Wells and Emelene Baltazar know the nuances of the Jicarilla Apache
until Jicarilla Apache President Claudia Vigil-Muniz signed an agreement
with the New Mexico Board of Education recently, these two women
couldn't enter the public elementary school in Dulce with the right
to teach what they know. They don't possess college degrees in education.
the state Board of Education celebrated the Jicarilla Apache Nation
as the first tribe in New Mexico to take advantage of a new teaching
certificate that gives Wells and Baltazar license to teach.
2002 state law allows tribes to determine how they will decide who
is competent and proficient enough to teach Native languages in
public schools. Thursday, the state Board of Education overwhelmingly
approved the rule that sets the Certification in Native Language
and Culture (K-12) in motion and gave a final nod to the memorandum
of understanding with the Jicarilla Apache Nation.
does my heart good because we're losing our tribal customs,"
Irvin Max Phone, one of five Jicarilla Apaches who developed the
agreement, said before the state Board of Education on Thursday.
and board members gave the Jicarilla Apache Tribe a standing ovation.
"We very humbly consider you to be heroes," said board
President Adelmo Archuleta, who said that by preserving their language
they are preserving the beauty of New Mexico.
kindergartners and first-graders in Dulce are benefiting.
and Baltazar are co-teachers with Maureen Olson, a teacher with
a master's degree in education and an administrator's license. Olson,
who narrates a Native language show on Dulce's KCIE-90.5 FM radio
station and is working with linguists on a new Jicarilla language
dictionary, headed the Jicarilla Language Team that spent a year
developing the agreement with the state.
weeks ago, the trio began its work with children. By talking to
one another, students hear the rhythm of the language.
little kids who just repeat what you said. Others say, 'Oh, I know
what you said!' " Olson said.
a week for 30 minutes the teachers bring formal lessons. But for
another two days a week, for 45 minutes a day, they assist the regular
classroom teacher and speak informally to children in Apache: "Where's
your pencil?" "Where's your paper?" "Listen
to the teacher."
who ran a language program in the schools for a while, won support
for the Native Language and Culture Program through word of mouth.
If our kids don't understand Apache, what are they going to be?
What if there is no language supporting the culture?
just seems like the right people were interested. People began to
realize that if we don't do something the language is going to be
just like something we did long ago," Olson said. "We've
had the backing of the Apache legislative council. The majority
of them are fluent speakers."
of the elders hope that when children speak Apache again, they'll
gain traditional values such as respect for people, life and ceremonies;
a hard-working ethic that starts early in the morning; and a sense
of purpose within the extended family.
then there's the simple desire for communication.
do want my grandchildren hopefully to be able to speak back to me
in Apache," Olson said. "That's really the goal."
aren't the same in the English language. "It's just a different
way of thinking," she said.
in Rio Arriba County, the tribe counts more than 3,000 members.
In 1990, Jicarilla Apache speakers numbered 812.
the real experts of the language are not given the proper status
in the classroom, then the children get the impression that their
language doesn't have an important place," said Inée
Yang Slaughter, executive director of the Indigenous Language Institute.
Santa Fe-based group knows language preservation is a race against
time for most tribes and pueblos in New Mexico.
a few New Mexico communities, tribal members of all ages speak the
Native language. But in a more common scenario, adults or just grandparents
speak and use the language. The children do not.
really is a wonderful vehicle to accelerate the process," Slaughter
said of the certification in Native language and culture. "It
also gives the speakers the proper status of teachers in the classroom."
Navajo Nation is working on an agreement with the state, too. But
Roz Carroll of the state Department of Education said she's disappointed
more tribes aren't pursuing it, given that the idea came from tribal