Law limits teaching of native languages
By Carmen Duarte
Oct. 4, 2002
TUCSON - Siiki means red. Tosai is white. Tewei is blue.
Juan Esquivias recited the colors in Yoeme, the native language of the Yaqui
tribe. He was recalling words taught to him by teaching assistants Narciso
Bule-Garcia and Maria Cupis, who are tribal elders.
Juan, a fifth-grader at the Southwest Side Lawrence Intermediate School, and his
classmates in Victoria Hawk's class now depend on a computer instead of the
American Indian teachers to learn the Yaqui language, culture and customs.
Bule-Garcia and Cupis were the only language specialists at the school working
to preserve Yoeme, a dying indigenous language. But the two Yaqui elders no
longer teach at Lawrence because a federal law requires them to obtain a high
school diploma or equivalent.
The school has 370 students, and 55 percent are Yaqui children.
The federal law went into effect this fall for teaching assistants at schools
federally funded Title 1 programs. Title 1 provides additional money to schools
with large numbers of low-income students.
The new law is designed to place the most qualified teaching assistants with the
neediest children, said Bob Wortman, director of school improvement and Title 1
programs for the Tucson Unified School District.
Teaching assistants hired after Jan. 8, 2002, must have an associate's degree or
two years of college, or pass a proficiency test.
Like Bule-Garcia and Cupis, four other Yaqui teaching assistants at two other
schools with large Yaqui student populations were affected in 2002.
"It is hard to find Yaqui-language instructors or tutors who are fully bilingual
can come work at schools with these low wages. The pay starts at $7.23 an
hour," Wortman said.
Twenty-eight teaching assistants were removed from Title 1 schools and
temporarily reassigned, Wortman said. He said 80 assistants are working on
earning a GED or high school diploma.
Karen Wynn, di rector of TUSD's Native American Studies department, said she
is asking the Arizona Department of Education's Office of Indian Education to
clarify the new federal regulations in relation to another federal law, the
American Languages Act of 1990.
"The federal government, under the act, supports tribes and local agencies to
assist in the revitalization and preservation of Native American languages,"
She said she hopes that under the act, Bule-Garcia and Cupis can return to the