Contact: Christine Sims, 277-1753
Media Contact: Laurie Mellas Ramirez, 277-5915


July 23, 2003

UNM Native American Studies department could gain training center

Christine P. Sims, faculty lecturer in the University of New Mexico College of Education Department of Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies and UNM Department of Linguistics, recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. about the need for a training program focused on Native American language revitalization in the Southwest.

Sims, chair of the non-profit Linguistic Institute for Native Americans (LINA), testified on behalf of Acoma Pueblo in support of proposed amendments to the Native American Languages Act of 1990 and 1992.

Originally, the proposed amendments included three sites in Alaska, Hawaii, and Montana that would provide training in conducting language immersion programs. Sims included in her testimony the importance of establishing a fourth site in the Southwest where a significant number of tribes and native languages exist.

The bill, introduced in July, would create a training center in UNM's Native American Studies Department to work with LINA and other university departments.

"For indigenous people across this nation, the significance of issues related to language survival are inextricably entwined with cultural survival," Sims testified. "For some tribes, language loss has occurred to the degree that few or no speakers now exist."

Establishing a training center at UNM would build on current language revitalization efforts begun in several New Mexico tribes and those in neighboring states. Among other initiatives, the UNM center would develop training programs for fluent speakers to prepare them to teach in their communities, develop instructional language materials to serve the needs of oral based language traditions and facilitate an understanding between tribes and government agencies about language survival issues through regional seminars and language policy research.

Bill S. 1377 recently introduced by New Mexico's congressional delegation in support of a language demonstration program at UNM is the first in a series of steps that need to take place before the proposed program becomes a reality, Sims said.

"In the coming months, Senate Bill 575 will be scheduled for mark-up and at that time hopefully the New Mexico proposal contained in S.1377 will be added on to the bill and presented for support among members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. From there the entire bill will need to be approved by the full U.S. Senate. A similar process will have to take place in the House," she said.


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