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College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences News

Digitizing Native American language learning resources: The Zuni Language Materials Collection

by Sarah Kostelecky on 2018-08-16T15:30:13-06:00 in Library | Comments

Did you know that New Mexico is home to 23 tribal nations who speak eight different languages? As with other Indigenous languages, they are vital to the traditions and culture of the people who speak them.  Yet many tribal languages are endangered and lack fluent speakers, often the result of government policies meant to assimilate Native peoples and eliminate their cultures.

UNM has a sizeable Native American student population, over 5% (Spring 2018 enrollment report), and many come from New Mexico including Zuni Pueblo, the largest of the 19 pueblos in the state.  University Libraries recently digitized books and posters published by the pueblo’s bilingual education department to support learners of the Zuni language.   The Zuni Public School District donated the items which comprise the Zuni Language Materials Collection (ZLMC).  These language learning resources were initially intended to help Zuni Pueblo UNM students who are part of a grant program funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation called Zuni: Engaging Teachers and Community or ZETAC.  Some of these UNM students were already working in the Zuni Public Schools and others wanted to work there after graduating.  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.

UNM student Arin Peywa was hired with ZETAC funds to digitize the materials and describe the items, creating the metadata which is used to search within the Zuni Language Materials Collection. Arin was selected because of her involvement with the ZETAC program and her strong knowledge of the Zuni language which was vital to the project’s success.  Having a project member from the community who created the materials led to this digital collection with meaningful and relevant terms and named artists to help Zuni tribal members find items.  The collection was created with Zuni people as the primary user in mind. 

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 New Mexico Digital Collections platform was chosen 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 over 1000 page views as of August 1.

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 this collection online. Session attendees said they will tell their family members about the collection and they will use the collection in their classrooms.









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

For more information about the project please contact the Digital Initiatives and Scholarly Communication (DISC) department at

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