Native Village Youth and Education News
February 1, 2009 Issue 194 Volume 3


Alecia Gonzales to Receive Public Humanities Award

Condensed by Gina Boltz, Director, Native Village Publications

Oklahoma -- This March, lifelong educator and Kiowa-Apache author Alecia Keahbone Gonzales will receive the Oklahoma Humanities Council’s [OCH] 2009 Public Humanities Award.  The award honors scholars who are responsible for outstanding public humanities programming in a library, museum or other cultural institutions.

As an author and educator, Gonzales has devoted her life to teaching and preserving the Kiowa language. She has been a speech pathologist, a dean of student services and a guidance counselor. Her book, Thaun Khoiye Tdoen Gyah: Beginning Kiowa Language, is the first of its kind in America and may have secured the Kiowa language's future.  It may also prove to be a model for other Native American tribes working to sustain their own languages.

In addition to the language textbook, Gonzales gave life to legendary Kiowa folk songs through children’s storybooks.  These bilingual books include Little Red Buffalo Song, A Mother Bird’s Song, Grandma Spider’s Song, Grandmother’s Song and The Prairie Dog Song.

In 2000, Gonzales welcomed 17 Kiowa students to the first Yee P’ay Gyan Aim (“two ways of thinking”) course funded by OHC. This Kiowa Clemente Course was modeled after the original Clemente course taught in New York City in 1995. The original Clemente Course empowered inner-city residents by teaching them a traditional Western humanities curriculum.  Because Gonzales was a member of the original planning committee, the course became bicultural. It now provides a unique presentation of Kiowa culture with Western humanities.
“One of the first nights of the Kiowa Clemente Course in the Humanities, there was to be a class in the Kiowa language for the Kiowa students. Mrs. Gonzales took her place in a circle of tables. She spoke very softly to them and the room became ordered,” said Earl Shorris, president of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, Inc.
“Of all the men and women in the room, Alecia Gonzales was the one who said by her well chosen wardrobe and serious, almost stern demeanor, that she would lead. She was the beautiful one and, without saying so, told them that the beauty they saw and the stern demeanor was Kiowa. She spoke to them in Kiowa and they did not understand. Then she said the word for grandmother and for a little while she did not speak any words, she hummed. And soon they were humming with her.
“Then she began singing softly in Kiowa and they also sang. The words came to them. She had found the cradle of culture – everyone knew. The class was begun,” Shorris said.

Among Gonzale's many other accomplishments:
As a young girl, Alecia was Apache Tribal Princess.
In the 1950s, she presented "The Lord's Prayer" in Indian sign language on the first color TV broadcast of "The Dave Garraway and Arlene Francis Show."
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy presented her with a lifesaving award.
In 1965, she graduated from the Oklahoma College for Women with a bachelor of arts degree.
In 1974, Alecia earned her master of arts degree at Southwestern State University.
In 1993-94 Gonzales received the Indian Woman of the Year award.
In 2008, Alecia was honored by the American Association of Retired People.
Alecia's voice guides visitors on a recorded audio tour at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington

Alecia still teaches at Anadarko High School where she approaches the Kiowa language from a "bicultural" viewpoint using two distinctly different languages. She has also taught Kiowa language classes at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.



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