‘We don’t want to lose the language’

The Pueblo of Jemez celebrates the Walatowa Early Childhood Learning Center groundbreaking in an effort to boost traditional language immersion

By: - March 22, 2022 4:30 am

Children from the Pueblo of Jemez’s Early Childhood Program performing the butterfly dance on March 17. (Photo by Kalle Benallie / Indian Country Today)

JEMEZ PUEBLO LANDS— Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico celebrated Thursday the groundbreaking of their Walatowa Early Childhood Learning Center. The Pueblo of Jemez is the only Pueblo that speaks the Jemez (Towa) Language.

The New Mexico lawmakers — who joined and worked with the Jemez Pueblo to provide $6.2 million funding for the center — included Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, State Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., and Rep. Derrick Lente.

“The center is the Pueblo’s top priority infrastructure project, as there is a great need in our community to provide a safe facility for early childhood education and language learning,” Jemez Pueblo Gov. Raymond Loretto said in a press release.

This story was originally published in Indian Country Today. It is republished here with permission.

He said, at the groundbreaking ceremony, that he hopes the learning center will open in less than a year.

About 100 Jemez children, up to 5 years old, have participated in the Early Childhood Program’s full language immersion approach since 2013. The program is inclusive of Head Start and Child Care Services with all the teachers and child care providers fluent in the Jemez language.

“Our unique and valuable community-based education incorporates the community’s vibrant traditional calendar as well as art, music, dance, learning through movement, play, and exploration of our community and nature through science and math,” Lana Garcia, early childhood program manager, said.

Head Start teacher Gloria M. Tsosie (Jemez) said the groundbreaking ceremony is an historical event.

“Especially to expose the children to this day and hopefully they’ll remember this occasion, and I’m grateful for the governor to have supported us all throughout the years and having our building built,” she said.

Tsosie added that she hopes the building will provide more classroom space and offer a variety of lessons based on the Jemez culture.

“There are some who pick up the language in no time, but they have progressed since we started the school year,” she said.

The occasion was also monumental because it was the first time the children performed a traditional dance since the pueblo’s lockdown two years ago.

Bertha Gachupin (Jemez) has been teaching at Head Start for 20 years and was excited because they taught the children the butterfly dance in preparation for the ceremony.

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Kalle Benallie, ICT
Kalle Benallie, ICT

Kalle Benallie, Navajo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @kallebenallie or email her at [email protected] Benallie was once the opening act for a Cirque Du Soleil show in Las Vegas.