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Dr. Karen Lillie
Dr. Karen Lillie

Dr. Karen Lillie

  • October 6, 2023
  • Roger Coda

Approval of New York state’s first-ever New Indigenous Culture and Language Studies (All Grades) Certificate coincided with publication an article, written by College of Education, Health Sciences, and Human Services Associate Professor Karen E. Lillie, that was critical of denying native language teachers a pathway to a valid certificate.

“Returning Control to the People: The Native American Language Act, Reclamation, and Native Language Teacher Certification” was published in the June issue of the Buffalo Law Review at the State University at Buffalo School of Law.

In the article, Dr. Lillie contends that not allowing a path leading to a valid certification directly restricts the teaching of native languages in public schools, thereby violating the Native American Languages Act that Congress passed in 1990.

That act articulates that the United States must preserve, protect and promote native languages and cultures in recognition of the right and freedoms native people should have afforded to them in using, practicing and developing their language.

Publication of Lillie’s article occurred at the same time the New York State Education Department was accepting public comments after a native language teaching certificate had been proposed. Lillie and College of Education, Health Sciences, and Human Services Professor Kate Mahoney were both part of a 10-year initiative in Southwestern New York between SUNY Fredonia and the Seneca Nation Onöndowa'ga:' to impact New York state regulation in the area of indigenous language teaching.

Leading that initiative was an alliance, known informally as the SNI/SUNY Fredonia group, that College of Education Founding Dean Christine Givner brought together in 2012 to find a pathway leading to certification to teach the Seneca language.

“One way of ensuring language survival is, obviously, to increase the number of speakers. Language instruction as a means of that goal should be provided in any school setting – meaning both public preK-12 institutions and those on tribal lands – yet many states do not include native languages as even an option for students in schools,” Lillie wrote in the introduction of her article.

The New York State Education Department Regents voted in July to approve the New Indigenous Culture and Language Studies (All Grades) Certificate.

The journal article can be viewed at this link: