A book project to promote language preservation for children in the First Things First Colorado River Indian Tribes Region was recently unveiled.
The books, aimed at children from birth to age 5, will focus on colors, animals and numbers in the different languages of the region’s four distinct tribes: the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo.
The four tribes share a reservation that stretches along the Colorado River in both Arizona and California, but they observe their own unique traditions and customs. The languages in the books each tribe will receive reflect their diversity. Each tribe will receive book sets with a design based on their individual tribal seal, with matching book spines.
The FTF Colorado River Indian Tribes Regional Partnership Council funds native language preservation strategies to give parents and other caregivers tools to promote their children’s language development that are appropriate to their children’s age and culture.
“We will have a total of 2,400 books,” said Valerie Welsh-Tahbo, director of the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) Museum in Parker, Arizona. About 4,560 members of the four tribes live on a reservation that stretches along the Colorado River in both Arizona and California.
The content is similar in all the books, she said, although there was a swap between two animals that hold special significance for the tribes: the sheep and the turtle. Navajo and Hopi children will see a sheep, while Chemehuevi and Mojave youngsters will see a turtle.
A cow, fish, horse, dog and cat are among other animals included in the books, along with numbers and colors whose English names are translated into the four tribal languages. Navajo artist Nicole Pete created the illustrations and text translations were contributed by tribal elders Agresta Hunter, Hopi; Mary McCabe, Navajo; Nora Vasquez, Chemehuevi; and Neva Eddy, Mojave.
“It’s been really exciting for our linguists,” said Welsh-Tahbo, who worked closely with them. “They can’t wait to see the final product.”
Pete is the granddaughter of John Scott Sr., who designed the Colorado River Indian Tribes seal of the river flowing against the backdrop of Riverside Mountain after entering a contest in the 1960s. He inspired Pete to pursue art and so she is thrilled to be working on a cultural project she views as important for children.
“I really hope that it helps little kids get interested in their language,” she said. “I know there was a lot of history where the Navajo language was not being taught or they didn’t encourage you to speak it, so I just think it’s important to preserve the language for everybody.”