the Federal Government, for instruction in Native American languages when such teacher certification requirements hinder the employment of qualified teachers who teach in Native American languages, and to encourage State and territorial governments to make similar exceptions;

(3) encourage and support the use of Native American languages as a medium of instruction in order to encourage and support—

    (a) Native American language survival,

    (b) equal educational opportunity,

    (c) increased student success and performance,

    (d) increased student awareness and knowledge of their culture and history, and

    (e) increased student and community pride;

(4) encourage State and local education programs to work with Native American parents, educators, Indian tribes, and other Native American governing bodies in the implementation of programs to put this policy into effect;

(5) recognize the right of Indian tribes and other Native American governing bodies to use the Native American languages as a medium of instruction in all schools funded by the Secretary of the Interior;

(6) fully recognize the inherent right of Indian tribes and other Native American governing bodies, States, territories, and possessions of the United States to take action on, and give official status to, their Native American languages for the purpose of conducting their own business;

(7) support the granting of comparable proficiency achieved through course work in a Native American language the same academic credit as comparable proficiency achieved through course work in a foreign language, with recognition of such Native American language proficiency by institutions of higher education as fulfilling foreign language entrance or degree requirements; and

(8) encourage all institutions of elementary, secondary, and higher education, where appropriate, to include Native American languages in the curriculum in the same manner as foreign languages and to grant proficiency in Native American languages the same full academic credit as proficiency in foreign languages.


SEC. 105. The right of Native Americans to express themselves through the use of Native American languages shall not be restricted in any public proceeding, including publicly supported education programs.


SEC. 106. (a) The President shall direct the heads of the various Federal departments, agencies, and instrumentalities to—

    (1) evaluate their policies and procedures in consultation with Indian tribes and other Native American governing bodies as well as traditional leaders and educators in order to determine and implement changes needed to bring the policies and procedures into compliance with the provisions of this Act;

    (2) give the greatest effect possible in making such evaluations, absent a clear specific Federal statutory requirement to the contrary, to the policies and procedures which will give the broadest effect to the provisions of this Act; and

    (3) evaluate the laws which they administer and make recommendations to the President on amendments needed to bring such laws into compliance with the provisions of this Act.

(b) By no later than the date that is one year after the date of enactment of this Act, the President shall submit to Congress a report containing recommendations for amendments to Federal laws that are needed to bring such laws into compliance with the provisions of this Act.


SEC. 107. Nothing in this Act shall be construed as precluding the use of Federal funds to teach English to Native Americans.