Reprinted by permission from the November 29, 2000 issue of the Navajo-Hopi Observer. Return to Teaching Indigenous Languages Home Page

Keeping cultures, and communities, strong on Hopi
By Janel States James
The Observer

The Village of Mishongnovi knows that cultural preservation is inextricably tied with language, with youth and with economic development. In a groundbreaking effort, the village has initiated a program to teach tradition, teach language and provide economic development in one fell swoop.

This past June, the village initiated a summer artisan program which hired local artists from the village to work with children from 5-19 years old, teaching them traditional crafts, pottery, beadwork, weaving, painting and drawing, armband sewing and piki making.

While the program hopes to provide mentorship and guidance for the youth, giving the attention they need to thrive, it also "employs and financially supports local artists, provides youth with positive role models, passes on the traditional arts and skills, and passes on Hopi language," said Debra Moon, president of the Hopi Pu'tavi Project, Inc., at Second Mesa.

With such weighty requirements, the Pu¹tavi program invited an outside observer, Brian Beleinberg, to see if the program was meeting its goals. Beleinberg, a former teacher at Hopi High School, was working on his PhD in the transmission of Native languages, so he was the perfect choice, said Moon. Beleinberg found that the program was indeed meeting all of its goals, except for the transmission of Hopi language.

"We found that the artisans didn't know how to teach Hopi language in that context. There was a general misunderstanding of how young people pick up language, and the artisans would quickly switch into English," said Moon.

The program decided to find a way to teach the artisans--and community members--techniques to pass on spoken language. They hooked up with Chris Sims, a member of the Acoma Pueblo and a faculty member at the University of New Mexico, who works with the Acoma Language Retention Program. A group of four supervisors from the Hopi Pu'tavi program went to New Mexico for training in language techniques.

And that was just the first step. In early November, the Pu'tavi project began a series of six workshops, funded by a $3,000 grant from the Arizona Humanities Council. The first three workshops were open to staff and other artisans. As part of the workshops, five members of the Acoma Language Retention Project came to Hopi to share their experiences.

"They are in the fourth year of operating a language immersion program," said Moon, "which has brought hope to their community, as they see children beginning to use the Acoma language again."

According to Sims, language instruction is a community effort; it cannot be left to the formal teachers alone. Hopi must be spoken in the homes, kivas, plazas and all other public places. Children must have a reason to speak it and everyone must be involved.

Since community outreach was essential to the success of the program, the next two workshops were open to the entire community the staff passed on what they learned in the first three workshops to the public, teaching village members how to teach language in their own homes and at community events.

Much of the technique is based in immersion--no translations into English are allowed. The speaker must communicate meaning through gestures or facial expressions, props or actions.

"During a sample lesson," said Moon, "the Hopi Pu'tavi staff successfully learned how to say colors in Acoma. The lesson finished with the Hopi requesting a specific color of candy, using the Acoma they had just learned through immersion methods." It was a humorous, and good-natured, process, said Moon.

"All of this demonstrated how speakers can teach non-speakers, and I realized what a beautiful thing this is, because non-speakers are peripheral in the culture. Now, the in-crowd can reach out and pull the culture together in a very harmonious and unifying effort. We can train all speakers to train non-speakers, and we can train non-speakers to say, 'How do you say that in Hopi,' or 'Speak to me in Hopi.'"

Moon hopes that these workshops will help people break through the barriers that may prevent them from trying to speak Hopi more often.

"Sometimes people lapse into English because they are not sure they can make themselves clear in Hopi, or if they can't find a word in Hopi for what they want to say.

"But the point is that even if someone is not a good Hopi speaker, there are still things that they can pass on, you do not need to be fluent to be able to pass on what you know."

The Hopi Pu'tavi project will hold its final workshop on December 13 to complete the grant from the Arizona Humanities Council, and the Pu'tavi Project will hold another artisans youth program during the winter break, which will utilize the new language training. Now, said Moon, they hope to meet all of their goals.

Moon said she also hopes that language training will continue at Mishongnovi, bringing in more and more community members. "We need continued language training, and continued development of props and materials," props the entire community can use to teach language.

The Village of Mishongnovi does have an ongoing language class, taught by Eula Koyawena, which has been steadily increasing in size. Nearly half of those who attend, she says, are young mothers, interested in passing the language along to their children--and this is a good sign. Koyawenaís husband, Walter, aids with the language classes and also works as an artisan.

As the artisan program gets stronger, said Moon, they hope to travel to other communities--to Supai, Yaqui or Tohono O'odham--to work with other artisans, as ambassadors of cultural preservation, language retention and economic development.

The artisan program, part of the Pu'tavi project, is funded by OxFam, a charitable organization which helps people with real economic development to give individuals and family members a lasting economic base for long-lasting quality of life. So far, OxFam has awarded the artisan program $26,000, one-third of which must be used for training.

The Pu'tavi Project is in the process of forming an advisory board, and interested parties should contact Debra Moon at (520) 737-2289.

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