When We Strengthen Our Language, We Strengthen Our CultureOct 12, 2020
It is Indigenous People’s Day! We love to celebrate this day with education and resources because we know how under-represented and ignored these nations are in schools, curricula, and general U.S. society. For this year, we invited Trisha Moquino, member of Cochiti Pueblo, to join us in a conversation and sharing of resources as well as insight for all of us to keep in mind. Trisha is Founding Education Director at the Keres Childrens’ Learning Center (KCLC) in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, and the school’s co-founder.
First, we asked Trisha what it means to ‘decolonize’ and she explained it with wonderful insights. It begins with acknowledging and knowing what settler colonialism means. It is all tied together. She referred to the work of Michael Yellowbird and how he describes colonization as “both the formal/informal methods that maintain the subjugation and/or exploitation of Indigenous people, land, and resources.” Therefore, decolonization is the meaningful and active resistance to colonization. It is “Indigenous liberation.” She then urged us to think about how it is all of our responsibilities to decolonize. She asks, “what are we willing to divest from?” A question Dr. Django Paris once asked the Indigenous Montessori Institute, a program of KCLC’s.
It was powerful to hear when she explained that the first thing we need to decolonize is education. It affirmed our belief that education is at the crux of our society and much of social justice work begins in our classrooms. She began specifically with our understanding of success. She explained how the definitions we are using to develop what we believe success is, have been historically and are currently still used to oppress children. All children of color suffer a form of violence from our collective definition of success because if kids don’t feel successful according to these standards, usually centered in settler colonialism, they are then labeled as unsuccessful. They are actually seen as failures, and many internalize this. We must keep peeling the layers of oppression in our education systems and the ways they are designed to hurt children of color.
For many Indigenous nations, the priority is to reclaim, strengthen, and revitalize their languages. While many people focus on culture in terms of ABAR work, for Indigenous people, their food, knowledge systems, prayers, beliefs, ways of being, hunting and animal honoring (all that we might call culture in US society) are embedded in the language. “When we strengthen our language, we strengthen our culture. When we speak a language other than English we get to “see” with a differing worldview, but it’s not the only way of being/thinking/talking/communicating.” Divesting from prioritizing English allows them to be all they can be, and not just be at the mercy of thinking and being in English. “Part of decolonization is learning other languages and using them; appreciating them.”
We then asked her to speak on the differences between decolonize and indigenize to help us fully understand what the right terminology and focus should be. She encouraged us to continue using both because we must decolonize, but Indigenous people must Indigenize. The rest of us begin with land acknowledgements, recognizing Indigenous people’s existence, value, and stories. We must teach children whose land we’re on and bring to their awareness how these nations have a contemporary presence. “Every school (and body) in America needs to teach what land they’re occupying. Then ask: are those people still here? If not, why not?” If that nation is there, then invite students to think about where they are, how they can see them, and also celebrate them. We can start with local work based on where we teach. For example, she explained how Georgia has no federally recognized tribes because Indigenous people were forced to relocate to Oklahoma. It begs the question of why and that introduces criticality for students. This work must be done with all grade levels. It’s important for students to see the ways that the narrative of erasure is a form of settler colonialism. “That’s how they stole our land and resources. That work isn’t finished. They’re not done taking.” It continues in many ways.
We then asked Trisha to help us understand what teachers/people get wrong about Indigenous nations that we need to remedy urgently. She explained that any money that the government has (All of it, period.) is at the expense of genocide and enslavement; at the expense of enslavement of Indigenous people first, and then Africans. There are critiques or myths about “Indians being rich because of casinos” and to that, Trisha responds with: “Our people signed treaties and leases because our land and resources were stolen. They continue to chip away at that. That money belongs to Indigenous people and children.”
Lastly, we asked Trisha to share with us some resources that we could use for ourselves to learn more about and from Indigenous people. Here are her top recommendations:
FILM: Gather (available on iTunes, Vimeo, and Amazon)
BOOK: Lifting Hearts Off the Ground: Declaring Indigenous Rights in Poetry by Lyla June Johnston
BOOK: Indigenous Children: Survivance in Public Schools
PODCAST: All My Relations
BOOK: For Indigenous Minds Only Edited by Waziyatawin and Dr. Michael Yellow Bird
Some ways to support Trisha and her work include contributing to the Keres Children's’ Learning Center. Here are their mission and information. You can scroll to the bottom and donate to the school there. You can also join them (virtually, of course) in their upcoming fundraiser in November. (See the flyer below) Financial support means a lot and can continue to help these young people learn about themselves through their Keres language.
We hope you have found this blog useful. We want these resources and insights to inspire you to be more thoughtful in how you incorporate Indigenous people and ideas into your curriculum and life.
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