Academic journal article Language Arts

Language, Culture, and the Education of Indigenous Children: An Interview with Mary Eunice Romero-Little

Academic journal article Language Arts

Language, Culture, and the Education of Indigenous Children: An Interview with Mary Eunice Romero-Little

Article excerpt

This issue of Language Arts features a conversation with Dr. Mary Eunice Romero-Little about Native American children, linguistic diversity, and education. Dr. Romero-Little is an associate professor of Indigenous language education and applied linguistics within American Indian Studies at Arizona State University. She actively works with local and global communities for the revitalization of Native languages; for example, over the last two decades, she has collaborated with Pueblo communities in New Mexico on topics related to native language planning and revitalization. Her work has been published in venues such as Best Practices in ELL Education (Li & Edwards, 2010), the Journal of American Indian Education, and TESOL Quarterly. These publications link research, practice, and community engagement with Indigenous children and their communities, and deepen our understanding of identity and child development from an Indigenous perspective. In recognition of her research, Dr. Romero-Little received the 2010 Bobby Wright Award for Early Career Contributions to Indigenous Education from the American Educational Research Association. In addition, the National Maori Language Institute in New Zealand awarded Dr. Romero-Little the International Centre for Language Revitalization Fellowship. As a result of her extensive commitments to research, service, and teaching, Dr. Romero-Little is an internationally recognized expert about Native American/Indigenous Language Education, Language Policy and Planning, Child Language Socialization, and Early Education.

This excerpted conversation was recorded on August 17, 2018, and has been edited for publication.

Maneka Deanna Brooks (MDB): Dr. Romero-Little, thank you for taking time to talk with me today. I want to begin this interview by marking the importance of naming practices. We know that names are important; the way we talk about people is a sign of respect. What terminology should educators use when they want to talk about educational issues as they relate to the Indigenous people in the United States?

Mary Eunice Romero-Little (MERL): The general terms that we use to talk about Indigenous peoples here in the United States are Indigenous or Native American. But, if you want to get more specific, you can refer to them with their own tribal-specific names. For instance, the local Indigenous peoples living in this area prefer to be called Tohono O'odham and Akimel O'odham-meaning desert and river people, respectively. Now, it may take some concentrated time and effort to learn how to say their Native names, but it's important to try. You can also ask Native people what Native Nation they are from. We want to show respect. For example, I really like the practice in Canada; before a public event, presentation, or speech, non-Native and Native visitors will acknowledge the First Nation whose territory or land they are on. That's so respectful.

MDB: Now that we have respectful language to talk about these topics, I want to learn a little bit more about your work with Indigenous communities. How did you begin this journey into your work with languages, Indigenous children, and education?

MERL: I came into this area because of my interest in children; children amaze me. I've always been interested in the language socialization of children, especially Native American children. What, how, and why do we teach our children? What and how do we determine what counts as successful and unsuccessful learning in the context of school and outside the school, such as in our homes and cultural communities?

Very early on in my education career, I was a public school teacher. I was fortunate; I taught at Cochiti Elementary and Middle Schools, which are located 5 miles from our community, Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico. I also taught at the Santa Fe Indian School, a boarding school located in Santa Fe that today serves 700 seventh through twelfth graders, who are primarily from the Pueblos. …

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