State crisis? Lost languages to join opioids ’emergency’ declaration

Gov. Walker declared a state disaster in February. The disaster is opioids, and his act made anti-overdose drugs widely available. It is the first such declaration in Alaska that didn’t pertain to an actual natural or economic disaster.
Last week, the Tlingit Haida Central Council marched on the Capitol to demand a “linguistic emergency” be declared.
The problem? The Senate majority, not completely sold on the House majority concept of a language emergency, was trying to tame a resolution and instead label Alaska’s dying languages an “urgent” problem.
That was not enough: Tlingits who marched through the halls wanted it to be declared an official state emergency by the governor.
Alaska Native languages are on the wane and most will be gone by the end of the century, if nothing is done to preserve them. Government must act, advocates say, although many conservatives would argue it is not the government’s role to save a certain language from extinction.
Indeed, none of the Alaska Native Corporations conduct their meetings in Tlingit, Yup’ik, or Deg Xinag.

Rep. Daniel Ortiz of Ketchikan, a member of the Democrat-led majority introduced HCR 19 this session to declare the linguistic emergency.

The declaration would set the state up to to budget funds that would be used to preserve the languages, although it’s unclear how such money would be made available, since the bill has a fiscal note of zero.

Likely, the next step would be to introduce a law that requires the dying languages be taught in public schools.

The movement started back in 2014, when Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins got a bill passed that added 20 Native languages as official languages of Alaska. That bill also drew a Native-led sit-in that lasted 15 hours in the Capitol.

Official Alaska languages include Inupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Unanga, Dena’ina, Deg Xinag, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Gwich’in, Tanana, Upper Tanana, Tanacross, Hän, Ahtna, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. It was a start, language advocates said. There will be more to do.

The “more to do” is lined out in the HCR 19 sponsor statement from Rep. Ortiz:

“The state has moved in the right direction by acknowledging and recognizing the 20 Alaska Native languages as official languages of the state; however, recognition is just the first step. The intent of this resolution is to heed the suggestions put forth by the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council (ANLPAC).

“The Council strongly urges that the Governor issue an Administrative Order, recognizing the linguistic emergency that exists, and state that it is the policy of the State of Alaska to actively promote the survival and continued use of all of Alaska’s 20 Native languages.

“In their 2018 Biennial Report to the Governor and Legislature, ANLPAC warned that all 20 Alaska Native languages are in crisis, and most are predicted to become extinct or dormant by the end of the 21st century. The State of Alaska can no longer sustain these rates of language loss unless policy changes are enacted that support people who are learning and speaking Alaska Native languages throughout the state.

“The loss of language represents the loss of a critical piece of our history, culture, and a traditional way of life. I respectfully request the Legislature join me in support of ANLPAC and the languages that represent intergenerational knowledge.”

The bill is now in Senate Rules and is scheduled for a Monday vote on the floor.

[Read: The race to save Aramaic, the language of Jesus]

Earlier this month, a UAF professor called on the governor to also declare a sexual assault emergency in Alaska.
Declaring a state of disaster “could catalyze public assistance measures at the state, local and tribal government levels, and direct the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to establish funding for emergency protective measures,” wrote Alexander Hirsch, who teaches political science and directs Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at UAF.
“The declaration would also allow the governor and his emergency management team to swiftly establish a sexual violence commission that could work closely with the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to expand the exceptional services it currently offers in the form of emergency shelters, safety planning, community advocacy and batterers’ intervention programs. A state of disaster could also provide greater financial assistance for victims seeking legal redress,” he wrote.

Hirsch argued that a rape disaster declaration can have the same effect as the opioid disaster declaration — freeing up more money from the federal government.


Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Services is responding to the opioid disaster by not only getting overdose medication into the hands of drug users, but by issuing an unusual warning, telling Alaskans to watch for hypodermic needles during their spring cleanups.

Your local melting snow berm is part of this declared disaster zone. It likely doesn’t just have empty booze bottles and mounds of dog poop — there are needles to watch for, as this HSS poster warns. In future years, due to the linguistic emergency, we will see posters like this in the 21 different official language of Alaska, but for now, it’s in English and in pictures:


  1. The Left also calls climate change and global warming an emergency. As government over-uses this word I look for a new word to emerge for the very highest priorities. Perhaps government will soon use the word exigency, urgency or crisis. Perhaps we can have government choose qualifiers so that we know that an extreme emergency has consequences more dire than a mere emergency. No doubt each of the 20 Alaska Native languages has a different word for emergency and we could choose from among them for our new word. Somewhere in the cubicle jungle there are people working hard on this nomenclature conundrum, but only for 37.5 hours per week. Had we adopted the Walker state income tax there could be even more people working on this, but for now we will have to divide state employee time between the Vitamin D emergency, the language emergency, the climate change emergency, and the opioid emergency while they listen to National Public Broadcasting (which has no emergency because Walker and the House Majority increased Public Broadcasting funding to $3.7 million).

  2. Good morning everyone, do you want to see Alaska back to where we used to be, I would also as we all know Gov Walker
    is not good for our State and never will be.We need action and we need it now, I have seen him in action at the White-House
    all you will see from him is his Bald-Head its time to be serious lets do whats right for Alaska get our Labor Unions back to work
    make our State proud Again all we need is a leader Alaska we need (Mike Dunleavy for Gov) to make our state great again.
    thank you Larry Zenor Palmer Alaska.

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