Children prepare to practice the Buffalo Dance
The Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC
) is a nonprofit educational organization that supports children and families of the Pueblo de Cochiti reservation in New Mexico in maintaining, strengthening and revitalizing their heritage language of Keres. KCLC provides a culturally and linguistically rich learning environment for children ages three to six. The center uses the Cochiti Keres language for daily instruction across all areas of learning.
One of the parents' language sessions
In 2012, First Nations Development Institute awarded $14,875 to KCLC to launch a two-year language program for parents. KCLC strongly believes that parents and families play a critical role in Keres language acquisition and retention. This new program is intended to help support language acquisition at home as well as school through genuine interaction.
Mililani with her mother and grandfather
Over the past 40 years, the Keres language has diminished significantly among the citizens of Cochiti Pueblo. According to one parent, she enrolled in the parent program because she stopped speaking Keres at age seven when she began speaking English. This weekly program has helped strengthen and improve her speaking skills so that she and her seven-year-old can now speak the Keres language on a daily basis.
Essentially, parents learn the same weekly language lessons that their children learn at school. They also learn practical language skills needed for daily routines such as playing, dressing, making tortillas, etc. The goal of this program is to encourage parents and children to use the Keres language in a natural setting.
Alice and Owa, wearing his buffalo hood
Parents and children also learn language skills and proper etiquette that will allow them to participate in traditional Cochiti celebrations and ceremonies such as Cochiti Feast Day and All Souls Day. Parents and children practice these skills in an informal setting with KCLC teachers and mentors before attending actual events.
For example, parents and children recently prepared for the buffalo dance. They learned songs, prayers and dances in class before participating in the actual dance where boys dress as buffalos and girls dress as maidens. These activities are intended to instill a sense of pride and self-knowledge that can be passed from generation to generation.
This grant has also been used to make CD recordings of traditional stories such as “Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun,” so that families can listen and practice these stories at home. Additionally, these funds have been used to host picnics, hikes and other field trips. Most recently, parents and children have started to plant a community garden to learn words associated with food and agriculture.
Many Native American languages are rapidly becoming extinct. This innovative project demonstrates that both parent and youth language-immersion programs have the potential to reverse this trend by revitalizing these languages and increasing cultural pride.
By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator