Tiny Talk - Becoming Grounded: Indigenous Early Childhood and Beyond
with Trisha Moquino, Co-founder of Keres Children's Learning Center
This Tiny Talk was given at the first EmbraceRace Early Childhood Summit on December 3, 2022. Watch more of the Summit and find out more about the contributors here. The transcript of this talk follows.
Andrea Huang, EmbraceRace: Next up for our next tiny talk today we have Trisha Moquino. Trisha is a member of the Cochiti, Kewa, and Ohkay Owhingeh tribal nations. She is a wife, mama, auntie, niece, daughter and community member. She holds a BA from Stanford University in American Studies and an MA from the University of New Mexico in bilingual and elementary education. She is the co-founder, education director and elementary Keres speaking guide at Keres Children's Learning Center, an indigenous language immersion Montessori school located in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. One of the blessings she is grateful for is being able to work with children from her tribe in their indigenous language of Keres every day.
Trisha's talk today is sponsored in part by We Are, which stands for Working to Extend Anti-Racist Education, a non-profit that provides anti-racism training for children, families, and educators. Her talk is titled, "Becoming Grounded --Indigenous Early Childhood and Beyond". A huge welcome to you, Trisha. The floor is yours.
Trisha Moquino: Thank you so much. [Trisha greets the audience and introduces herself in the Keres language, a language spoken by Keres Pueblo people in New Mexico].
Hello everybody. My name is Trisha Moquino and I am from the tribal nations of Cochiti, Kewa, and Ohkay Owhingeh, three tribal nations located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and they are a part of the 19 pueblos located in New Mexico. I'm really grateful for the context that Dennis shared with us a while ago, and I want you all to know that the context that I am coming from, of course, is as a native, as an indigenous person in settler colonial America.
And I want to start with a context of years. So by the year 2003, I had graduated with my bachelor's. I had graduated with my master's. I had been inspired to go get trained in the Montessori method and was deep, deep into the work of the language revitalization programming and teaching in my village, one of my villages, it's my grandma's village of Cochiti Pueblo. So in New Mexico there are 19 pueblos. And of those pueblos, five different languages are spoken, completely unrelated, and yet we are still considered one people. We still have the same creation stories.
Seven villages speak the language, our language of Keres. So I want to share with you, just as Dennis did, a little about my family, and I want to share with you pictures of my grandparents and my grandparents were really, really key in my life. So this is my grandpa Leo and he is from Kewa Pueblo where I am calling in from. And Kewa is located west of I-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. And he was born in 1913. And this is my grandmother in her beautiful pink dress. And she was born in 1918. And she is from, was from Cochiti Pueblo, our other village.
And so I keep saying these two villages because when my father passed away, my beloved father, when I was almost five years old, I went on to be raised by my grandparents who then really supported my wonderful, loving mother and going on to get her education. So I share this picture because this is a backdrop of us standing down against the cliff at Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is located in southern Colorado and is a part of our migration story as these pueblos right here. In this picture is a little after my father had passed away, but it is the love of my grandparents that grounded me and that grounded me early on, along with the love of my parents.
As I lost my father, as I grew up with a lot of really hardships and a really hard childhood, I am always grateful that my father was around long enough to support me in that sacred space of early childhood because it really is the most important part of a human being's life. And I believe that when we make early childhood systems reflect the communities of our people, that our people, that over 600 tribes still present in settler colonial America will thrive better. We will be better parents, we will be better people. Because what colonialism has done to so many people is it's disrupted our way of life, starting with our languages.
And so it's why I always go back to my grandparents and the way that they spoke to us with love all the time. [Trisha speaking a Keres metaphor.] They will always give us advice and how to be, how to love. Shami means in a good way.
And so with my grandparents, one of the things that they always taught us was [Trisha speaking a Keres metaphor] . And that means you will never accomplish anything alone. So in early childhood, there is a dominant narrative around early childhood that is based in school readiness, as if school readiness was the only thing in life that our children have to achieve. For us, we all come from a creation story and we were all put on this earth, this beautiful place, these beautiful lands that nurture our hearts, that nurture our minds, that nurture our bodies, and that gives us the most basic necessity. We all have a right to, and that's water, and that's good land and soil to live on. And so for us, early childhood isn't just school readiness. Early childhood is learning our languages, knowing our languages. And when we know our languages, it's being grounded in who we are.
And when we know our languages, then we have access to our indigenous knowledge system. And that's right over 600 indigenous knowledge systems, unfortunately, many of which have been so weakened because their languages are not thriving anymore. And so as a mother, I knew that when I had children, I wanted my children, I wanted my children's first language to be Keres because Keres was not my first language. My parents spoke two different languages, Tewa, which is of the Northern Pueblos, and my mother spoke Keres, which is of the Southern Pueblos. And at the time we had our daughter, we were living in Cochiti Pueblo, and I had achieved one of my dreams -- and one of my dreams was hoping that my own grandparents would be alive when my own children were born. And my grandmother was still alive. And she was so happy because when I had my baby, when we had our oldest daughter, she was so excited that she got to tell me how to raise the baby.
And that showed me that we already had our own indigenous early childhood systems. We already had our own ways of raising babies. And so if you'll see, I'm sharing these next pictures that are about then and now. And so that picture that you saw on the slide before was of me breastfeeding our second daughter, but it was our oldest daughter where those doors of this idea, not this idea, but the existence of our indigenous early childhood systems around raising babies, around raising children, came upon me when I would go out into the village, and we really do still live in our villages. When I would go into the village or I'd run into my aunties or my aunties would come see me, my grandmas were around me daily, our neighbor, an elderly neighbor would come and say, "Did you do this? Did you drink this plant? Did you wrap yourself this way? We wrap ourselves this way because this is how we believe about bringing our bodies back together."
Breastfeeding research says the same thing. When you breastfeed, you helped to shrink the uterus or the womb. So there was all these teachings. And so as we raised our daughters and as a teacher in a public school system teaching five and six year olds, again wanting our daughter to know our language, I began to think more and more about my place in the public school system. And I began to think more and more about my work with our language revitalization program at Cochiti. And I began to think, I guess more critically about the mainstream, or as Sandy Grande calls it, the white stream education that we were giving to our own children from our own villages on our own tribal lands was an education that not only does it displace us from our languages because English is centered, it displaces us from our indigenous knowledge systems.
And we realize that we have to interface with white stream mainstream society, but we shouldn't have to do it at the expense of losing ourselves. And we know that over time, the most grounded people, meaning grounded in our language, in our ways, are some of the most successful people. So this, again, is also setting up our children who will eventually probably become parents to also be better parents.
And so by doing this work with language and wanting our own daughter to know our language, she became fluent in our language. That was her first language with the help of all of our families, with my husband, with his family, with my family, with the village of Cochiti, because she got to attend the, at that time was a language nest. So in this picture with the den back then, our grandmas and our mothers held us with with their shawls on their backs. But now we use a stroller. Back then... And yes, lots of people still breastfeed, but again, IHS came in, Indian Health Services and said, "Don't breastfeed, here's formula." The pressure from, what do you call them, the formula companies to sell their product. We already had our own cradle boards, and then there's the pressure of capitalism to go buy this nice fancy crib or this nice fancy bassinet when we don't really need all that stuff.
We already had our traditional swings that hung from the vegas of our traditional homes, and then we gets [Trisha speaking Keres word] means to get enticed to buy again, these fancy swings. And so Dr. Maria Montessori says that if we think about the development of a child's life, that development of a child's life, the most important part of it is not in the university studies, but it is in early childhood, birth to six. But we cannot capitalize off of this early childhood setting if we don't create that setting for our children because all public school, and yes, we do need public schools. So I don't want this to be heard as against public schools, but until public schools can create a space like Keres Children's Learning Center, we can see...
We can see that our children will be proud to be who they are, will be grounded and who they are. And so right here on the left, you see one of our daughters playing, imitating our ways of caring for children on the right. This is our other daughter getting ready to go dance right outside in our plaza. I think this is the Bow and Arrow dance. And so I left this word of imitation up there because imitation is a human tendency, and it is a way that our children learn, and we want them to imitate us.
Lastly and ultimately, what the birth of my own children did, and you'll see on the next slide, is they inspired me to create Keres Children's Learning Center with our tribal council, with our board of directors, with my family, with lots of people going back to that saying, [Trisha speaking Keres metaphor], which means, you will never accomplish anything alone.
So back to Dennis urging us to... What did his last set slide say? It said, "To building a bigger we."
And also and building that bigger we, is to reckon with the truth, and then from truth lies a better net for justice to happen, and that starts with supporting indigenous people and the care of our children, and helping us to remember, helping us to reclaim our children because they are our children, and we know what is best for them.
And so with Keres Children's Learning Center, we started with a three to six classroom 11 years ago, and we have expanded as you can see. We just opened our infant toddler classroom.
Coming to the end of my time with you all, I hope that you will join and recognize as indigenous people in settler colonial America, that we deserve the right, our children deserve the right to see themselves in the curriculum, to see spaces, learning spaces where they are grounded in who they are and that English doesn't have to be centered. That our languages can be centered. Because when we do that for tribes, we will all benefit.
When we think about, as Maria Montessori calls us to think of the child, when we think about what child comes to mind, for us, we want that to be, I always say Black indigenous children first because they are the most marginalized.
And so I just want to thank all of you for being here with us and listening to a little bit of this story.
Keres Children's Learning Center is a space that has disrupted the dominant narrative of early childhood, and has pushed back against what public schools should have already been doing.
So I want to thank you all again for being here with us and I really want to thank Nicol Russell and EmbraceRace for creating this really beautiful space.
[Trisha speaking in Keres].
Thank you. [Trisha speaking Keres word] means thank you.
Thank you so much, Trisha. I almost want to just pause and take a moment after that talk. It was a very personal and emotional story and I've been seeing so much appreciation and love in the chat box for sharing so openly about yourself, and your family, and your history.
I really, really appreciated that framing of early childhood as the most important part in a human being's life. I think that some people out there would find that a very bold statement, but I imagine that it really resonates with a lot of people on this call.
And there's clearly so much that all parents, and early educators, and caregivers can learn from indigenous knowledge traditions, regardless of the background of the children that they are currently caring for.