The Alaska Senate voted this morning to make each of Alaska’s native languages, official languages of the state.
Twenty-one indigenous languages, including :Iñupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Alutiiq, Unangax?, Dena'ina, Deg Xinag, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Gwich'in, Tanana, Upper Tanana, Tanacross, Hän, Ahtna, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian have been granted official status, according to the bill.
However according to senate representatives, passage of the bill will not require public translations of signs and formal documents, and will create no further costs for the state. For the people of Alaska the bill is largely symbolic, in a bid to acknowledge all languages as equal.
The bill passed unanimously, but was not scheduled for a vote during the final day of legislative assessments, despite its introduction by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins last Wednesday. Anxious supporters of the bill gathered outside the office of Sen. Lesil McGuire for up to fifteen hours, holding a vigil to emphasize the importance of indigenous languages until the session concluded.
Officially titled ‘House Bill 216’, the bill will see all native languages of Alaska added to a 1998 statue that made English the official language of Alaska.
Lance Twitchell, Professor of Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast expressed: “Our language is everything. It’s the air we breathe. It’s the blood that flows through our veins” – he added “It [the bill] marks the end of an era, when native languages were suppressed or ignored, and now these become an equal or vital part of Alaska”.
The bill is currently awaiting the signature of Gov. Sean Parnell and will make Alaska the second state after Hawaii to officially recognize indigenous languages.