Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 10, 2001 - Issue 29



Spain, Zuni See Common Links


by S.J. Ludescher staff writer The Gallup Independent


 art Zuni Maiden by Mary Wyant

ZUNI A belief that "Language is the heart of life" brought Gonzalo Gomez-Dacal, councilor of education and science for the Embassy of Spain, halfway around the world to visit the Pueblo of Zuni.

Dacal and a contingent of education experts from around New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Spain flew in to Zuni in Gov. Gary Johnson's plane late Thursday afternoon for the three-hour visit.

Dacal visited the Old Mission Church for a quick welcome and blessing then headed to observe classes in progress at St. Anthony Indian School and A'Shiwi Elementary School.

The purpose of the visit was to view firsthand the newly-expanded pilot program for language immersion.

At St. Anthony's, Dacal watched some of the top students answer history, geography and cultural questions about Spain then were treated to a brief geography lesson about Spain by Dacal.

He pointed to the central part on a map of Spain drawn on the chalkboard and told the students how much it looked like New Mexico.

"Because it is close to Portugal," he said, "we speak a dialect of Spanish that is very close to Portuguese."

At A'Shiwi, kindergarten and first-grade students participated in their class activities entirely in the Zuni language.

Teacher Odell Jaramillo explained that she stresses the use of rhymes and songs to teach the Zuni vocabulary. Students performed the songs for the visitors, appropriate for January the month of snow. "It's snowing from the East and the West, snowing all over," the children sang.

"Because it's New Year's, we have a blessing for you," they said in Zuni to the delegates.

Dacal explained part of the historic connection between Zuni and Spain. "We each share a history and an interest in working with you in the future," he told the crowd of parents, administrators, students and teachers. "We have strong ties with New Mexico and the pueblos with language. We want to work to help reconstruct languages, English, Spanish and Zuni."

Spain and Zuni still have compacts that are honored and considered part of the culture.

Hundreds of years of history with the Zuni, Dacal said, had led to the use of the same five vowels, as well as a large number of common family names.

Zuni Tribal Council member Dan Simplicio held up his tribal staff, a traditional symbol of leadership. The staff, he said, was provided by King Ferdinand of Spain many years ago and is handed down from leader to leader.

Tribal Council member Eldred Bowekaty told Dacal they are grateful that "the government of Spain still believes in our sovereignty."

Language deficiencies for Zuni children in kindergarten through third grade had become so critical, school officials said, they decided to institute the volunteer language immersion program to help children succeed in school.

Zuni School Superintendent David Cockerham said, "Research shows that kids do better learning another language if they become firmly grounded in their mother tongue.

"By the time the student reaches third grade, our in-house research indicates that the student will not only be reading and writing at a higher level in Zuni but also in English. If they can do this, they can do anything."

Teachers began by teaching Zuni in the oral tradition, moving into writing and reading with older children as they become more comfortable with the language. The experiment has been so successful with the kindergarten and first graders, plans are under way to include second graders, as well.

"One of our goals is to have all children bilingual by the time they graduate from our school system," Cockerham said.

The Zuni district now has 11 certified bilingual teachers, half of them certified in Zuni. The other half are TESL certified teachers, specialists in instructing students who speak languages other than English.

Although the date has not been disclosed, the king and queen of Spain are expected to visit the pueblo soon.

Pueblo of Zuni


The People of the Pueblo of Zuni




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