In an effort to spread Ute language fluency to younger generations, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Fort Lewis College are working on a program to certify more instructors who can teach the Ute language both on the reservation and in K-12 schools.
The 10-course certification will be held over three years with the first four courses offered from June 1 to July 20 at Ignacio High School. Classes are also expected to be available online.
The course will teach about educational linguistics, media in teaching, classroom management, syntax, morphology, Ute sound systems and Native American linguistics. Those foundation classes will be followed by Ute language immersion classes.
Classes are designed to provide students the skills needed to thrive leading a classroom.
Lindsay Box, spokeswoman with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, said the certificate program is key to sustaining the Ute language.
“The biggest threat to Ute language preservation is time, without the assistance of our Tribal Elders, this massive and necessary undertaking becomes immensely more difficult,” she said in an email to The Durango Herald. “The Tribe currently has approximately 32 fluent Ute speakers, most over the age of 70 years old. The success of this grant is contingent on our elders’ time and health, especially when respectfully asking for their assistance.”
Those who receive the certification will be able to teach Ute in the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy, Ignacio School District and within the Southern Ute Cultural Preservation Department.
“All three entities currently provide limited classes and with the success of this collaboration – the Southern Ute Indian Tribe will be able to expand on these offerings,” Box said.
Classes are open to Ute tribal members from the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain and Ute Indian tribes; descendants; community members; and Fort Lewis College students.
“The grant is not only assisting with language preservation, but also language revitalization,” Box said.
Classes were funded through a three-year grant from Administration for Native Americans Preservation and Maintenance program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Besides creation of the Ute language certificate classes, the grant will also fund the creation of the Southwest Indigenous Language Development Institute and create an online audio and video Ute language dictionary app.
The certificate for teaching the Ute language will come from the Southwest Indigenous Language Development Institute. The goal is to certify at least 15 Ute tribal members to teach the language over the three-year funding provided by the grant.
FLC School of Education Dean Jenni Trujillo said guidance and involvement from Southern Ute elders is the key element.
“The elders are going to be participating throughout. In a sense, they are the professors, and I think that should be noted,” she said. “The elders will be the leaders because they’re the ones with the cultural and linguistic knowledge.”
Ignacio School District Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto said the district has taught the Ute language every other year at the high school, and one of the problems has been finding an instructor for the class.
He said the certificate program should help ensure a broader supply of Ute language teachers.
“I support this program 100%,” he said.
Fuschetto would like to begin offering a Ute language class in elementary school as soon as next school year.
“Speaking as a former foreign language teacher, I think the earlier you begin the better,” he said. “The younger kids catch on a lot faster.”