Public Media for Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

State House Urges Governor Walker To Declare Emergency For Alaska Native Languages

In a vote of 34 “yeas” and four “nays,” House Concurrent Resolution 19 passed on the House floor on Monday, March 19, 2018.
Courtesy of the Alaska State Legislature


The Alaska House has passed a resolution calling on Governor Walker to declare what it calls a "linguistic emergency" for Alaska Native languages.


In a vote of 34 “yeas” and four “nays,” House Concurrent Resolution 19 passed on the House floor on Monday. The four "nay" votes came from Tammie Wilson of North Pole, Mark Neuman of Wasilla, David Eastman of Wasilla, and Cathy Tilton of Wasilla – none of whom chose to speak prior to the Monday floor vote.


“A lot of state resources have been spent to diminish Alaska Native languages and we have a responsibility to be part of bringing it back,” said District 38 Representative Tiffany Zulkosky, speaking yesterday from the House floor before the vote.


Zulkosky is a co-sponsor of HCR 19.


Though Representative Dan Saddler also spoke in favor, he still had some reservations about how much of this responsibility rested with the Legislature.


“This Resolution calls on us to ask the Governor to do what he already has the authority to do,” Saddler said, “that being to issue an administrative order.”


But Saddler ended up supporting the resolution, and in fact urged that it be dealt with quickly.


“As a gesture of good spirit and willingness to address this issue, I am certainly willing to support a Resolution asking him to do so and wonder why he hasn’t done so already,” said Saddler.


HCR 19 passed the House Community and Regional Affairs committee a little more than a week ago, on March 9, with Saddler proposing a number of amendments. One of those amendments stressed the need for quick action, tying the importance of language to Alaska Native cultural survival as a whole.


Saddler pressed for language to "encourage Alaska Native families to use, and practice, and pass on that Alaska Native language on to their children.”


Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins called that unnecessary, saying that government has already shown ways it can play a role in the revitalization of language with examples set by programs such as Bethel's Ayaprun Elitnaurvik immersion school.


“Anchorage school district is starting a Yup’ik language immersion program in its world languages department; that is a profoundly positive thing. Kotzebue has a immersion language preschool; that is a profoundly positive thing in that comes with public dollars, so there is a role for us,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.


HCR 19 was sponsored by Representative Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan. According to his staff, Senator Donny Olson will now sponsor the resolution for a vote in the state Senate.