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A:shiwi College: Redefining Education in Zuni Pueblo

"We want people to know that education doesn't just end at grade 12," Hayes Lewis explained to members of the Thriving Communities team at Spirit Farm in New Mexico during a joint visit with the Organic Farm School based in Clinton, Washington this past June. As executive director of the A:shiwi College and Career Readiness Center (ACCRC), Lewis is crafting an educational approach that intertwines Zuni traditions with contemporary academic needs.

Two people shaking hands.
Hayes Lewis, Director of the A:shiwi College and Career Readiness Center, and Dr. Drew Corbin, Director of Research, Organic Farm School

Lewis brings a wealth of experience to this role. He spent ten years at the Institute of American Indian Art as the Director for the Center for Lifelong Education and served as Superintendent of Schools at Zuni from 2012-2016 (1). This background informs his vision for ACCRC, part of a larger movement of tribal colleges reclaiming control over Indigenous education.

ACCRC's mission centers on preserving and revitalizing Zuni language and culture. "We have four levels of language and culture that we teach," Lewis shared. "The language is so important because it's the bedrock for connections culturally and socially for all those practices we have."

This linguistic foundation supports a broader vision for education in Zuni Pueblo. Lewis outlined plans for an innovative "micro-school" serving 50 students from grades 8 to 12:

"We're looking at eventually developing a micro-school for students from grade 8 to 12, a group of 50 students that want a different kind of education, one that's multidisciplinary, focused on tribal and ancestral knowledge and also employment, as well as revitalizing all of those practices that are important for Zuni, including gardening, farming and taking care of the environment."

Lewis emphasized the goal of ensuring students can "be competent in any situation they find themselves in worldwide." This includes ambitious plans for international exchanges with other indigenous communities.

ACCRC's work extends beyond traditional academics. The college hosts community workshops on topics ranging from 3D printing to medicinal plants. They're also establishing a demonstration garden to revive traditional farming practices, part of a broader initiative funded by a BIA-Zuni agency grant.

As ACCRC seeks accreditation, Lewis is mindful of maintaining the college's unique identity. "If you're not careful, you can end up looking something very colonial," he cautioned. To counter this, ACCRC is "constantly, consciously looking at ways to decolonize the university."

ACCRC's partnership with Navajo Technical University (NTU) is particularly significant. As Lewis noted, "Connecting with NTU really shows and demonstrates that Indigenous people can decide what education can mean from our own tribal perspectives."

The significance of ACCRC's work extends far beyond Zuni Pueblo. As one of only a handful of tribal colleges in the Southwest, it serves as a model for indigenous education. Lewis envisions international partnerships and exchanges, allowing students to connect with indigenous communities globally.

For the Zuni people, and potentially for indigenous communities across the country, ACCRC represents a vision of education that doesn't require leaving one's culture at the classroom door. It's a model that could transform not just individual lives, but entire communities, helping to preserve and revitalize indigenous knowledge for generations to come.

Additional Sources:

1. A:shiwi College and Career Readiness Center Partners with Navajo Technical University. Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education (2019)

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