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UAS faculty and students involved in Alaska Native Studies Legislation.

A bill that would symbolically make 20 Alaska Native languages official in the state of Alaska is heading to the House floor for a vote. Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages Xh'unei - Lance A. Twitchell and his students played a key role in bringing attention to the legislation and getting it through the committee process.

Before a House State Affairs meeting packed with elders, students and language advocates, many of them wearing regalia, the House State Affairs Committee unanimously passed House Bill 216 from Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka,  less than a week after some Republicans on the panel raised concerns about the bill’s potential ramifications. A new version of the bill adopted at the hearing makes clear that the official designation for Alaska Native languages is only symbolic. But Twitchell, who heads up the UAS Alaska Native studies and languages progam, said the bill means more than that to supporters.

“These languages root people, whether they are Alaska Native or not, to a place. This is what unity feels like. This bill is restorative justice, a step in the right direction,” Twitchell said. “History will not remember you for specialized license plates and parking ticket processes, history will remember you for this moment right here. What you say and do when we ask you to help us live, to find a brighter future for our languages, cultures and people.”

HB 216 must still be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. The bill has not been considered by the state Senate.

Elder Selina Everson and Xh'unei Lance A. Twitchell

Elder Selina Everson and Xh'unei Lance A. Twitchell testify before the House State Affairs Committee, 4-1-14. Photo by Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Advocates and supporters of House Bill 216

Advocates and supporters of House Bill 216, including Xh'unei Lance A. Twitchell, Lyle and Kolene James, celebrate outside the committee room after the unanimous vote. Photo by Sealaska Heritage Institute.


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