San Marcos University Promotes Legal Recognition of Indigenous Languages

Michael Odegaard
April 16, 2023

On April 5, the University of St. Katherine in San Marcos initiated their Forum Lecture Series with a presentation titled “Preserving California Indigenous Languages through Legal Recognition.” It reflects the growing academic interest in Indigenous Languages Revitalization programs growing throughout the United States. The presented to the complete college student body and local community members at the San Marcos Civic Center.

The presentation heralded the current “Juneteenth Moment” for indigenous peoples worldwide. It reviewed the international human rights theory of genocide and the 2007 United Nations International Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It included the Hawaiian language revitalization movement (which has increased the number of speakers of Hawaiian from a few hundred 40 years ago to over 30,000 speakers today), Maui’s vote last November to make their government bilingual, and recent developments that took place locally and in other American states.

Timeline of Significant Events

1819 - Civilization Fund Act funds 408 Indian Residential Schools (until 1969) across 37 states, including 21 in Alaska and seven in Hawaiʻi with the greatest concentration in Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico

1830 - Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears until 1850, indigenous peoples forced onto reservations

1840 - Kamehameha III begins first public education program west of the Mississippi River in the Hawaiian language

1885 - Kamehameha Boarding School uses English-only curriculum (like other Native American boarding schools) to divide English and indigenous language speaking students

1893 - Illegal overthrow of Hawaiian government by white supremacists ends bilingual governance

1896 - Hawaiian language banned as medium of instruction in public education

1898 - English becomes official language of unilaterally annexed Hawaiian Islands, records of torture, expulsions and dismissals of Hawaiian-speaking students and teachers ensue

1919 - Hawaiian language classes restored to public schools

1924 - Native Americans granted US citizenship, Kamehameha Schools curricula includes optional Hawaiian language classes

1944 - Raphael Lemkin defines genocide, monolingual war economy expedites the end of almost every Hawaiian newspaper, Hawaiian language demoted to “foreign language” status

1945 - UN Charter ratified in San Francisco

1948 - UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

1958 - Indian “Adoption” Foster Program initiated until 1970s

1966 - UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees minority linguistic rights

1968 - Canada Official Languages Act guarantees equal status for French language, first minority linguistic rights legislation in North America

1972 - “White Peace” (“Paix Blanche”) by Robert Jaulin defines Ethnocide

1974 - Native American Programs Act begins federal funding for indigenous language preservation

1976 - University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa offers bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian Language

1978 -  Hawaiian Language made Official Language with English in Hawaiʻi Constitution, which also specifies “State shall promote study of Hawaiian language,” BA in Hawaiian at UH Hilo taught in Hawaiian

1980 - Hawaiʻi Dept of Education pays elders to teach Hawaiian culture and language part-time

1984 - Pūnana Leo Hawaiian Medium Preschool began (illegally) in Kekaha, Kauaʻi park followed by 11 other sites statewide over the next 10 years, Inuktut made official language of Northeastern Territories

1986 - Ban on teaching in Hawaiian language lifted, Hawaiian Language Immersion Programs begin in public schools

1987 - US adopts Native American Languages Act, New Zealand adopts Māori Language Act

1989 - UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes right of children to use their minority language

1990 - Native American Languages Act begins to finance preservation of 200 American languages through language immersion schools

1992 - UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious, & Linguistic Minorities

1994 - Native Hawaiian Education Act funds immersion schools

1996 - UN Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights as fundamental human rights

2003 - Mexico: General Law of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights recognizes as “equally valid” 68 indigenous languages, Ireland: Adoption of Official Language Act 

2005 - US House Concurrent Res 195 affirms UN Decl on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples prior to UN adoption

2006 - US Language Access Act 290 establishes numerical standards (lesser of 1,000 or 5% of population) to trigger provision of alternative language services, establishes planning, coordinator

2007 - UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) adopted to establish minimum standards for Indigenous Peoples’ survival

2008 - First Hawaiʻi resolution written bilingually to “enhance” State Constitution

2009 - Accredited online Hawaiian Language instruction begins

2014 - Alaska: 20 Indigenous Languages made Official with English, UN Outcome Document from World Conference of Indigenous Peoples to schedule implementation of UNDRIP

2015 - UN Sustainable Development Goals require indigenous language participation in local definitions of sustainability by 2030

2016 - UN General Assembly proclaims 2019 Intʻl Year of Indigenous Languages, American Evangelicals repudiate Doctrine of Discovery

2018 - Canada Indigenous Languages Act

2019 - UN International Year of Indigenous Languages; South Dakota makes three Sioux dialects official, Hawaiʻi Supreme Court: access to Hawaiian Medium Education guaranteed by State Constitution

2022 - UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL) begins campaign to legalize indigenous languages by 2032, NW Territories (Canada) Official Languages Act recognizes 9 indigenous languages along with English & French; Maui County approves bilingual government to begin July 2024, Northern Ireland: Identity and Language Act

2023 - Vatican repudiates Doctrine of Discovery