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2017 O’odham Piipaash Teacher Gathering

Dr. Ofelia Zepeda (right) gives a presentation to staff on the stregnth of a language and culture and people.

On March 31, Salt River Schools hosted the annual meeting for O’odham and Piipaash language and culture educators, the O’odham Himdag Hemapa Piipaash Matashevm (Teacher Gathering), at the Courtyard Marriott Scottsdale Salt River. The all-day event included presenters and numerous breakout sessions.

“The purpose of the Gathering was to come together and share lessons, strategies and ideas that are being used to teach students O’odham language and culture,” said Patricia King, Salt River Schools ECEC Language Culture Specialist and a member of the O’odham Piipaash Teacher Gathering planning team.

She added, “The Gathering started between Salt River and Gila River. It grew to include all four O’odham language/culture programs, whether [they were operated] through tribal or education departments. Hosting of the Gathering moves between the four O’odham tribes. Each Community hosting the Gathering incorporates its own uniqueness. Salt River has worked to keep the Gathering focused on O’odham-Piipaash language instruction/revitalization within both the Community’s Cultural Resources Department and the Salt River Schools curriculum.”

The morning started with registration, breakfast and a welcome from Salt River Schools education staff, followed by a Piipaash Morning Song performed by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Birds Singing and Dancing by the River group. King introduced the guest speakers.

Francis Numkena, who once worked for the Salt River Education Department as a cultural facilitator, explained how she and other staff members created the gathering.

Sophia Smith and Rana Maracle, both school Native language directors, shared the journey of securing strong language revitalization work.

Francis Numkena talked about being a facilitator for the Education Department many years ago.
Keynote speaker Ofelia Zepeda, University of Arizona professor and director of the American Indian Language Development Institute, talked about the strength of language and culture and how that relates to the strength of a people. She discussed how language could relate to power for good and/or evil. “You have to know how to work that power,” said Zepeda about language.

She also discussed maintenance and revitalization of the O’odham language and how it has been influenced by European, Spanish and Mexican groups but still survives.

On being a strong leader, she encouraged teachers to teach students to learn one to five O’odham vocabulary words and three commands. “Being a teacher involves constantly learning new things [and] then teaching it, stepping out of your comfort zone by trying something new,” said Zepeda.

SRPMIC Cultural Resources Department Director Kelly Washington explained the history of the O’odham Piipaash Language Program (OPLP), the hurdles that the program has overcome and incorporating it into Salt River Elementary School.

Presenters also shared language instruction ideas, ways to incorporate O’odham basket-weaving into a high school art class, work done to develop a strong partnership between tribal and education language and culture programs, ways to use digital flashcards with language learners, lessons to use in early childhood and elementary school language and culture classes, ways to implement traditional gardening into a school, and strategies to use when following a language immersion model of instruction.

“We hope participants will walk away recharged and continue the important work of language revitalization in O’odham country with renewed energy and commitment, lesson ideas, instruction strategies and partnership models that will support their language revitalization work,” said King.