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Native Cultures and Languages are at Heart of Proposed Bill

Under a new bill proposed to the state legislature, AB163, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing would offer teaching credentials for native languages and cultures.
Under a new bill proposed to the state legislature, AB163, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing would offer teaching credentials for native languages and cultures. | Photo: Terrell Woods/Flickr/Creative Commons

The destruction of native cultures might be a difficult thing to undo, but Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Carpinteria) wants to try. Under a new bill proposed to the state legislature, AB163, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing would offer teaching credentials for native languages and cultures. California already issues credentials for teachers of native languages; the new law would add culture as a credentialed subject.

Williams said the inspiration for the bill was his wife, who is Navajo. "Her grandmother was among many native people who were sent to Indian boarding schools or beaten if they spoke their language," he said. "There was a real decimation of native cultures because of mechanisms of forced assimilation...We have an opportunity now to recapture the culture."

Williams said schools on Native American reservations have made efforts to teach native language and culture.

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The bill would "encourage" tribes to create written and oral tests to ensure credential applicants are knowledgeable. Aspiring teachers should understand "the tribe's culture and its practices, including, but not limited to, rituals and traditions, social institutions and relationships, holidays and festivals, health practices and traditions, patterns of work and leisure, and culinary traditions and practices," according to the proposed bill.

Williams said the number of teachers seeking these credentials will likely be in the tens or hundreds, not thousands, but that each one who does and teaches a new generation will make a big difference. He believes most demand will be for teachers in schools on reservations but that public schools elsewhere should consider teacher native languages and cultures, too.

"It's a common belief among natives that if you live on another tribe's land you should learn something about their language and culture," he said.

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