For the first time at Enos Garcia Elementary, the Tiwa language of Taos Pueblo is being taught to students in an effort to retain and enforce the culture of Taos Pueblo.
Language is the key to unlocking the doors to culture. Two Taos Pueblo women are determined to give those keys to the students from their homeland.
For the first time at Enos Garcia Elementary, the Tiwa language of Taos Pueblo is being taught to students in an effort to retain and enforce the culture of Taos Pueblo. Students in grades K-5 have the opportunity to learn the language from native speakers and learn to converse with the elders on the pueblo. Through the efforts of Alice Martinez and Antonia Lujan, the Tiwa Language Program could become a permanent installation at Enos Garcia Elementary.
"We grew up in the culture, we grew up in the village seeing what day-to-day life was really like," Martinez said.
According to Martinez, there has been a disconnect with the Tiwa language at Taos Pueblo, and many students grow up not being able to converse fully in their native language. Martinez and Lujan both estimate less than half of the Taos Pueblo K-12 student population is able to speak Tiwa fluently.
Due to this threat to the language, the two sprang into action and were able to obtain a grant from the New Mexico Public Education Department to fund the language program. With 25 students currently learning their basics like colors, numbers and greeting in Tiwa, Martinez and Lujan are excited for the program to grow.
"It helps to enable [the students] to understand there's not just one world now," Lujan said. "They can still have their language, they can still have their culture and they can be empowered by both."
Lujan and Martinez said the biggest challenge to maintaining the language is the constant rise in technology and various elements of life such as academic grades, athletics and countless other responsibilities. Martinez said this program is a way for students from the pueblo to embrace their roots and preserve their history.
Tiwa is primarily an oral language and is not formally written. This does not pose a challenge to Lujan and Martinez who said classes are more conversational and life-lesson based rather than about letters on a chalkboard.
Classes are separated into two groups who meet twice per week for one hour at a time at the elementary school. During the lessons, Lujan said students learn to say greetings as well as the basics at the moment. Basic history lessons are imparted to the students but no ceremonial information is shared during the language classes, as this is private and not allowed outside of ceremony at the pueblo.
Students are greeted in Tiwa as they enter class and lessons begin immediately after students are seated. From simple math to common sayings, Martinez and Lujan are determined to carry on the language to the next generation.
At the moment, only students from Taos Pueblo are allowed to learn the Tiwa language through this program.
"If we don't take [the language] seriously, it will be lost," Lujan said.
Future plans for the program include recording pueblo elders so that the young learners are able to hear true mastery of the Tiwa language, according to Lujan.
The program was presented to the Taos Municipal Schools Board of Education during a Feb. 5 meeting where Taos Pueblo WarChief Bernard Lujan was present to see a small presentation from the class.
"We learned our language from our grandparents," he said during the meeting. "Now, there's hardly any grandparents alive to keep the language. I'm blessed to have my language from a little boy. Some of us are lacking that because of generational chances but we need to keep it alive."
The efforts to keep the language alive are continuing through Taos Pueblo's Red Willow Education Center, where high school and middle school students can stop in after school and learn similar lessons. In the future, Martinez said adult classes are on the agenda, and with more grants and funding she hopes to get those rolling soon.
Students from the Tiwa Language class will hold an open house for members of the public to showcase the work that has been done so far in the semester. The open house will kick off from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Thursday (Feb. 21) at Enos Garcia Elementary.
While Tiwa has been taught in schools before, this is the first time Enos Garcia Elementary has been able to offer a classroom specifically for the instruction.
"History and culture are brought through language and oral history and a lot of that is lost," said Taos School Board Vice President Mark Flores. "If it were not for the people of Taos Pueblo, Taos would not be what it is."
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