Literacy Program Takes the Museum to the Tribes

When San Felipe Pueblo Education/Library Manager Tracey Charlie was facing a pandemic year with no public feast days or gatherings, she worried about a loss of community connections. But the summer of 2021, a grant to tribal libraries filled the emptiness at San Felipe with a series of vibrant, out-of-the-box cultural literacy programs.

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture’s Tribal Libraries Summer Reading Program kicked off in 2015. The program has thrived, thanks in part to support from The Ludwig and Nancy Sternberger Charitable Foundation. The project’s original goal was to support literacy and resource development at Acoma, Cochiti, Jemez, Laguna, Ohkay Owingeh, San Ildefonso, Sandia, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Tesuque and Zuni Pueblos.

“It was originally organized to bring students to the museum to visit exhibits and engage in interactive workshops on culture and history,” says museum deputy director Matthew Martinez.” 2020 presented a challenge where we were not able to host students and book school groups. We were able to redirect the Sternberger money in creative ways to develop outreach and curriculum and literacy projects for tribal libraries on-site.”

Instead of bringing students to the museum, the museum went to the pueblos. A Zoom lecture series focused on Native writers featured Navajo children’s book author Daniel W. Vandever and Dr. Debbie Reese, a Nambé Pueblo scholar and founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature. “Reese is very good about working with teachers to understand context and bring attention to stereotypes in popular mainstream writings,” Martinez says.

Working with Red Planet Books in Albuquerque, the museum generated a list of Native-authored books broken down into three educational categories: K-3rd grade, upper elementary and high school. “That list has been very valuable,” Martinez says. “We received about 200 books, divided and shared with tribal libraries, to continue this theme of literacy and community engagement.”

At San Felipe, Charlie devised another way to use grant funds to bolster the isolated students. Working with the museum, she created four cultural activity kits for families to pick up from the library. These included a traditional Pueblo embroidery kit with supplies and instructions imparted via Zoom, as well as cooking kits for students to learn to make red and blue corn tortillas, feast day pies and cookies. “We really wanted to provide the sense of community teaching and togetherness that happens during special times like feast,” says Charlie.

For another activity, San Felipe artist Michael Tenorio realized his longtime dream of creating a coloring book about what it means to be a San Felipe tribal member. The coloring book has been a hit, with a community signing and two separate distributions. The response to the kits was “tremendous,” Charlie says. “Grandma would get involved, Grandpa, aunties, uncles and so on. It was fun to hear the little remarks when they’d come to get the next kit.”

During this pandemic, it was a lot of quiet time for most tribes, but this has brought a sense of normalcy and lifted spirits.” For Martinez, the feat of stretching the summer reading program into an entire year of educational programming has been inspiring. “We would love to see it continue in some form throughout the year,” he says. “I think books are a good way to start. There’s a vast body of work by Native authors. A lot of those authors are really open to talking to students.” That prospect opens the door to future private funding opportunities for author stipends and books. Support will also continue to be needed for more cultural actvity kits, even in a post-pandemic world. “We want to see what other communities come up with, given the resources,” Martinez says.



Image: Cover of a coloring book by San Felipe artist Michael Tenorio, distributed through the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture’s Tribal Libraries Summer Reading Program. Photo courtesy Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

This story is from the Fall Member E-News 2021.