Luce Fellow Spotlight: Trisha Moquino

Moquino is the co-founder and education director/Keres speaking elementary guide at Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC), a Keres language revitalization school that provides comprehensive cultural and academic curriculum to Cochiti Pueblo children and families in New Mexico.

“I was not fluent in our language as a child,” says Moquino. “I knew that one day, when I had children, there was nothing more that I wanted for them than to have the power to speak our language.”

In 2020, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) in partnership with the Henry Luce Foundation (Luce) awarded 10 $50,000 fellowships to support Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers dedicated to creating positive community change. The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship is a 12-month, self-directed enrichment program that provides fellows with the funding and connections necessary to maximize their potential and spark significant innovation and transformation in their communities.

Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow:

Trisha Moquino (Cochiti, Ohkay Owhingeh, Kewa) is among the first cohort of Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellows. Moquino is the co-founder and education director/Keres speaking elementary guide at Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC), a Keres language revitalization school that provides comprehensive cultural and academic curriculum to Cochiti Pueblo children and families in New Mexico.

“I was not fluent in our language as a child,” says Moquino. “I knew that one day, when I had children, there was nothing more that I wanted for them than to have the power to speak our language.”

Trisha Moquino with her daughters, who inspired her to establish KCLC.

The birth of her two daughters inspired Moquino to make this dream a reality. She wanted her children to grow up speaking their heritage language, both at home and at school. In 2006, Moquino founded KCLC in partnership with the KCLC Board of Directors and with the blessing and support of the Pueblo de Cochiti Tribal Council.

According to Moquino, the journey of founding KCLC was both “extremely challenging and deeply rewarding.” The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship empowered Moquino to continue sharing her language journey with other tribes and tribal people committed to reclaiming and revitalizing Indigenous languages in their own communities. Specifically, Moquino’s teaching and research focuses on increasing understanding of the role of Indigenous early childhood education and Indigenous dual language education.

During the fellowship period, Moquino published several articles and presented numerous online workshops on Indigenous early childhood development, language revitalization, and decolonization. Recently, she launched Indigenous Cheerleader, a website that centers Indigenous languages and cultures in education and provides resources for other Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers engaged in similar work in their own communities.

Community Background and Impact

Trisha Moquino is from the villages of Cochiti, Kewa and Ohkay Owhingeh located in north-central New Mexico. The Pueblo people of the Cochiti and Kewa Nations speak Keres, an oral language that, like many Indigenous languages, was negatively impacted by the boarding school era and other harsh assimilationist policies intent on extinguishing Indigenous languages and lifeways in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Trisha Moquino interacts one on one with a KCLC student in Fall 2019.

As a result, many Pueblo children did not grow up speaking their heritage language. In 1993, the Pueblo de Cochiti conducted a community survey revealing that the number of fluent Keres language speakers was rapidly declining. Fluent speakers expressed concern that a growing number of young people and children in their communities were no longer speaking Keres.

Although Moquino was raised by grandparents who taught her a deep love and appreciation for their culture and traditions, she was educated in the New Mexico public school system and did not grow up speaking Keres as a child. According to Moquino, as a young girl she felt shame for not knowing her language, and at just eight years old she vowed to learn the Keres language “no matter what.”

After high school, Moquino attended Stanford University. When her grandparents and mother dropped her off at college, Moquino recalls that her grandfather reminded her to return home to finish learning her language and lifeways so that she could share that knowledge with future generations.

“We cannot forget the value of our languages,” says Moquino. “Everything is embedded in our languages. When we strengthen our languages, we strengthen our cultures and our values, our present and future.”

Keres Children’s Learning Center

A self-described second-language Keres learner, Moquino has devoted her life to growing and nurturing a new generation of fluent Keres language speakers. After graduating from Stanford, Moquino returned to New Mexico to teach Indigenous children in Bureau of Indian Education and public school settings. She quickly realized that these schools were not serving her students – or even her own children – well and decided to leave the public school system to start a Keres language immersion school.

In 2006, Moquino and Olivia Coriz worked closely with the tribe and fluent language speakers to establish KCLC, an immersion/dual language school for Cochiti Pueblo children ages 2 to 12 and their families. Over the past decade, Moquino, the KCLC staff and the KCLC Board of Directors have developed a unique curriculum and method of teaching to keep the Indigenous language of Keres and Cochiti culture at the forefront of learning.

Trisha Moquino works with a first-grade language immersion student at KCLC.

“Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers need to think about how we can disrupt the current educational system,” firmly states Moquino. “Settler colonial schools do not serve our children well.  They do not support the wholeness of our children or where they come from.”

KCLC takes an intergenerational approach to immersion and dual language that allows Cochiti Pueblo children to learn their heritage language of Keres, while also “accessing an academic curriculum that challenges their intellect and values their whole being.”

In primary classrooms, teachers speak the Keres language all day to help immerse children ages 3 to 6 in their language and culture. Meanwhile, children, ages 6 to 12, participate in dual language classes, with 50% of their instruction taught in Keres and the other 50% in English.

To help ensure that Keres is also spoken in the home, KCLC requires parents/guardians to attend bi-monthly Keres language seminars. Additionally, parents are invited to participate in a Mentor/Apprenticeship program to engage with tribal elders and fluent language speakers. In 2014, First Nations awarded KCLC a $14,875 grant through the Native Youth and Culture Fund to help launch these new programs for parents.

“KCLC did not set out to be a model,” says Moquino. “We drew inspiration from other Indigenous education leaders like our heroes in Hawaii, who showed and guided us. That said, KCLC disrupted ‘business as usual’ in the education of our people – and for the better.”

Over the past decade, more and more tribes and Indigenous communities have started utilizing and adapting the innovative Indigenous education model that Moquino and others helped establish at KCLC. Growing interest in these language revitalization programs and methods compelled Moquino, and her colleagues Tracey Cordero and Mara Matteson, to launch two new additional initiatives – the Native Language Symposium and the Indigenous Montessori Institute – to train future teachers in Native language immersion, the Montessori approach and dual language education.

Sharing Indigenous Knowledge

In January 2020, Moquino received the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship to continue her innovative language revitalization work. During the fellowship period, this inaugural Luce fellow expanded upon her work at KCLC, and wrote articles and documents that allowed her to share her knowledge of Indigenous language revitalization with other tribes, tribal leaders and educators committed to reclaiming and revitalizing Indigenous languages.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moquino wrote and researched a new article on Indigenous dual language education and a four-part series on Indigenous early childhood education. According to Moquino, information and data on Indigenous dual language programs is scarce, which is problematic because Indigenous dual language programs require a different approach than most other dual language programs.

Moquino explains, “World languages have hundreds, thousands, millions of speakers. Our language doesn’t. Cochiti has maybe 100 fluent Keres language speakers so how one implements dual language education looks differently. I wanted to write an article that explores those differences.”

Moquino spent the bulk of her fellowship, nearly six months, writing and presenting on these materials. During that time, she also launched Indigenous Cheerleader, a personal website that provides a closer look at Moquino’s inspirational work. Moquino’s website provides tools and resources for other Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators committed to re-centering Indigenous languages and decolonizing Indigenous education. Moquino strongly encourages non-Indigenous educators to follow the lead of Indigenous educators so as not to be complicit in the erasure of Indigenous people.

Words of Gratitude

Although Moquino’s Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship period has drawn to a close, Moquino will continue publishing more materials on Indigenous early childhood education and dual language learning.  She will also continue working on the new children’s book she hopes to publish in the future.

Moquino is deeply grateful for the Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellowship, and the friendship and support of the other fellows. “This is so needed,” says Moquino.

“First Nations and the Luce Foundation have done a phenomenal job of bringing us together to share knowledge and disrupt that idea of who holds knowledge. What’s comforting about the fellowship is that now we’re a cohort – a group that can help each other, learn from each other, and support each other.”

Without a doubt, Moquino and the other inaugural cohort of Luce fellows will continue creating positive and transformative changes in their communities for years to come.