Alecia Gonzales to Receive Public Humanities Award

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Published: 
January-20-2009
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Alicia Gonzales enjoys her most natural environment – the classroom. Gonzales will be honored in March as the recipient of the Oklahoma Humanities Council’s 2009 Public Humanities Award. Gonzales is a lifelong educator, Kiowa-Apache author and a 1965 graduate of the Oklahoma College for Women. In addition to her many honors, she was named to the USAO Alumni Hall of Fame in 2005.

 

Lifelong educator and Kiowa-Apache author Alecia Keahbone Gonzales will be honored once again for her contributions to those around her. Gonzales was selected as the recipient of the Oklahoma Humanities Council’s 2009 Public Humanities Award.

The award honors an individual scholar responsible for outstanding public humanities programming in a library, museum, historical society or other cultural institution. Recipients are scheduled to be honored March 7 at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

In 2000, Gonzales welcomed 17 Kiowa students to the first Yee P’ay Gyan Aim (“two ways of thinking”) course. It was a pilot course funded by the Oklahoma Humanities Council. This Kiowa Clemente Course was an outgrowth of the original Clemente course taught in New York City in 1995.

The original Clemente Course aimed to empower inner-city residents by teaching them a traditional Western humanities curriculum. Because of Gonzales’s input as a member of the original curriculum planning committee, the course became bicultural. The course 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.

Gonzales is known for her lifelong devotion to teaching and preserving the Kiowa language as an author and educator. She has been a speech pathologist, a dean of student services and a guidance counselor.

Born in Ft. Cobb, the Kiowa-Apache author and teacher was surrounded by a mixture of Kiowa and American cultures. She was Apache Tribal Princess as a young girl. In the 1950s, Gonzales presented "The Lord's Prayer" in Indian sign language on the first color television broadcast of "The Dave Garraway and Arlene Francis Show." In 1962, President John F. Kennedy presented her with a lifesaving award. She graduated from the Oklahoma College for Women (now USAO) with a bachelor of arts degree in 1965, then obtained her master of arts degree at Southwestern State University in 1974.

Gonzales’ work has made her a celebrity of sorts for her knowledge and enthusiasm about Kiowa history. In fact, visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington hear Gonzales’ voice in recorded segments on an audio tour. Museum officials chose only one voice to represent each of five geographic areas in America. For the central United States, they chose Gonzales.

Gonzales may have secured the Kiowa language's future and created a veritable template for other Native American tribes to use for sustaining their own languages with the 2001 release of her book Thaun Khoiye Tdoen Gyah: Beginning Kiowa Language – the first of its kind in America.

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

She has taught Kiowa language classes at USAO and continues teaching at Anadarko High School, where she approaches the Kiowa language from a "bicultural" viewpoint using two distinctly different languages.

She has also been a member of various groups, such as the Oklahoma Federation of Indian Women, the National Education Association and the Caddo County Education Association. She was the 1993-94 recipient of the Indian Woman of the Year award and was inducted into the USAO Alumni Hall of Fame in 2005.

Gonzales was honored by the American Association of Retired People (AARP) in 2008, along with 49 other Oklahomans, who have made a difference in the lives of others or in their community. Others honorees included former governor George Nigh, world-famous entertainer Roy Clark and three American Indian chiefs.