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Nonprofit will oversee community programs at Laguna Pueblo

SANCHEZ: Executive director of the Laguna Community Foundation,

SANCHEZ: Executive director of the Laguna Community Foundation,

FOR THE RECORD: Regarding this story, executive director Gilbert Sanchez said the Laguna Community Foundation will not have direct oversight of the pueblo’s various programs, but will ensure that any applicable grants are properly administered and that the programs do not overlap or duplicate services.

Laguna Pueblo’s community programs, ranging from early childhood programs to assistance to military veterans, are now under the umbrella of the newly created Laguna Community Foundation, a nonprofit that will oversee their funding and provide needed guidance.

“We decided to bring all of our programs under one entity rather than have them split up,” said foundation Executive Director Gilbert Sanchez. “This will help the pueblo align those programs, and so far, it’s working pretty good.”

Sanchez, former superintendent of Laguna’s Department of Education and program officer for the New Mexico Community Foundation, said many programs set up to serve Laguna Pueblo’s roughly 7,500 members have operated independently and with limited oversight.

By establishing the nonprofit foundation and acting as fiscal agent for those programs, he said, pueblo leaders can eliminate duplication or overlaps in service and provide oversight. Current programs include the pueblo’s educational system, senior programs, leadership development, services to veteran and cultural and language programs.

He said the pueblo’s social justice and housing programs might also become partners with the foundation.

“I don’t really see (the foundation) as creating new programs, but to support and enhance existing programs,” Sanchez said.

The foundation can also apply for grants to help fund various programs.

Currently, the foundation is focusing on the pueblo’s longtime efforts to preserve Keres, the native language of Laguna, Acoma, Santa Ana, Zia, Cochiti, Kewa and San Felipe pueblos. Each of the seven varieties of Keres is generally intelligible by speakers in each pueblo, but the number of people fluent in the unwritten language continues to decline, Sanchez said.

Anecdotal information indicates that only about half of Laguna residents ages 65 and older are fluent in Keres, he said. The numbers decline even further among younger age groups, he said.

Over the past 30 years, attempts to revitalize the use of Keres have included language classes, development of a Keres dictionary and a variety of grant-funded programs designed to teach and use Keres, Sanchez said. All have met with minimal success, he said, in part because of the ever-changing policies of state and federal governments.

Sanchez, whose father is from Laguna and whose mother is from Jemez Pueblo, grew up in Albuquerque and never learned Keres.

Traditional ways of teaching a language don’t always work with languages like Keres, he said, in part because it’s not a written language. Keres is not currently taught in Laguna schools because no successful structure for teaching it has been developed. And, he said, there is a dearth of teachers certified to teach Keres.

“Over the years, we’ve tried several things: classes, development of an unofficial dictionary, training of teachers, working on state certification. The fact of the matter is, we’re still losing our language,” Sanchez lamented.

In the past year, the foundation has held several community meetings to find out not only whether it’s important to preserve the community’s native language, but to consider how that might be accomplished. Those discussions included information on what’s been tried in the past, and why those efforts haven’t worked.

“I’ve never run into an Indian child that wasn’t interested in learning more about their native language or culture,” Sanchez said. “Now that we’re having these discussions, I think people are thinking more critically about ways – other than what we’ve been used to – to teach and preserve the language. And I think it provides hope for the idea that we can preserve it.”