First and Hopi language specialists to develop new program aimed
at connecting young Hopi children to native language in critical
was the first word your baby spoke? Was it mama, papa or was it
yuuyu or taata?
In many Hopi communities, Hopi is not the first language spoken
by children because it is not spoken in the home.
According to Cynthia Pardo, parent awareness and community outreach
coordinator with First Things First, studies show that as English
becomes the primary language, the Hopi language, the tribe's oral
history, cultural identity and strong early literacy skills are
First Things First (FTF) Coconino Regional Council in partnership
with the Hopi Tribe and the villages sponsored the Hopi Lavayi Early
Childhood Assessment Project, which aimed to increase the understanding
of early language concerns that village members have about Hopi
children birth to five-years-old. This assessment included suggestions
for revitalizing Hopi language with sustainable and realistic approaches.
Pardo said one of those suggestions is to develop and implement
a pilot language revitalization project, the Hopi Lavayi Nest Model
Program, for families with children birth through five-years-old
in one of the villages. Hopi language specialists and First Things
First will partner to develop the project.
"Research shows that literacy skills learned in a child's first
language are later transferred into the dominant language, and children
who speak more than one language perform better in school," Pardo
said. "The foundation of early learning begins in early childhood.
Rich early language experiences do more than teach words, they instill
an excitement for learning. Children without early positive language
experiences have more to learn when they get to school - and fewer
skills to enable that learning. In addition, language acquisition
with fluency is more likely if language introduction begins at an
FTF supports native language preservation efforts across the
state of Arizona. Along with the Coconino Region, three FTF regions
support native language revitalization programs including those
in the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Gila River Indian Community and San
Carlos Apache Tribe. In 2012, First Things First hosted a statewide
symposium to highlight the importance of native language development
for kids birth to five-years-old.
Beverly Russell, FTF senior director for tribal affairs, told
symposium participants that of the 175 Native American languages
spoken in the U.S. today, only about 20 are passed down to children
as first languages. The rest face extinction.
"Language is strongly intertwined with culture and identity,"
Russell said. "(Language) is a major force in the shaping of a person's
self-awareness, identity, and interpersonal relationships, and,
consequently, success in life."
The Hopi Lavayi Nest Model Program aims to connect children
in Hopi communities to their native language and culture in the
critical early years. According to the region's assessment findings,
almost all respondents said that Hopi language loss is real but
there is still hope because there are still plenty of speakers.
It is essential that Hopi be spoken to young children everywhere,
starting in the home.
In May, the Hopi Tribal Council approved the Hopi Lavayi Assessment
and supported the recommendation to set up an advisory committee
to develop the Hopi Lavayi Nest Model pilot project in the Village
Why Hopi Lavayi matters
Dr. Noreen Sakiestewa, director of the Department
of Education for the Hopi Tribe and a member of the FTF Coconino
Regional Council said all children need to be grounded in their
"Hopi language is so metaphorical, it actually causes the child
to think at a higher level of thinking," she said. "So it allows
them to become literate. That is our goal-to have them become literate
early in life. Teaching Hopi is most effective when learners start
at a young age."
Dr. LaVerne Jeanne, project director for the Hopi Lavayi Early
Childhood Assessment and a retired linguistics professor from University
of Nevada and Hopi native from Hotevilla said the key to reviving
the language is to bring Hopi back into the home, where a child
is first introduced to language.
"If Hopi children are taught to speak and read in Hopi, those
literacy skills learned at home will later transfer into English,"
Jeanne said. "We want our children to be successful in the dominant
language, and many of us were discouraged from speaking Hopi. From
the study, respondents said that if we want the language to survive,
we will all have to start speaking Hopi. But speaking Hopi is not
enough. We must also continue to practice the Hopi way."
Anita Poleahla, president and chief executive officer of Mesa
Media, Inc., a nonprofit organization working to revive Hopi lavayi,
shares why Hopi lavayi is more than a language.
"Hopi lavayi is rooted in our culture as a people, if we lose
our language, there will no longer be Hopi sinom. Our language defines
who we are spiritually," Poleahla said. "If we no longer are able
to speak Hopi lavayi then we will never really understand the full
meaning of what our Hopi ceremonies mean, even if we participate.
The depth of Hopi lavayi cannot be expressed in English; our language
is unique to our worldview. We hold great responsibility as stewards
of this land we live on and have yet to fulfill our covenant to
Maasawu. This transfer of knowledge is usually done through our
language and understanding how our cultural reinforces these responsibilities.
Hopi lavayi is just not a language; it is a teaching tool of life,
it is our life."
According to Jeanne, when culture of context is lost, the culture
of language is lost.
"But people still make piki bread and sing and dance. It is
not lost yet," Jeanne said. "Children are our future language and
cultural bearers and all revival efforts must begin with the children,
the very young children and their parents."
What can Hopi parents do?
Pardo said children do best when they have lots of
opportunities to talk and interact with parents and other caring
adults. A language-enriched environment is important for all children
"Research shows that reading, singing and talking with infants,
toddlers and preschoolers supports early and lifelong reading success,"
Sakiestewa suggests talking to one's child in your own language,
especially when outside of one's own community.
"Because that is where we revert back to the dominant language,"
she said. "When you are at the grocery store, talk Hopi; when you
are at home, talk Hopi; wherever you are, talk Hopi. Talk Hopi all
More information is available from the First Things First Coconino
Regional Director at email@example.com.
Additional information about Hopi language preservation is available
at the Hopi Cultural Preservation office at http://www8.nau.edu/hcpo-p/index.html
and Mesa Media, Inc. at http://mesamedia.org.
Mesa Media, Inc.'s mission is to revitalize the Hopi language, which
encompasses the philosophy of land stewardship maintained by Hopi
people for centuries. In 2004, fluent Hopi speakers Anita Poleahla
and Ferrell Secakuku founded Mesa Media, Inc. because they believe
that all Hopi people deserve the opportunity to understand the richness
of the Hopi language and its teachings.