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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 3, 2003 - Issue 86


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Lessons Bridge Past, Future

by Laura A. Maldonado Visala Times-Delta
credits: photos by Teresa Douglass/Times-Delta

The lesson Nicola Larsen and Margaret Valdez were teaching the 3- to 5-year-olds was the same as any other pre-kindergarten classroom -- colors, numbers and the days of the week.

The words they were using however, were from the Yowlumni language.

"How do you say 'one'? Yeth," Valdez asked and answered as Larsen held brightly colored posters for the youngsters to see. "Two? Pon oi," the lesson continued.

The children were learning the language in the first of what elders at the Tule River Indian Tribe expect will be twice weekly lessons that embrace the students' heritage.

The children then learned names of coins, relatives, animals and the five senses in the language of the Yowlumni tribe, one of the Yokuts peoples. The two women are family members of the last two full-blooded Yowlumni.

"That will be hard to remember," Valdez said of all the new words. But later when she asked, "Where's your sah sah?" students such as 5-year-old Earlene McDarment were quick to point to their eyes.

The instruction Thursday was the culmination of efforts by the Tulare County Office of Education and the tribe above Porterville to open a child-care center on the reservation. The center opened March 20 with a traditional blessing, drumming and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

So while they'll learn fine motor development by learning to write their names and social development by learning to share and take turns, they'll also learn about grinding acorns to make mush, making soap-root brushes, tribal musical instruments and baskets.

Center supervisor Maria Trevino beams with pride as she shows off the modern office building that houses a nurse's office, speech therapist's area and fully equipped stainless steel kitchen.

"This is all state of the art," she said, striding toward the classroom on sidewalks embossed with the same teepee pattern that adorns the tribal council building. Boulder encrusted foothills loom beyond the large sand-filled play areas where swings, a play cottage and other playground equipment await recess time.

At the time, and only then, the playground was quiet, because it was time for what Valdez described as a time to recapture customs.

"To really dig down into your roots, you should really speak your language," Valdez said.

"There's just a handful of people who speak the language, and very few who are fluent," Larsen said. "Our language is probably one of the most important things to us. It's part of who we are. It completes our circle."

The tribe donated the land for the center and TCOE's Child Care secured Head Start expansion money that was matched by the tribe, project director Senaida Garcia said.

It cost nearly $1.37 million to build, of which TCOE contributed $326,432, the tribe $552,504 and Head Start $487,113, county spokes-woman Pamela Kunze said.

While there are 20 students in one classroom, another awaits funding so families with infants and toddlers can take advantage of the facility.

The center was formerly housed in what is now the reservation's Health Center Administration building and then in an adobe building, one of the oldest structures on the reservation.

"It's very important for children to know where they came from and their heritage," Garcia said. "[The center] is there amongst it instead of [children] only reading about it."

Porterville, CA Map (Tule River Indian Reservation is just east of there.)

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