Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Fri, Nov. 15

Hopis continue to discuss language preservation

<i>Tyler Tawahongva/NHO</i><br>
Debbie Onsae, a Hopi language teacher in the Flagstaff Unified School District, speaks to Hopilavayi Forum attendees on Oct. 23.

<i>Tyler Tawahongva/NHO</i><br> Debbie Onsae, a Hopi language teacher in the Flagstaff Unified School District, speaks to Hopilavayi Forum attendees on Oct. 23.

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - On Oct. 23, a Hopilavayi Forum took place to discuss ways that the Hopilavayi (Hopi language) is being preserved and also to get input from the community on ways it could be preserved. The forum was hosted by the Hopi Foundation under the organization of Marissa Nuvayestewa.

The day started with speeches by Miss Hopi Johnetta Honie and First Attendant Jenna Lamson, who are not fluent, but Honie is working with the Mesa Media Group to help the younger people learn Hopi. Lamson attended this summer's Hopilavayi Institute as a student and remarked that everyone was called by their Hopi names. She recognized all the teachers that were present by their Hopi names which was very impressive.

Hopi Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa remarked that he was impressed as well and recalled how good it felt when he goes home to Mishongnovi village and his relatives called him by his Hopi name. He remarked that Hopi language is something that needs to be preserved and commented that Hopilavayi preservation shouldn't be a political issue and needs to be preserved for future generations.

Some of the presenters included groups that currently have programs on and off the reservation to help teach the Hopi language. One presenter was Debbie Onsae, who teaches a Hopi language class in Flagstaff. She says that some Hopis were frustrated with the fact that Navajo was being taught in the schools and not Hopi. So she came out of retirement from teaching to help establish a language program in the Flagstaff School District. Now she teaches a Hopi language class to Hopi students in the Flagstaff school district.

Another presentation by Leigh Kuwanwisima and Noreen Sakiestewa focused on the results of a 1997 survey about the utilization of the Hopi language in different Hopi communities. In some communities on First Mesa, the language was only being spoken by the elders and not many of the younger people spoke Hopi. Kuwanwisima commented the survey was taken 13 years ago and that the numbers may have changed with even less people speaking the language. In some villages, the language was being spoken more. However, the younger children were not speaking the language at all.

The thoughts are that there should be another survey to find out where the language usage is at right now. In different Hopi communities, the language is more endangered than in others. At the current rate, it would take only two generations for a language to become extinct. According to Kuwanwisima, that could occur in the First Mesa community if there is no intervention. Sakiestawa commented that she would like to see the community come together to establish a united effort to teach the language in the community.

A summer program to train teachers to become instructors of the Hopi language was held and consists of a handful of educators that teach Hopi language on Hopi and in the Tuba City School District. Some of the concerns being expressed was that Hopi teachers do not support a Hopi language class. When the prospect of a Hopi language class came up as a possible extra activity, an art class was more widely supported. Another challenge is that schools are so concerned with making AYP that they are reluctant to give the time necessary for instructors to effectively teach Native languages, so instructors are not able to teach the language as thoroughly as they would like.

Sheila Nicholas, lead instructor at the Hopilavayi Institute, hopes to see a facility for the Institute since many students at this summer session expressed concerns that after the summer session, there would be nothing to continue their learning.

Another session was hosted by Leland Dennis from the Hopi Foundation, who works with the KUYI radio Hopi language program. Dennis has been able to get individuals from the community to go on air and explain different aspects of Hopi culture. One particular item featured is the monthly explanation of the moon cycles in Hopi. An individual will explain the current moon phase in Hopi and explain what normally occurs during that time of the month, such as in October, which is known as Toho Osmuya and is a time for harvesting and the season for the women's society to hold their ceremonies. Each month a new explanation is given in Hopi about the moon and the traditional activities that are held.

Dennis would like to expand the program to include more information about Hopi culture and currently seeks out any interested individuals.

Anita Pohleahla from Mesa Media gave the final presentation of the day about her program which is currently housed at the Hopi Jr/Sr High school. Her program utilizes different Hopi language media in helping to teach the Hopi language. She worked closely with the late Ferrell Secakuku to create songs that could help in teaching the Hopi language. She also gave a demonstration of the Hopi Jeopardy game where someone could pick from a topic and request the dollar amount such as Tutskwa (land) for $100. The question is: "What is the Hopi word for butte?" and the individual would answer "hiita tuukwi" ("What is butte"). Bonnie Secakuku, Ferrell's daughter, commented that someday she would like to see more Hopi people speaking the language and have more media available to teach the language. For more information on Mesa Media products, visit

The forum was a success and the hope is to have a continuous forum be held to address this serious issue. One expectation is to get at least a five-year goal in place, but according to Donald Dawahongnewa of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, "People can learn Hopi and we just need to start speaking the language more to the younger people."

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