Audubon New Mexico’s statewide education and outreach programs to engage New Mexicans in understanding the natural world includes working with tribal students, and specifically in helping to educate children about the importance of riparian habitats and the birds and animals that depend on them. And, thanks to a grant from TogetherGreen, a dynamic Audubon initiative funded by Toyota, we’re also helping to draw a connection between land, language, and culture.
Recently, Audubon New Mexico produced the “Birds and Mammals of the Santa Clara Pueblo Bosque” brochure for students, filled with pictures of wildlife they can readily see in their stretch of the Rio Grande, in both English and Tewa. We’ve already received several requests from other tribes to produce more brochures, mainly because of the cultural significance they represent.
Many words for the different birds and animals are incorporated into songs that the children hear sung at tribal ceremonies, but these songs are too few and the words too often memorized, instead of understood. Many of the leaders who knew the cultural stories of the relationships to plants, animals and lands have passed before sharing the stories and knowledge with the younger generation.
“The children don’t understand what the songs really are – history lessons of the tribe’s relationships to plants, animals, and the lands – they think they’re just songs,” said Charles Lujan, Director of the Environmental Department at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.
A brochure with the Tewa words for the wildlife surrounding them might seem insignificant, but it’s so much more. It’s a beginning in the process of retaining a culture that is rapidly disappearing. It’s also another building block for Audubon to establish relationships and partnerships with the tribes who own much of the land in New Mexico, especially along the Rio Grande, and are essential to our mission of conservation and education throughout the state.