Maria Suarez: Hello, welcome to the Arizona State Museum podcast. My name is Maria Suarez. I'm a Creative Writing senior here at the University of Arizona. In November of 2008, I spoke to Angie Hoffman from the Apache Nation, specifically [the town of] Whiteriver, about her childhood and her work with language and education.
Angie Hoffman: I grew up on the reservation. My mother and father moved to McNary on the reservation where the Southwest Sawmill was, where my father worked. My mother and father were involved in the White Mountain Apache Baptist Church. When they got involved in that church, they wanted to pursue their education to be preachers.
We moved off the reservation—my father, my mother, myself, and my sister. My sister was probably four and I was three. We moved off the reservation to Kentucky. My mother and father pursued their AA Degree. We stayed there for two years and then we moved to Plainview, Texas, where my father also went into the Baptist College.
I remember that when we left the reservation, me and my sister knew Apache fluently. Then when we moved off of the reservation, my mother and father felt that it was in our best interest to only speak to us in English because that we would survive off the reservation. All they did was talk to us in English, so we spoke in English. Throughout that process we lost our language, but my mother and father spoke it fluently. They would speak it to themselves when we weren't around.
My mother and father found teaching jobs 50 miles from Whiteriver. My father taught eighth grade and my mother taught kindergarten. And during that time, they felt that... That was a government school. In Whiteriver they have a public school system, so my mother and father felt that, in our best interest, my sister and myself, that they put us with Anglo teachers for the year.
The Anglo teacher that I stayed with, her name was Miss McDonald. She did attend the Baptist Church where we attended in Whiteriver. I wasn't happy. I was homesick for my mother and father. In January, they allowed me to move back with them in Cibecue, so I was there for the remainder of the year. I met a lot of Native students.
After that, we moved back to Whiteriver. They were asked to be the Fort Apache Culture Director, my father was, and my mother was his assistant. During that time, they were helping this one lady. They were developing the Apache Dictionary. My mother and father learned from her. They learned how to write the Apache language. They helped develop the Apache language plus my father and mother helped develop the Christian song books in Apache.
While they were doing that, me and my sister were trying to live—or survive [laughs]—on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. I say that because we had been off for so many years, and we came back. Of course, we are White Mountain Apache, but when we came back, we weren't considered that because we didn't know our language. Because we couldn't speak Apache, the Apache children wouldn't accept us. They called us "shite girls."
I really tried hard for myself in the third grade to try to fit in, to try to learn the Apache language, but it didn't work. No-one would help me. They would laugh at me because I was saying it wrong so, of course, I hung out with girls that were just like me - Apaches but didn't know their language, or white girls. I was like that all through my elementary.
I went to Whiteriver Elementary School. I went to Whiteriver Junior High School. I went all through High School only in Whiteriver, only the Public System. I think both me and my sister—she was a year older than me—went through a lot in our lives from being on the reservation young, to being off the reservation, and then coming back on the reservation trying to find out who we are.
We know we are White Mountain Apaches, but all that traveling and changing our environment from being on the reservation, off the reservation, and coming back on had really changed us in so many ways. I think it affected us in the long term—our identity of who we are as Apaches. We lost our language. I know throughout my whole life, I've heard people say, "Being a Native person, you need to know your language. If you don't know your language, how can you identify yourself."
Through my schooling, I really tried, but I gave up. I just focused on having fun at school. I was in sports. My mother and father were examples of, "You need to go back to school. You need to get your education. You get your education. You come back to the reservation. When you get your education, no-one can take it away from you because you have it." So, they've always said, "You need to go back and get your education."
Even when I was young, I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I always had that in my mind, 'I want to be a teacher.' After getting married and graduating from High School, I was employed with my Junior High School as a Teacher Aide. When I was employed there, the Whiteriver Higher Education—the tribal education—they offered a program where you can get your Physical Education Degree from UNM [University of New Mexico] Gallup branch. So I pursued that.
I obtained my AA Degree in 1988 and then I came back to the reservation saying, "Oh, it is good. That will be enough" but it wasn't. So, I ended up subbing at elementary school, junior high school, wherever.
I then decided to go back to school full-time again. I went back to school. I went to Grand Canyon University. I was there for two years. It's a private Baptist College, a small college, but I didn't feel the support I needed so I applied for ASU [Arizona State University], and I was accepted within a month.
I transferred to ASU. In 1996, I received my degree in teaching. I returned back to the Reservation to teach. I taught seven years on the reservation. I followed my mother and father's pathway. I was employed with Cibecue Community School for three years as a fifth grade teacher. In that community, everyone spoke Apache—everyone, even in my class. The girls and boys spoke Apache. You could hear the Apache language in the community, on the playground, in the cafeteria, in the bath[?], wherever. You could hear the Apache language. I liked it there.
But my family needed me back in Whiteriver, so I applied for a job at Whiteriver Elementary School. I got the job and started as a fifth grade teacher with the Public School System. It's totally opposite from Cibecue.
I really was focused on the Apache language, so I had my girl and boy little books in Apache and English. Whenever they finished the book, we would go to the first graders and they would read to them both in Apache and English what they had written.
And also I had a friend, Bonnie Lewis. She was an Apache teacher there. At that time, when I was still teaching in Cibecue they started a program where female teachers only taught girls. That year I had girls, 18 of them. I did a lot of things with them. I did beading. I also brought in a cook and we made fry bread outside on an open fire. We also had a pot of beans. I thought that that would be important.
I’m saying that because when I went back to Whiteriver, it was a public school system and I couldn't do that. The noticeable difference was that the kids in my class in Whiteriver—all, of course, Apache—out of 18 of them, maybe three spoke their language, Apache language. The rest said that they understood it, but that they couldn't speak it fluently.
I taught at the Whiteriver Elementary for four years. During that time, I got really involved with the education system. In the summer time, I came to U of A to the American Indian Language Institute where I started obtaining my Graduate Degree to get my Masters in Multi-Cultural Bilingual Education.
For my last class for my Master's Degree, I brought the Native American Children's Literature in the classroom, and the kids' interest took off. They wanted to read more, because they saw themselves in the books. I realized that there needs to be more research done in this area. I see the interest. I see the brightness in the kids' eyes when they see books that are about themselves. So I decided to go back and get my Ph.D. and pursue the research of Native American Children's Literature.
I was accepted in the Ph.D. program in LRC [the Department of Language, Reading and Culture] at the U of A in 2003. This is my sixth year in the Ph.D. program. Currently, I am working on my dissertation. I went back to the reservation in 2005. but I did my research there. When I graduate in the Spring in 2009, I will have a Ph.D. in Language, Reading and Culture. My title is "Stories That Matter: Native American Fifth Graders' Response to Relevant Texts."
I do plan to go back to the White Mountain Apache Tribe and work there as a Principal using the Native American Children's Literature, the curriculum, into the system.
Maria: Thank you for sitting down today and talking to us.
photo of Angie Hoffman by Maria Suarez Ruiz