New Mexico is home to 23 tribal nations, who speak eight different languages and contribute more than five percent to the student enrollment numbers at The University of New Mexico. Now, the UNM College of University Libraries is working to preserve the traditions, cultures and languages of New Mexico’s Indigenous peoples through a new digital initiative. 

“The Zuni language is very important to our culture and it is important that we teach the younger generation the language to keep the culture going for years to come,” said UNM student and Zuni community member Arin Peywa. “Without these written stories, books and posters, we are left with oral stories which cannot usually be duplicated.” 

Indigenous languages are vital to the traditions and culture of the people who speak them. Yet, many tribal languages are endangered and lack fluent speakers or the resources needed to connect them to higher education. 

Zuni Digitization 1
Arin Peywa, Mary Wise and Sarah Kostelecky at the A:shiwi College & Career Readiness Center in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico

“It is difficult for Zuni citizens to have direct access to the bilingual department that is located on the Zuni reservation,” Peywa said.

According to Spring 2018 enrollment numbers, more than five percent of UNM students are Native American, and many come from Zuni Pueblo, the largest of the 19 pueblos in New Mexico. To support those students, UNM Libraries recently digitized books and posters published by Zuni pueblo’s bilingual education department.

“With this access, Zuni citizens that live in different parts of the country and the world have the opportunity to keep the language going and teach their children the language using the materials,” Peywa said. “The collection is a great tool for all who are Zuni language speakers, as well as others who are interested in learning the language.” 

Peywa was hired to digitize the materials, and describe and transcribe the items, creating the metadata which is used to search within the Zuni Language Materials Collection

“When I first searched for “Zuni books” on the New Mexico Digital Collections website, there were no books or posters about the Zuni culture and its language. Students attending UNM and those planning to attend will now have an opportunity to see the Zuni books and posters and use them in their studies,” she said. “They can also use it to promote how important the language is and how it is used in Zuni.”

Having a project member from the community that produced the materials catalogue the items created an even more meaningful link to the pueblo. The collection was created with Zuni people as the primary user in mind, and there was none better to digitize the compilation than one of their own. 

“Some of the materials already added to the collection are quite sensitive to the Zuni culture,” she said. “These are left untranslated, and only fluent Zuni language speakers will be able to read them. I feel that these specific materials should be kept in the archives at the Bilingual Department in Zuni, but it is good we have them in the collection as well. I was able to put notes in the metadata to inform the viewers about the reasons some are left untranslated.”

Zuni Hello

The Zuni Public School District donated the items, which include the Zuni Language Materials Collection (ZLMC). The district was the first tribally controlled public school district in the country and the content taught at the schools includes Zuni cultural knowledge in the language. The language learning resources gifted to UNM were initially intended to help Zuni Pueblo students who are part of a grant program funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation called Zuni: Engaging Teachers and Community (ZETAC). Several UNM students in the program were already working in the Zuni Public Schools and others wanted to work there after graduating.

While the collection is publicly available, the project team plans to promote the ZLMC to specific targeted populations because these materials are culturally important to Zuni tribal members and not necessarily meant for all to view.  However, to provide the largest number of people access to the items, the team chose to house it in the New Mexico Digital Collections, which does not require a password to view materials. This allows Zuni people to look at the collection wherever they live using a variety of devices. Since its publication in May, the collection has garnered more than 2,300 page views and climbing.

ZLMC team members –student Arin Peywa, former Digital Humanities Librarian Mary Wise and Education Librarian Sarah Kostelecky– presented the collection at the June 2018 ZETAC gathering in Zuni Pueblo. Community members including educators were excited to access the collection online and session attendees agreed to tell their family members about the access and use the collection in their classrooms.

For more information about the project, contact the Digital Initiatives and Scholarly Communication department.