Proposed Legislation Empowers Tribes to Take Charge of Language Programs

Lawmakers are once again attempting to establish a trust fund that would provide additional funding and autonomy to New Mexico tribes for the operation of their own educational programs.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo), aims to create the Tribal Education Trust Fund with a budget of $100 million (source). This fund would gradually distribute funds directly to tribes to support the development of sustainable programs.

Randall Vicente, the governor of the Pueblo of Acoma, expressed his belief that the proposed legislation can help preserve the Keres language within his community.

“Due to the COVID pandemic, we experienced the loss of many of our elderly, fluent speakers, and community members who were actively involved in teaching the Acoma Keres language,” he explained.

Vicente stated that the allocated funds could be utilized to financially support community members in their role as Keres language instructors.

“These funds would enable them to teach as elders, uncles, aunts, or mentors in classrooms, guiding the students,” he added.

However, a challenge lies in certifying these individuals as licensed language teachers.

“How can we ensure the qualification of our Keres teachers?” Vicente questioned. “While they possess the ability to speak Keres, their knowledge has been acquired from the college of hard knocks and passed down by our esteemed elders.”

The Pueblo of Acoma operates several schools affiliated with the Bureau of Indian Education, Grants/Cibola County schools, and private institutions, all of which have limited funding.

Vicente emphasized that additional funds would facilitate the recruitment of more teachers and tutors to support students. This is especially important for those residing in rural areas who rely on after-school programs and require transportation services.

Rep. Lente and advocates had scaled back a similar initiative last year but have revived their efforts to secure additional funding in the current legislative session.

The budget proposal from the Legislative Finance Committee includes a $50 million allocation for the fund (source). For the proposed bill to become law, it must successfully pass both chambers of the legislature and be signed by the governor.

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