Culture and language teachers gather virtually for presentations and workshops

Emma Hughes

Gila River Indian News



O’otham cultural and language teachers recently regrouped for their annual gathering, which was previously scheduled for March, to share their traditional teachings and how to incorporate their unique curriculum in the schools.  


The 2020 Virtual Culture Teacher Gathering was held on Aug. 28, Sept. 4, 11, and 18. The Culture Teacher Gathering began for teachers from the Gila River Indian Community and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community to support each other and discuss ways to implement cultural learning in the classroom. 


Ak-Chin Indian Community and Tohono O’odham Nation joined as well and each year the gathering is hosted by one of the O’otham tribes. GRIC hosted the previous gathering at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass. 


The Tohono O’odham Nation Education Department and Culture Teacher Gathering Planning Committee hosted the event virtually via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of the original venue at the Himdag Ki: Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center.


“This was needed as there was not as much support for teachers in the field of language revitalization,” said Anthony Grey, Culture Coordinator for the Tribal Education Department. 


Participants joined through web-based video conferencing for lessons and demonstrations from culture teachers and presenters, which included O’otham introductions, traditional calendar, pottery, songs, games and the cultural significance of clothing and seashells.


“The presentations were interactive and was taught to where we understood within our Himthag. The activities are very useful and can be taught with any grade level,” said Ms. Hymer and Mrs. Hall, Culture Instructors for the Sacaton Elementary School District. 


Participants were invited to join online and interact with presenters and engage during a Q & A session. Hands-on demonstrations were given and promoted for use at home with materials to be used along with each workshop, which were mailed out to participants who registered early. 


“This year’s gathering was designed based on feedback we received when we hosted the event in 2016. The evaluation forms demonstrated that participants wanted more hands-on activities, which inspired this year’s pinch pot, shell necklace and puppet making activities,” said Frances Benavidez, Education Outreach Coordinator for the Tohono O’odham Nation Education Department. 


 The event ended with a virtual play of a story about a coyote and buzzard’s adventure at a dance. The virtual play demonstrated a fun way to bring traditional stories and language to life, in person or online. Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community will host the gathering next year. 


“I’ll be honest it wasn’t the same of course as last year’s but it was hard for some of us that we wish we could hug each other or have that one-on-one talk. Regardless of the social distancing we all still did our best to make moments and to hear everyone out,” said Lorena Hendrix-Clashin, Cultural Specialist, Gila River Indian Community Head Start. Next issue will feature more on this story, the history of the gathering and GRIC’s participation.