CITY It is not an encouraging number: Of those Hopi between
the ages of 20 and 39, only 50 percent speak their native language
fluently. That was the finding of a survey the Hopi tribe commissioned
in 1998, and by its own estimates, that number has only fallen since.
with the governing board of the Tuba City Unified School District's
decision Wednesday to adopt the tribe's Hopilavayi, or Hopi Language,
program, the Hopi nation has taken one more step toward saving its
language from the extinction fate would condemn it to.
by the worrisome results of the language survey, the Hopi tribal
council that same year directed its cultural preservation office,
department of education and board of education to oversee the new
Hopilavayi program. Under Coordinator Dawa Taylor's direction, it
has since designed a Hopi language curriculum being implemented
at three of the eight schools across the Hopi reservation. And at
Moenkopi Day School, southeast of Tuba City, teachers instruct their
K-6 students in a combination of English and Hopi across subject
as with most borders, those circumscribing the Hopi nation don't
so neatly divide Hopi from non-Hopi as the map might suggest. And
the fact that hundreds, possibly thousands, of Hopi among a nation
numbering somewhere under 12,000 live outside of the reservation
makes extending the Hopilavayi program beyond the tribe's official
borders critical for its success.
of our guiding principles is to provide the language program to
all Hopi, no matter where they are," said Taylor. He estimated
the Hopi population of Tuba City High School, just miles outside
the borders of the western pocket of the Hopi reservation that surrounds
the village of Moenkopi, at over 30 percent. And depending on how
things go in Tuba City, Taylor said, the tribe has its eyes on extending
the program eastward onto the Navajo nation to the Cedar Public
School District, which also serves a large Hopi population.
district wanted the class, the administration saw a need for the
class, the students definitely saw a need for the class," Taylor
said of the program's enthusiastic reception in Tuba City. In fact,
said Taylor, a petition circulated by Tuba City High School students
in November attracted both Hopi and non-Hopi signatures. "That
was really heartfelt ... to see that not only Hopi students were
wanting this, but other students as well."
Tuba City board's decision to adopt the Hopilavayi curriculum at
the district's high school and junior high school Wednesday will
mean a teacher and assistant at each school at the district's expense,
said Taylor. The only obstacle, he said, was that the district had
not yet identified funds with which to pay for them. With luck,
that should happen by the start of the spring semester.
the district won't be able to use any of the $400,000 the Hopi tribal
council approved in August as its second distribution from the Arizona
Intertribal Trust Fund. The tribe, according to Taylor, has earmarked
the money for the Hopilavayi program to spend over the next four
years on community programs, teacher training, more studies and
said the tribe is also working on developing proficiency standards
the Hopi Department of Education will use to certify Hopi language
teachers in order to guarantee minimum standards; he expected them
to be ready early next year.
that time is on their side. According to a 1993 study Taylor cited,
of the more than 300 indigenous languages of North America, 175
exist today, and the vast majority of those only tentatively. The
study also predicted that only 20 of those languages would remain
by 2060 if the current trend continued.
most language on the edge, Taylor added, usually die within three
in a really critical stage right now," he said. "I'm pretty
sure we're in the second generation of that. We don't want to get
to the last generation, so we're working really hard to reverse
it's more than just the language that's at stake, he insisted. "Without
the language, many of the religious and cultural aspects will also
cease once it is lost."
for all the tribe is doing to save its language, Taylor knows it
will take more than offering high schoolers Hopi as an elective
ironically foreign language class. The goal, he knows, is to get
those students, and all Hopi, to incorporate the language into their
want to encourage the speaking of Hopi in everyday lives, in the
homes," Taylor said, "and I believe we're moving towards