Preserving culture in a modern world

Adriana Sanchez
October 2, 2013

Sarah PinoSarah Pino holds a commitment to honor her ancestors as she navigates a complicated world.

At Zia Pueblo, Pino advocates and supports education programming that moves forward new generations while keeping the pueblo connected to its history and culture.

Pino keeps her community and culture with her always, even when she is away from the pueblo, located 16 miles north of Albuquerque. In her charge to administer education programs for the 850-member Zia Tribe, she manages the pueblo’s relationships with one charter school and two public schools, as well as with Bureau of Indian Education schools at the pueblo and in Santa Fe.

Her everyday tasks range from addressing the needs of newborns to tending to the challenges of adults and college students.

As with most communities, education is a priority for the Zia. The pueblo strives to carry its culture into the future amid challenges of preparing youth for an increasingly modern world.

While the pueblo shares typical education goals, it has its own set of unique challenges. With few contracted employees and limited resources, Pino collaborates with up to 25 other tribal education directors to share resources and staff whenever needed. She describes this collective as “extremely committed people who lean heavily on collaboration to provide outstanding service to their communities.”

Noun pl. Pueblo Pueblo or Pueb•los

1. a. Any of some 25 Native American peoples, including the Hopi, Zuñi and Taos, living in established villages in northern and western New Mexico and northeast Arizona. The Pueblo are considered descendants of the cliff-dwelling Anasazi people. They are also distinguished for their skilled craft in pottery, basketry, weaving and metalworking.

b. A member of any of these peoples.

2. A permanent village or community of any of the Pueblo peoples, typically consisting of multilevel adobe or stone apartment dwellings of terraced design clustered around a central plaza.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition

While working with Maria Brock of the Native American Professional Parent Resources (NAPPR) to create a parenting course for the pueblo, Pino learned about Everyday Democracy’s “Strong Starts for Children” initiative.

Everyday Democracy, in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in 2010 launched Strong Starts with five local communities organizing dialogue and action to improve lives of children from birth to 8.

Sarah’s involvement with Strong Starts, particularly her use of Everyday Democracy’s resources for community dialogue, provided her additional and versatile ways to connect people with each other to explore their challenges and hopes for education in the context of Zia culture.

“It is important for our communities to start dialogues and share our struggles,” she said.

Pino demonstrates the pride and commitment she feels for her community in almost every word she utters, and she is bold in talking about issues she sees as a threat to the future of her tribe’s faith and language.

She realizes her people may not survive if the Zia culture is not preserved and continued. Moreover, she knows progress without cultural continuity means little to the Zia.

“I wake up every day knowing that if we want to survive as a tribe, we must learn our culture well, and then learn the Western way of thinking, so that our children can go out but always come back to the community,” Pino says.

The Pueblo of Zia dates back hundreds of years.

Experts estimate the pueblo’s first contact with the Spanish occurred around 1540. The Zia are noted for sophisticated spiritual beliefs, and for originating the sun image the state of New Mexico appropriated for display on the state flag. Zia pottery fuses spirit, philosophy, art and history, and is prized for its geometric shapes and plant and animal motifs on white backgrounds.

The culture has remained stronger than attempts to strip it bare, and Pino sees her work reflecting that resiliency.

Zia culture, Pino says, “always has had good strategies for educating youth, especially infants and children. We did not have them (our methods) written or researched, but used the strategies verbally for centuries, and they work.”

The Zia’s successful traditions for raising children are available in English, and now, also in the native language.

“It is empowering to see that we are not learning anything new, but using the same methods used by our ancestors to nurture our children,” Pino says. “The only difference is now we can teach those methods in English or our native language.”


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