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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 5, 2002 - Issue 71


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Regulations Trip up Language Program

by Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star
credits: Yaqui Girl from the Curtis Collection
Yaqui Girl from the Curtis CollectionTUCSON, AZ - Siiki means red. Tosai - white. Tewei - blue.

Juan Esquivias recited the colors in Yoeme, the native language of the Yaqui tribe. He was recalling words taught to him by teaching assistants Narciso Bule-Garcia and Maria Cupis, who are tribal elders.

Juan, a fifth-grader at the Southwest Side Lawrence Intermediate School, and his classmates in Victoria Hawk's class now depend on a computer instead of the American Indian teachers to learn the Yaqui language, culture and customs.

Bule-Garcia and Cupis were the only language specialists at the school working to preserve Yoeme, a dying indigenous language. But the two Yaqui elders no longer teach at Lawrence because a federal law requires them to obtain a high school diploma or equivalent.

The school has 370 students, and 55 percent are Yaqui children.

"Yoeme is part of my culture," Juan said. "An elder knows more than a computer."

The federal law went into effect this fall for teaching assistants at schools with federally funded Title 1 programs. Title 1 provides additional money to schools with large numbers of low-income students.

Bule-Garcia, who has little formal education, begins studying for his GED test in September. He said the Yoeme program could suffer for years until the teaching assistants are certified and back in classrooms.

The new law is designed to place the most qualified teaching assistants with the neediest children, said Bob Wortman, director of school improvement and Title 1 programs for the Tucson Unified School District.

College requirements
Teaching assistants hired after Jan. 8, 2002, must have an associate's degree or two years of college, or pass a proficiency test. Current employees have four years to meet the college requirement.

Like Bule-Garcia and Cupis, four other Yaqui teaching assistants at two other schools with large Yaqui student populations were affected this year.

"It is hard to find Yaqui-language instructors or tutors who are fully bilingual who can come to work at schools with these low wages. The pay starts at $7.23 an hour," Wortman said.

Earning GED or diploma
Twenty-eight teaching assistants were removed from Title 1 schools and temporarily reassigned, Wortman said. He said 80 assistants throughout the district are working on earning a GED or high school diploma.

Bule-Garcia, 52, is fluent in Yoeme. He began teaching Yaqui children their native tongue 11 years ago as a volunteer in a Head Start program on the Yaqui reservation southwest of the city.

He is a native of the Rio Yaqui valley in Sonora, Mexico.

The Yaqui people fled Mexico because of persecution and came to Arizona in the 1870s.

Carina Dominguez said she studied two years under Bule-Garcia, who taught her to read and write in Yoeme. She said no one in her family can speak Yoeme.

"I don't know much about my culture and I want to learn."

Juan said his former teacher also shared funny stories, which he tells his grandmother, Norma Esquivias, a non-Yaqui who is raising Juan and two of his siblings.

"I strongly support that these elders teach our children," she said. "Many of our elders did not have the opportunity to go to school. They had to work. It may be difficult for them to pass requirements now," Esquivias said.

Karen Wynn, director of TUSD's Native American Studies department, said she is asking the Arizona Department of Education's Office of Indian Education to clarify the new federal regulations in relation to another federal law, the Native American Languages Act of 1990.

Preservation of languages
"The federal government, under the act, supports tribes and local agencies to assist in the revitalization and preservation of Native American languages," Wynn said. She said she hopes that under the act, Bule-Garcia and Cupis can return to the classroom.

Wynn said she plans to discuss the issue with Tribal Images, a high school and middle school leadership youth group, and suggests writing a resolution to bring the elders back to the classroom.

The resolution would be presented at the National Congress of American Indians session in November in San Diego.

Tucson, AZ MAP
Maps by Travel

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