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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 7, 2004 - Issue 106


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Native Americans Focus on Preservation of Language

by Walter Rubel/Santa Fe Bureau Chief

Still LifeSANTA FE — Christine Sims of Acoma Pueblo and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish were both honored Tuesday for their work with American Indian children during a Senate committee hearing held as part of Native American Day at the Legislature.

Sims was honored for her work in preserving native languages.

"The Indian nation is not going to survive if we don’t have our language and culture," said Carlotta Penny Bird, assistant secretary for Indian Education, in introducing Sims.

Sims said that of the 300 to 400 native languages once in existence, only about 175 remain, and only about 20 or 30 of those are still being taught to children.

"I hope we have the support of the Legislature, tribal leaders and people in the community to ensure a new generation of speakers of these languages," Sims said. "These languages cannot go on without producing speakers in our communities. We can’t replenish the supply without teaching within our communities. We have to generate new generations of speakers."

Sims said they are still dealing with the legacy of their elders being told they could no longer speak their native languages.

"We’re hoping to reverse that, but it takes a long time," she said.

Denish was honored for her work in heading the new Mexico Children’s Cabinet, which is working to deal with several issues involving children. She said the committee has talked with Native and non-Native residents throughout the state.

"What we found was, for the most part, we share common problems and we share common dreams for our state," she said.

Leaders from the Navajo, Zuni and Mescalero Apache nations each addressed the Legislature.

Frank Dayish, Jr., vice president of the Navajo Nation, said the Navajo were working to stimulate their economy in three areas — agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

"Today we don’t have a lot of manufacturing in our area, but we want to explore those opportunities," he said.

He said that health care was a major concern for the nation, and urged the Legislature not to make cuts in the Medicaid program that have been suggested by Gov. Bill Richardson.

"I’d like to appeal to the Legislature to help us and to not limit the resources in that area," Dayish said.

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