Legislature(2021 - 2022)ADAMS 519
04/21/2021 01:30 PM FINANCE
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HOUSE BILL NO. 47 "An Act renaming the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council as the Council for Alaska Native Languages; and relating to the Council for Alaska Native Languages." 2:15:33 PM REPRESENTATIVE ANDI STORY, SPONSOR, read from a prepared statement: Thank you, Chair Merrick, and members of the House Finance Committee. For the record I am Rep. Andi Story, representing district 34, which is on A'akw Kwaan land and the Indigenous language of this region is Tlingit. House Bill 47 developed as the Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council, wants to do two things: 1. Shorten the Council name 2. Expand its' membership. The Council provides recommendations and advice to both the Governor and Legislature on programs, policies, and projects, and to network and advocate in support of the Council's mission. The mission is to advocate for the survival and revitalization of Alaska Native languages through collaboration and sharing for all. The Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council was created by the second session of the 27th Legislature. The Governor appointed five voting members who are professional language experts and who represent diverse regions of the state. Additionally, there are two nonvoting members. One member of the Senate, appointed by the Senate President and one member of the House, appointed by the speaker. I have been fortunate to serve as the non-voting member from the House, and this is how this information was brought to me. The two seemingly small changes proposed in HB 47 have significant meaning to the council. The first item in the name change simplifies the name from The Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council to Council for Alaska Native Languages. This reflects the goal of sustaining and reinvigorating Alaska Native language, - a concept that goes beyond preservation. The second change requested is to add two new members, going from 5 to 7 voting members. Alaska has about 20 distinct languages, and to be able to be inclusive of more languages the council feels two more members would capture a greater perspective. I appreciate your consideration of House Bill 47. It supports the requests of the council. Chair Merrick, depending on the wishes of the committee, my staff, Mary Aparezuk, is available to walk through the sectional analysis. HB 47 has a $10,000 fiscal note. Sandra Moeller from the Department of Community, Commerce and Economic Development is on-line with an explanation. _ Importantly there is an invited testifier, X 'unei (khoo - nay) Twitchell, online who is a voting member of the council and a long-time indigenous language advocate. We are all happy to take any questions. Co-Chair Merrick directed Rep. Storys staff to review the sectional analysis. 2:19:27 PM MARY APAREZUK, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE ANDI STORY, (via teleconference), appreciated the members taking the time to hear the bill. She read the sectional analysis: Section 1: Amends AS 44.33.520(a) simplifies the name of the Council from "Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council" to "Council for Alaska Native Languages." Section 2: Amends AS 44.33.520(c) by changing voting members from "five" to "seven." Co-Chair Merrick moved to invited testimony. 2:20:48 PM XH'UNEI, LANCE A. TWITCHELL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, ALASKA NATIVE LANGUAGES, UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA SOUTHEAST (via teleconference) spoke in favor of HB 47. He read a prepared statement: Thank you, honorable Representatives. Gunalch?esh Representative Story and her office for introducing this House Bill 47. My name is Xunei Lance Twitchell, and I represent myself here today, speaking in favor of this bill. It is an honor to visit with you here today, and to talk about the sacred and irreplaceable languages of Alaska. My work is teaching the Linig?t language at the University of Alaska Southeast and advocating for the health and safety of 22 additional Alaska Native languages as a scholar of language revitalization. I am also the vice chair of the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council. However, I do not speak for those organizations today. I wish I could tell you that there was great news regarding Alaska Native languages. I wish I could say that since the last time I testified to this great body of elected leaders to declare a state of emergency for our languagesthat sufficient work had been done and changes were made that led to hope. That is simply not the case. As leaders, let me tell you what is going to happen on your watch, and what history books will remember you for: half of the surviving Alaska Native languages are going to die out. The silence will be horrifying, and to be honest, many of your colleagues will never even notice, unless they happen to read about it. There is so much work to do, and so much loss on a daily basis, and that work falls upon six people from the perspective of the State of Alaska: the five council members and the single employee of the Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council. When this Council was formed in 2012, many of us doing this work felt a charge of energy. We felt seen and heard. But then politics began to be played. The staff positions for the council were cut from two to one. The reports produced every two years often fell on ears that refused to listen and eyes that refused to read. If Alaska Native languages were important to this state, then this congress would have heard the calls for change and taken more courageous action since that time. We had at least 23 languages that were spoken in this state before contact, and 21 of them are still spoken today. But by my estimations, over half of them may have fewer than 10 speakers remaining, and we are only talking about incremental change, are only toeing a line that keeps us in a death spiral. And let me tell you this: if this was your future on the line. If this was a total break between your present existence and all of your ancestors, and if you stood to lose the chance to pass along your identity to your descendants, I would do all that I could to help you. This is the way of the human being. I ask you this: can you, not as a single Representative, not as a committee, not as a House of Representatives, but as the Legislature of this state, could you collectively say the same? This is a small change that the Council has been asking for since our last report came out two years ago. We are not in the business of preservation. We need substantial and lasting change that leads to revitalization. What leaders are we if we allow entire ways of knowing to be eradicated by systemic and deliberate genocide? What kind of humans are we if we stand upon a foundation of racism and allow systems of communication that are tens of thousands of years old to be lost? Can we, with steadfast determination and unity, dream of a future other than death? Can we find the courage to create a different destiny and be real about the levels of inaction and total lack of compassion? To all of this, I would say: yes. This is a small change, and as a scholar and advocate of language revitalization I have many ideas for larger changes, but I implore you to grow this council and find a way to elevate the voices that are burdened with these loses. Give it a stronger and more relevant name regarding the work that we do, and the terminology currently used in this field. We are doing all we can to stop the tide with our bare hands, from which this government has removed the tools and the populace. Have courage, my leaders. A brighter future calls you if you choose to listen. A new day is waiting if you choose to see. In our language, we say, gunalch?esh, thank you. 2:26:06 PM Representative Josephson thanked Dr. Twitchell for his statement. He asked what kind of resources would be needed beyond the scope of the bill for language preservation. Mr. Twitchell thought that currently it would require a rearrangement of existing resources. He did not anticipate a substantial cost to create a college of Alaska Native languages because there were already teachers in place. However, there was no specified degree program or clear direction to create teachers. He suggested that the Alaska Native Language Center receive enough support to produce high quality publications and enable language documentation. He suggested the creation of an Alaska Native Media network, which would need initial startup funding but could work through Alaska Public Radio. The network would establish a central office that produced audio and video content for broadcasting throughout the state. He noted that a similar path was very effective in Hawaii and New Zealand to promote Hawaiian and Maori languages. Co-Chair Merrick relayed that Sandra Moller would speak to the published Fiscal Note 1 from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development [FN 1 CED] appropriated to the Division of Community and Regional Affairs(DCRA). 2:28:47 PM SANDRA MOLLER, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF COMMUNITY AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (via teleconference), reported that the language program existed within the division. She related that there was not a separate budget for the council. The division would require an additional $10 thousand in travel per year for the two additional members to travel to two meetings per year at a cost of $2.5 thousand per trip. 2:29:32 PM Representative Edgmon thought that only 1 staff member travelled. Ms. Moller replied that two board members travelled. 2:30:11 PM Representative Story clarified that the fiscal note was for the two additional voting council members to travel. Representative Edgmon had heard that the council members had not travelled since 2018. Representative Story answered in the affirmative. She conveyed that in 2015 the council switched from two trips each year to one trip and had not travelled since 2018. She added that she was honored to serve as a non-voting member of the council. She indicated that there was a report which she included in the members packets titled The Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council's 2020 Biennial Report to the Governor and Legislature (copy on file). She directed attention to page 18 that contained findings and recommendations of the council and encouraged members to read the recommendations. Co-Chair Merrick set HB 47 aside. HB 47 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further consideration. 2:31:46 PM AT EASE 2:32:58 PM RECONVENED Co-Chair Merrick indicated the next bill was HB 127.