Slideshow by Anthony Jackson
Native Americans from across the state gathered at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe on Friday to celebrate their cultures and languages during American Indian Day.
New Mexico has 23 federally recognized tribes and there are 25 dialects of eight indegenous languages spoken in the state. Native Americans make up 10 percent of the state’s population.
The governor of Santa Clara Pueblo, J. Michael Chavarria, opened the day with prayer and a few special guests — children from Zuni Pueblo and their teacher — drove over 200 miles to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in both English and Zuni.
The Head Start program the children participate in has a language immersion program where the they can learn Zuni, their Native language. One of the students who made the 200-mile trek up to the Roundhouse was Eric Selecion, 4.
“I send him there [Zuni Head Start] because he gets to learn about his culture,” Natalie Selecion, his mother, said as her son skipped back and forth outside the Roundhouse. “He likes to sing and dance…the school lets him practice tradition.”
The preservation and revitalization of the state’s Native languages and their inclusion into school curriculums was a dominant theme Friday for speakers and prominent members of Native American tribes.
It’s “something we all deal with and in some cases struggle,” said Levi Pesata, the president of the Jicarilla Apache Nation.
The day also marked the anniversary of the signing of New Mexico Indian Education Act.
For decades many American Indians in New Mexico were discouraged from speaking their native languages. One of the things the Indian Education Act did was ensure Native American students enrolled in public schools had access to culturally relevant instructional materials and educational opportunities.
“We have a long way to go, but New Mexico’s leading Native education,” Latifa Phillip, the assistant director of the New Mexico Indian Education Department, told a crowd in the Rotunda of the Roundhouse.
A few Native educators were also present and set up booths in the corridor including Glenda Fred-Weahkee. She’s the executive director of the San Ildefonso Library and Learning Center that has programs for youth to learn their culture.
“We’re honored to be here…it’s important for us to convey our values and our traditions,” Fred-Weahkee said.