, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 115-141
Date: 18 Mar 2010

Indigenous language education policy: supporting community-controlled immersion in Canada and the US

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Abstract

The vitality of most Indigenous languages in North America, like minority languages in many parts of the world, is at risk due to the pressures of majority languages and cultures. The transmission of Indigenous languages through school-based programs is a wide-spread approach to maintaining and revitalizing threatened languages in Canada and the US, where a majority of Indigenous children attend public schools. Policy for Indigenous language education (ILE) in public schools is controlled primarily on the regional (province/state/territory) level, and there is a lack of shared knowledge about policy approaches in different regions, as well as a lack of knowledge about effective ILE policy in general. While no ideal policy model is possible due to the diversity of different language and community contexts, there are several factors that have been identified as closely linked to the success of ILE; immersion approaches to education and community control of education. Using these two factors as an analysis framework, this study documents regional policies impacting ILE in Canadian and US public schools, showing that although there are many regions lacking ILE policy, there are a growing number of supportive ILE policies currently in place. The varying levels of support that different policies provide, and a discussion of different ways in which immersion and community control may be supported in ILE policy are illustrated through examples of existing policies. Several recommendations for the development of future ILE policy are offered, including the importance of diverse policy approaches, support for bilingual education in general, and further development of Indigenous language teacher training and Indigenous control of ILE.