Promoting Legislative Advocacy  

what laws currently exist? 

Since the passage of the Native American Languages Act in 1990 or NALA, it has been federal policy to not only allow, but promote the right of Native American students to be educated through the medium of Native American languages. This represented a major reversal of previous practice where the federal government used schooling to eliminate Native American languages. One of the most well known quotations in Indian country regarding such federal practice was the statement in the Report of the Indian Peace Commissioners: 

"Schools should be established, which children should be required to attend; their barbarous dialect should be blotted out and the English language substituted." (Report of the Indian Peace Commissioners, 1868, pp. 16-17)

This represents the height of the period of suppression of Native American languages, with children kept from home for years on end and punished for speaking their languages.  It was only with NALA in 1990 that this policy was fully rejected and replaced with support for the maintenance of Native American languages and their use as languages of education.


what still needs to be done? 

The Native American Languages Act (1990) established federal policy to allow the use of Native American languages as the medium of instruction, and affirms the right of Native American children to express themselves, be educated, and assessed in their languages. However, within the Department of Education, there is an apparent lack of familiarity with NALA, resulting in poor and uneven implementation of its policies. Because of this, Native American schools often face many barriers that other educational institutions do not face. Below are some highlights, or read our testimony to the Education Department here: January 20, 2016 hearing on "Implementing Programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act" and July 26, 2016 comments on "The Every Student Succeeds Act - Accountability and State Plans." Additionally, check out our Advocacy Guide on how the current version of the ESSA violates NALA. 


  • Schools with considerable experience have identified how the Elementary and Secondary Education Act misaligns with the Native American Languages Act of 1990. Lack of alignment has resulted in a mischaracterization of true academic successes of Native American language schools, and creates barriers to founding new ones. NALA supports that Native American students may be assessed in school in their Native languages, though this does not occur in practice.
  • Under No Child Left Behind, only the European language Spanish was accorded full equality with English by the USDE for use as a medium of education in a state-like entity – the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  Native American languages, the official languages of the states of Hawaiʻi and Alaska, the official languages of a Pacific Island Commonwealth, two Pacific Island territories, and the official language of American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages recognized as uniquely sovereign under the US Constitution were denied full use in education by the USDE.
    • Native American language schools are grouped with schools in Puerto Rico in the ESSA (Title III, Sec. 3127). Despite this, Native American language schools are not able to provide standardized assessments in their language, though Puerto Rican schools can assess their students in Spanish.

Ongoing Discrimination

  • A number of members of the Coalition have pointed out that the very discrimination for which the US Department of State has accused countries such as Iran and China against minorities such as Kurds and Tibetans is being carried out by US States and the USDE against Native American students in Native American Schools operating under the federal Native American Languages Act.
  • There are conflicts between Title III (which contains most of the NALA provisions) and Title I. Both Title I and Title III contain provisions related to language instruction and assessment. These conflicts remain in the newly passed ESSA. The Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs is concerned that rules made by the USDE for those states may fail to assure that students enrolled in Native American language schools are protected from discrimination.

Current ADVOCACY and action

We encourage you to advocate for the full implementation of NALA in your own community. read our advocacy guide on how the essa violates nala here.