Sustainability

Reflections from the Pueblo Convocation on Education

By Anne Maclachlan

Carnell Chosa
Carnell Chosa of SFI Leadership Institute speaks.

An enormous turquoise and black logo of the Pueblo Convocation shone from the walls of Tamaya’s main conference room and set the tone for the 2018 Pueblo Convocation on Education. The meeting included community members and governors from the 19 pueblos at the Hyatt Tamaya, in Santa Ana Pueblo over the weekend of July 8 through 10. Ben Calabaza’s (Santo Domingo Pueblo) team at Iroots Media infused the gathering with traditional music and impressive lighting that underscored the purpose of this convocation: to establish new guidelines for the education of Indigenous youth, and to return control of learning institutions to the Pueblos themselves.

Among the nearly 600 Pueblo educators, delegates and support teams on opening day, the mood was focused and determined. As arrivals began on Sunday and old friends greeted one another, the assembly settled in to hear a welcome from Carnell Chosa, Ph.D. (Jemez Pueblo), with introductions by Regis Pecos (former governor of Cochiti Pueblo) and Dr. Ted Jojola (Isleta Pueblo). The message from these leaders was clear and strong. It was time to re-evaluate the educational assessments imposed by a foreign standard and create something that would reinforce young students’ cultural understanding, family ties and commitments to the community. For this to succeed, Pecos stressed, intergenerational input was essential, and the preservation and incorporation of Indigenous languages would be of paramount importance.

Dr. Jojola echoed these thoughts and addressed the goals for education over the next generation. These include reinstating traditional, non-compartmentalized Indigenous instruction, blended with the latest in technology to create well-rounded students who are fully capable of sustaining their culture while taking advantage of all that exists around them, and using that technology in ways that support their communities. Sweetly underscoring these powerful comments from Pueblo elders and leaders was the occasional happy call from one of the babies in the audience.

At the plenary session, Trisha Moquino (Cochiti/Ohkay Owingeh/Santo Domingo), cofounder of the Keres Children’s Learning Center, spoke of “taking control of the narrative” and the critical need to impart knowledge of Pueblo languages and core values to the communities’ youngest members. Language, Moquino pointed out, carries the Pueblo world view, and its loss is disrupting the understanding of place and culture.

Over the weekend, delegates and presenters from each of the pueblos outlined plans involving place-based learning in resource management, sustaining intergenerational communication and maintaining the values and traditions that bind people to the land. Goals include connecting homes, schools and communities into one entity that supports further education of students who will travel outside the pueblos and return with more knowledge to help their home regions. Overwhelmingly, the presenters stressed the need to preserve language in order to protect culture and infrastructure for future generations.

Between sessions, people gathered to discuss and reinforce what was addressed during the main presentations, while the halls were abuzz with talk of Yazzie vs. New Mexico and whether the state would be held accountable for failing to meet the basic educational needs of its at-risk students. (Just over a week later, on July 20, Yazzie prevailed when First Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that New Mexico had violated students’ constitutional rights to receive “a sufficient education as mandated by the state’s constitution.” New Mexico was given until April 15, 2019 to create the resources to address the situation.) Hopes raised at the Convocation were that success of this lawsuit would allow increased Indigenous control of education in Pueblo communities and for the communities to establish specific educational goals.

These objectives include a return to Tribal assessment rather than the reliance of make-or-break testing currently in place. This point—the failure of forced testing compliance—was repeated throughout the weekend, as educators sought to revive past successes in actual learning.

During Sunday’s breakout sessions, comments and requests were recorded by designated writers who gathered them for a final, formal presentation to the governors on Monday morning. These were distilled and read aloud to the circle of governors in a formal presentation before the entire Convocation.

To close the Convocation with prayer and to express gratitude for the contributions of the participants, Taos Pueblo honored the convening with a series of honor songs and the participants celebrated with a traditional Taos Pueblo round dance.

Anne Maclachlan is an award-winning Santa Fe-based features writer and the author of several books.

 

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