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JKT: “I’m all of 25, but I’ve never seen anything like it”

In the Senate gallery, an emotional Rep. Charisse Millett holds hands with Liz Medicine Crow while Senators debate the fate of the bill. The legislation, which passed moments later, makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (third from left) joined HB 216 supporters  as senators debated the fate of the bill. The legislation, which passed moments later, makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

This story follows KTOO’s Alaska becomes second state to officially recognize indigenous languages. 

When the Alaska Senate passed House Bill 216 just after 3 a.m. Monday (3-21-14), nobody was more thrilled than its primary sponsor: Sitka Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.

“I’m all of 25 years old, but I have never seen anything like it,” he said.

Kreiss-Tomkins introduced HB 216, which makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages. On Easter Sunday, when it appeared the Senate might shelve the bill, supporters staged a 15-hour sit-in at the Capitol to demand it get a vote.

It was just one of four separate points during this legislative session, he said, when he thought the bill was dead. But each time, it was revived.

“They say not to fall in love with or get married with your legislation,” he said. “But I was hopelessly in love and star-crossed with House Bill 216. And I think if anything it was a good thing, because we never gave up.”

Asked if he had expected the kind of attention the bill has received, Kreiss-Tomkins said yes. The revival of Native languages, he said, is one of the most important issues in Alaska.

“This is recognition of Alaska Native languages as Alaska’s languages,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “These Native languages mean the world, I mean, they are who people are. If you talk with Selena Everson, who’s a Tlingit elder here in Juneau, who speaks Tlingit, she grew up having her mouth washed out with soap for speaking Tlingit at BIA schools. The Tlingit language is, as much as anything else, who she is.”

The bill passed the Senate, 18-2. It now goes to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.

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