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The gymnasium at the Pueblo of San Ildefonso was awash in color as children (grades Kindergaten through sixth grade) danced traditional dances for their parents and community. The dances were part of San Ildefonso Day School’s Cultural Day, when the students share with their elders what they have learned in the Tewa language program throughout the year.
This year’s activities were attended by De Alva Calabaza, general manager of the New Mexico Public Education Department’s Indian Education Division and a member of Santa Domingo Pueblo. Also present were members of the tribal council, Gov. Terry Aguilar and Elaine Martinez, one of the team from AdvancED that recently approved the school’s reaccreditation.
“I am proud to be here to recognize the importance of how we continue to support our students to be culturally and academically sound within our communities,” Calabaza said. “I would also like to continue to encourage you to help us to continue to strengthen our charter language programs as well as our cultural programs, and continue to fight to preserve that as our ancestors have been fighting for the last several years.”
Aguilar thanked the tribal council and the staff and teachers of the school for their efforts.
“You’re the reason the kids are doing what they are doing,” Aguilar said. “Everybody enjoy the day today, and enjoy what we’re doing, which is continuing on that culture and community, because that culture and community is what keeps us and makes us different and makes us unique.”
David Nez, acting principal at San Ildefonso Day School and permanent principal at Santa Clara Day School, said that programs such as the Day School’s Tewa language program are encouraged by the Bureau of Indian Education, which provides some of the funding for the school. The Pueblo provides funding as well.
“The whole focus and intent is to preserve the culture and the language on to the next generation,” Nez said. Tewa is spoken by six of the northern Pueblos and a group of Tewas that migrated to Hopi Pueblo after the Pueblo Revolt in 1680.
“So every year it’s a celebration, where the whole intent is to have the students who attend the day school showcase their native culture, traditions and language,” Nez said.
“So we come together every year to partake in the dancing, recognizing each other’s accomplishments and sharing food together (the celebration includes a traditional feast day meal).
“And we encourage our students to learn their language, to learn the dances, the songs, the prayers, and to carry on the culture. And also to recognize and appreciate their connection with the land, the natural elements, the earth.”
According to Hummingbird Flower Calabaza, who teaches Tewa language classes for K through second grades, the program began five years ago with after school programs and evening classes for adults. Tewa instruction was also part of a traditional farming program for older youths. The Tewa program became part of the Day School curriculum two years ago.
“We emphasize Tewa very strongly when we speak to them, and I speak to them in Tewa every day even if they don’t know some of the words. But I motion them and show them what I’m talking about,” Calabaza said.
The program averages approximately 30 students. Many of the Pueblo’s children attend school in Pojoaque or at the Santa Fe Indian School, both of which offer Tewa language instruction. Others attend school in Los Alamos.
“The kids here are taught the language, the songs, the way of life in the past versus and present, costumes, and family, how it used to be, then versus now, before TVs,” said Calabaza, who uses archival photographs to illustrate pueblo life in past decades and centuries.
“And with the kids nowadays, it’s like, oh, my God, who would want to do that? Everything’s so easy now.”
The Pueblos are utiliing these language programs to preserve their culture. Calabaza noted that most of the remaining Tewa speakers are the elders and Baby Boomers. A whole generation was lost when children were forced into boarding schools and forbidden to speak their language.
Children tell Calabaza that the hardest part is trying to speak Tewa at home when their parents do not understand it.
“I say, ‘Well maybe you should teach them what you’re learning here. Then they can talk to you,’” Calabaza said.
Calabaza hopes San Ildefonso can avoid the fate of many tribes that are attempting to revive language and culture already lost.
“The language is really, really dying so much, and one man said, if you lose your language, that’s it. You will never have what you would do,” Calabaza said. “And I kind of express that to the kids. I say, if you don’t learn you’re language, we may never have any more dances.”
Calabaza herself spoke only Tewa when she attended the Day School herself as a child. She learned English with her other subjects, and went off to college at 17. She was away from the Pueblo for 23 years, working in Washington D.C. and Nashville, Tenn., after graduation.
“But I did not lose my language. I took it with me,” Calabaza said. “I would call my mom, and we would speak nothing but Tewa. And she also told me, don’t ever forget this language, because you are going to need it one of these days.” Calabaza’s mother was the renowned potter, Blue Corn.
Frederick Martinez, Tewa language director for the Village of Santa Clara, also attended the celebration. Martinez spoke about some of the long-term goals of native language programs.
“One of the big catch phrases within Western academia within the field of education is immersion. And many people think that immersion is going to take place within one year, two years. But if you want to see real concrete results, you have to look at 10, 15 years and even longer,” Martinez said.
“A good example of that is the Hawaiians, who’ve been at immersion for well over 30 years. and those children, toddlers, who went into their program, are actually now individuals going through the anniversary of Hawaii and being taught the pedagogy of immersion techniques. They’re becoming the teachers now. So it’s neat to see that process with them, because the cycle is there.
“And I think that’s one of the things for many of us that are concerned with language preservation: we have to be consistent.”
Martinez described some of the larger efforts being made to expand that immersion process, such as a one-day workshop for high school students sponsored by the six Tewa Pueblos and Tewa language courses taught as part of the Pueblo Indian Studies program at Northern New Mexico College.
Martinez noted that Pueblos are debating other, more controversial options, such as utilizing technology to preserve the language.
“It’s highly controversial, because it allows the outside world another glimpse into the inside world for many of our villages,” Martinez said. “And for us as Tewas, our world has been closed off to the outside world ever since the 16th century.”
But Martinez is hopeful about the many efforts already underway.
“It’s right there. The foundations are being set right now,” Martinez said.