Tiwa Language Project

Traditional language is the foundation of cultural expression. Unique structures of American Indian languages tend to be process-oriented, relating everyday life to nature and local ecosystems. The Tiwa language is classified as a Tanoan-family language, related to the Tiwa spoken at Picuris (northern Tiwa), Sandia, Isleta, and Isleta del Sur Pueblos (all Southern Tiwa). This widespread use of the Tiwa language is one strength toward sharing strategies for language revitalization. Planning participants emphasize the relationship between language and culture; “if there is no language, there is no culture.”

OONA Student Art 2

Community dedication and important work is contributing to keeping the Tiwa language alive. The language is still spoken fluently by many of the older tribal members. With the rapid changes in the world today, there is much concern that the language will not survive. The younger generations are not becoming fluent in the language. A change of attitudes will be essential for language learning success, since some tribal members tell children not to indicate they can speak, in order to get ahead. Type of housing is a factor in language retention; those living off-reservation have fewer opportunities to learn.

Students work to improve their Tiwa language usage and the understanding of the relationship between language and culture through program activities. Language classes teach Tiwa vocabulary, names, numbers, colors, locations, animals, plants, foods as well as greetings for elders and relatives. Oo-Oo-Nah seeks to provide the auntie and uncle relationship in mentoring youth, emphasizing kindness, compassion, and understanding to encourage their learning. Not learning the language leads to poor self-esteem from not learning the Tiwa identity.

The relationship between language and song is important to cultural practice—for example songs to emphasize include grinding and planting songs. Song and traditional dances are closely inter-related; one has to know the language in order to participate. The cultural center could serve to support and further the tribe’s language preservation efforts, both through integration of language teaching in everyday activities, such as the arts, gardening, and the preparation of native foods—particularly as part of the Heritage Program. Storytelling in winter is another opportunity to encourage language learning. Language learning builds self-pride, community pride, and confidence.

Coordination with the day school and tribal programs will be essential, to provide learning continuity. Teamwork with other tribal programs is necessary to find the gaps in teaching efforts, and then to find Oo-Oo-Nah’s best role. Working with all generations is necessary to revive interaction in language learning.