Trisha Moquino, Tracey Cordero, Mara Matteson
On July 14, St. Bonaventure Day, Cochiti Pueblo celebrated its annual feast day, dancing in the ancient tradition to songs sung in the Keres language. This annual celebration supports the Cochiti people and strengthens humanity’s cultural and linguistic diversity, which, like biodiversity, is important for sustaining life on this planet.
Located in northern New Mexico along the Río Grande, Cochiti Pueblo is home to a tribe of more than 900 indigenous Americans. Full participation in community life requires knowledge of Cochiti’s original language, Keres. Future leaders of the tribe must know Keres in order to continue Cochiti traditions. In spite of over 20 years of tribal efforts to preserve the language, today there are fewer than 10 fluent speakers under the age of 20.
One reason for this is that formal, public, English-oriented education for Cochiti people has historically worked against bilingualism and biculturalism. Federal and state policies have been philosophically incompatible with traditional child-rearing approaches of the tribe, which value participating in community life, hands-on learning, competence, respectful and responsible citizenship and inner discipline.
The Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC) opened in 2012 as a preschool, using Montessori child-centered pedagogy in a Keres-language immersion setting, serving 10 Cochiti children between the ages of 2.5 and 6. The center provides students with rigorous, high-quality education while supporting them in learning their language during the developmental period best suited to language acquisition. Since opening, KCLC has served 25 children in its primary (preschool) classroom and is preparing to open an elementary classroom for students ages 6 to 9, who will be starting their fourth year at KCLC.
KCLC’s underlying goal is to provide Cochiti children with the foundational cultural and academic tools needed to become loving, responsible, thriving adults. KCLC strives to provide an environment for children that will naturally allow them to both discover and practice self-discipline, critical-thinking skills and peer relationships while always using the Keres language and traditional core values. KCLC Board Member Tracey Cordero explained, “KCLC is the best of both worlds for Cochiti children—reinforcing their cultural identity and language while advancing their academic success. Fundamental to KCLC’s teaching methods are the ways in which our own elders have taught us and sustained our people. KCLC includes elders’ guidance and input in all areas of learning, from the language to the curriculum. It is KCLC’s belief that the use of intergenerational life skills, love and support will be key to our children retaining a worldview that centers on the importance of a communal perspective rather than an individualistic one.”
KCLC provides weekly seminars, materials and techniques to assist in the intergenerational transmission of Cochiti Keres. The seminars support parents in strengthening or acquiring Keres language skills themselves, so they can support their children in learning the language. Helping parents take a leading role in their children’s education also helps perpetuate Cochiti’s child-rearing beliefs.
After three complete years at KCLC, parents see their 5-year-old “graduates” not only speaking Keres among peers and family but also reading and writing in English and solving addition, subtraction and multiplication problems.
The tribal government of Cochiti Pueblo recognizes KCLC’s efforts in assisting young children to become bilingual and supporting their families’ bilingualism. KCLC operates with the tribal council’s blessing, as an independent nonprofit governed by a board comprising an equal number of tribal and nontribal educators and professionals. To avoid English language requirements embedded in federal and state funding for preschools, KCLC is primarily funded by private foundations, which include Brindle, Chamiza, Lannan, McCune and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, as well as private donations and $40 per child in monthly tuition from families. Additionally, in 2014, KCLC received a three-year Esther Martinez Language Immersion grant from the Health and Human Services’ Administration for Native Americans (ANA).
There is a deeply held Pueblo belief that caring for the children makes the whole community stronger and sustains the community’s individual and collective well-being. “Helping sustain our Keres language gives Cochiti children a chance to retain a world view that is thousands of years old and that still has a place in our world today,” said teacher and cofounder Trisha Moquino. “The teachings and values passed on through our language are worth our efforts because they help us to be critical thinkers and responsible people. These children represent Cochiti reclaiming control of the education of our children and, in doing so, determining our future.”
For more information, contact Trisha Moquino at 505.465.2185 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Trisha Moquino (Cochiti/Ohkay Owhingeh/Kewa) has taught in local public, private and BIA schools. Moquino realized that she wanted to provide a different educational opportunity for her own daughters and other Pueblo children, one that would support Keres language learning and cultural, as well as academic development. With those goals in mind, she cofounded the KCLC.
Tracey Cordero (Cochiti Pueblo) is a KCLC board member. She has worked in Cochiti tribal government and was recently named a Fellow in the Native American Community Academy’s Inspired Schools Network (NISN).
Mara Matteson taught at Cochiti School for many years and joined KCLC in 2014 to manage KCLC’s Esther Martinez Initiative ANA Grant.