Song & Film

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Thu Apr 7 18:39:16 UTC 2005

Utilizing song and film to teach Hopi language

By S.J. Wilson The Observer

FLAGSTAFF Thanks to an unlikely partnership and the blending of modern
media, Hopi youngsters, families and teachers have yet another teaching
tool to preserve traditional culture and language. Ferrell Secakuku and
Anita Poleahla have produced a popular CD called Learning Through Hopi

"We wanted to inspire younger children, to provide a way for them to
hear the words, to put themselves into the Hopi language, to bring them
back to speaking Hopi," Secakuku said. "We are working uphill it's a
challenge to bring back the Hopi language."

[photo inset - S.J. Wilson/Observer. Ferrell Secakuku, left, and Anita
Poleahla join Natasa Garic, center, at her March 17 presentation at
Northern Arizona University.]

This is important to Secakuku and Poleahla. Like all native cultures,
the Hopi language is the root of Hopi culture and life, Secakuku

Secakuku, a former Hopi Tribal Chairman, met Natasa Garic in a graduate
level anthropology class at Northern Arizona University. Garic, a
Serbian/Croatian from Slovenia, is an international student in the
Anthropology Department. She is fluent in English and Croatian, and
speaks Italian and German.

Garic is a 2002 graduate of NAU, majoring in cultural anthropology. She
said she has always been interested in ancient cultures and native
people. She originally came to Arizona to study the Navajo and has
worked closely with the Hopi. A professional volleyball player, Garic
is passionate about archaeology, petroglyphs and the tracing of
migration patterns.

Garic's interest in Hopi culture led Secakuku and Poleahla to invite
Garic to illustrate a song from their CD.

Garic presented the finished product, Hopi Maidenhood Ceremony, on the
afternoon of March 17 during a colloquia at the Anthropology
Department, where Secakuku and Poleahla joined her.

A self-described applied anthropologist, Garic told the gathering that
the intention of her work is to prove that there are other ways to do

"I thought this would be a good way to inspire the younger generation
along with their parents and grandparents," Secakuku said.

Garic, Secakuku and Poleahla chose the Hopi maidenhood ceremony,
deciding to bring the experience into Hopi homes and classrooms. This
would allow children who might not otherwise view the ceremony to share
the experience. Rather than filming video footage of the ceremony,
Garic decided to use still photographs.

Garic began the presentation by explaining to fellow students and
faculty members that traditional Hopi education is much different from
that of the western world.

"On Hopi, there are different ways of education. Girls learn how to
grind corn and how to cook traditional foods," Garic said. "The men and
boys meet together in the kivas during the winter for lessons. In this
way they learn respect for tribal elders."

Garic went on to explain that the learning style of Native American
youth is experiential, and that culturally based, active experiences
help engage their interest.

"If you've never been to Hopi, let me tell you, the world there is not
the same. The pace is different," Garic said. "The people hold a
different philosophy of life."

Garic described the journey of a young girl becoming a maiden, learning
to make traditional foods like piki bread and somiviki, and the
butterfly whorl hairstyle announcing the young woman's new status. She
shared a brief explanation of the maiden's ritual and social roles, of
receiving gifts of cornmeal and valuable advice for moving into

"I wanted children to associate the words of the song with the
pictures. I wanted historic photos to represent cultural continuity,"
Garic said. "I tried to make it about the young woman represented in
the pictures, and about her family. I hope that the experience [of
viewing the presentation] will spark an interest in other cultural

As the chant of Poleahla and Secakuku pulsed resonantly, viewers were
treated to a slideshow of vignettes of Hopi life of the family of a
young woman entering her maidenhood. The photographs were compelling,
moving through vistas of skyline beyond the edge of ancient villages,
historic photos, family gatherings and corn plants.

So far the audience of the film has primarily been school children, as
well as a showing to teachers at the summer session of Hopi Day School.
Garic agrees with Poleahla and Secakuku that this medium is a great way
to teach, but she believes that the youth themselves can bring their
own productions to life.

"Kids today have learned the technology," she said.

Poleahla, the Hopi Language teacher at Hopi Jr/Sr High School,
describes herself at the grassroots level of technology.

"Forget about housework," she laughed. "This isn't really work, this is

"Songs from Learning Through Hopi Songs has received a lot of play in
northern Arizona. We hear the songs everywhere," Poleahla said. "We
hear them on the radio, students are singing them."

"We are working on teaching material to accompany these songs. We are
so fortunate to have Natasa to do this for us. This has been a new
learning experience," Poleahla said.

Secakuku and Poleahla's audience is asking for the next CD and it is in
the works. Entitled "Teaching Through Hopi Songs," fans of this duo can
expect to see this new CD in late April or early May.

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