On the morning of Wednesday, April 13, a delegation of four teachers from the Kamehameha Schools school system in Hawaii and two representatives from Arizona State University visited the Salt River Schools. The visitors were here to learn about the O’odham and Piipaash cultural education programs offered to students enrolled in Salt River Schools and to explore common themes, challenges and opportunities in providing students with cultural education.
The Salt River Schools Native Language and Culture Office organized the visit in partnership with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Cultural Resources Department. The delegation visited Native Studies classrooms, toured the Community and enjoyed a traditional O’odham/Piipaash meal prepared by SRPMIC teachers. The tour included the wildlife, history and languages of the Community.
The delegation was first welcomed by the students in the language class at Salt River Elementary School, who sang two traditional songs and shared the meaning behind the songs with the visiting Hawaiians. After the songs, all of the visitors shook hands with the young singers to show their appreciation.
The visitors from Hawaii chose to visit Salt River Schools because of the similarity of vision between the two communities and because they share certain challenges as well.
The mission for Kamehameha Schools is “to create educational opportunities in perpetuity to improve the capability and well-being of people of Hawaiian ancestry.” Their schools number close to 70, and they have served 34,000 students over their years in operation.
The mission of Salt River Schools is “to offer educational opportunities to lifelong learners of all ages in order to promote Community self-sufficiency and preserve the Onk Akimel O’odham Himdak and Xalychidom Piipaash Huudioshxish for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.”
The visitors made many remarks about the similarities between the communities on language revitalization, development and retaining cultural authenticity.
Native Studies Classroom
The visitors sat in the same desks that students do when they attend the Native Studies classes. Native Studies teacher Kino Reed and teaching assistant Simon Smith shared the vision of the class and shared class projects in art, language studies and literature. Outside of the classroom, they gave a tour of the native garden, where corn and melons are beginning to sprout from the soil. This is the third year of the garden, and it has been a learning experience for both teachers and students. The garden, they said, helps students understand where food comes from and strengthens the students’ understanding and connection to their heritage as farmers.
Language Programs Build Identity for Native Students
Jamee Mahealani Miller, regional director for Kamehameha Schools, said the cultural programs do affect students in positive ways. When asked if they seem to affect the graduation rates of Hawaiian students, she responded, “It has definitely built Hawaiian identity. Cultural programs have helped with behavior and actions of students.” She also acknowledged that there is still a long way to go, and there are goals to improve graduation rates. Even bolder goals of language revitalization exist for all employees at Kamehameha Schools. “By the year 2020, all 5,000 employees of Kamehameha Schools need to learn the Hawaiian language. All will be able to converse in our language,” she said with conviction.
No visit to the Community would be complete without the experience of trying local foods. The Hawaiians were treated to wolfberries, which are now ripe, and a lunch of salad with hanam, givsa, ce:mait, and tota bavi with oxtail, which was prepared by Salt River Elementary School culture and language teachers. The guests approved of the meal and enjoyed seconds as well!
Songs Connect the People
Just as the visit began with Salt River students singing traditional songs for the visitors, the four Hawaiians ended the visit with a song for their hosts. They sang a thank-you song in gratitude to the Community and Salt River Schools. The song had the Hawaiian word for thank you, mahalo, which they had used so many times throughout their visit.