Indigenous Women United in Heart, Mind and Spirit

 

Corrine Sanchez

 

Sengi tamu. (in Tewa) – Good day to you.

 

Tewa Women United (TWU) is a collective of intertribal, multicultural women who reside in the Tewa Pueblo homelands of northern New Mexico. The organization started in 1989 as a support group for women concerned with the traumatic effects of colonization leading to issues such as alcoholism, suicide, domestic and sexual violence. In the safe space we created, we transformed and empowered one another through critical analysis and by embracing and reaffirming our cultural identity. In 2001 TWU transitioned from an informal, all-volunteer group into a formal nonprofit organization for educational, social and benevolent purposes, particularly with the intention of ending violence against Native women, girls and Mother Earth, and to promote a culture of peace in New Mexico.

 

In honoring our roots, TWU wanted to develop a curricula/program that draws upon our cultural values, language and strengths as Tewa/Pueblo peoples. It comes from our journey to share with our children, our love and dreams for them to grow into powerful, loving, caring and nurturing beings guided by their minds, hearts and Spirits, with ancient and new ways of knowingness.

 

 

Vision and Mission

The spirit of TWU is embodied in the Tewa concept of wo watsi, “the breath/spirit of our work.” Our heart’s breath guides our path of life into our daily work. Our breath is our commitment to live life as a prayer and to view life as a cycle, knowing that what we do with unconditional love is exponentially honoring all.

 

TWU’s mission is to provide safe spaces for Indigenous women to uncover the power, strength and skills we possess to become positive forces for social change in our families and communities. As Native women leaders, we also work to reduce harmful environmental impacts, strengthen families and reduce poverty. Every day we work to address the root causes of many health and social justice disparities.

 

TEWA WOMEN UNITED’S PROGRAMS

 

Valuing Our Integrity with Courage, Empowerment and Support (V.O.I.C.E.S.)

V.O.I.C.E.S. is a culturally-based response to sexual violence and trauma in the diverse communities of Río Arriba, northern Santa Fe County, and the Pueblo and Tribal Nations of New Mexico. V.O.I.C.E.S. has two projects: Spirit of Butterfly offers assistance to adult survivors of sexual violence 18 years and older. Brave Voices is for children 3-17 who are impacted by sexual violence. Each project offers advocacy, case management, referrals to community services, education, peer support groups, access to holistic healing, counseling, prevention services and outreach.

 

Indigenous Women’s Health and Reproductive Justice

TWU’s IWH program encourages Pueblo women to become active participants in their healthcare, including their reproductive health. This program utilizes traditional indigenous knowledge and practices.

 

Yiya Vi Kagingdi is a community-based doula initiative that supports mothers and their families from conception through the first few months of postpartum. YVK addresses cultural and social barriers to maternal and child health. In the context of the great range of economic, geographic and systemic challenges in a county with just seven people per square mile, we provide a connection to knowledge, services, resources and support that simply would not exist without this program.

 

Environmental Health & Justice

TWU’s environmental justice programs emphasize cultural lifeways– Native sovereignty and eco-sustenance to take care of Mother Earth and protect all our relations. With the dispossession of Native peoples from our ancestral homelands and sacred spaces, and as a result of the culture of violence engaged in perfecting weapons of war “for profit,” we are directly impacted by the harm posed by the contamination of land, air and water.

 

It is an Indigenous concept to see women as “the first environment.” The outdated model of “Reference Man,” an adult, 154-lb. white male in an urban setting is commonly used to set standards of acceptable levels of exposure to various contaminants. Through our unique gendered and cultured lens, TWU has been calling for a model that protects the most vulnerable in our communities. For us, this is a pregnant Native woman farmer.

 

Community members known as Tres Ríos Environmental Justice are the spirited water metaphor of TWU’s work. In the Española Valley there are three rivers that come together and join as one with the Río Grande, a sacred conjunction in our Indigenous ways of knowing. Like these rivers, our group consists of mixed backgrounds and heritage. We face many challenges as we come together to protect, defend and care for our beloved lands and waters.

 

TWU hosts the annual Gathering for Mother Earth at Pojoaque, NM. GME is an all-ages, all-cultures call for male and female unity, as well as Earth and water wellness. The gathering provides information about community-based gardens, seed sovereignty, food security and alternative energy. This year the 17th gathering will take place  Sept. 21-22.

 

Women’s Leadership and Economic Freedom

Poverty impacts our capacity to make healthy choices in all aspects of daily life. This program builds upon women’s and girls’ natural leadership and entrepreneurial abilities to help fight the pervasive poverty in our communities. We provide critical analysis tools to identify the root causes, and support pathways that provide financial self-sustainability.

 

Thanks in part to a grant from the US Health & Human Services Department’s Tribal Personal Responsibility Education Program for Teen Pregnancy Prevention, the A’Gin Healthy Sexuality and Body Sovereignty Project helps young people develop skills and experiences to be able to make decisions to support their overall well-being. We give them accurate, honest and truthful information on sex, sexuality, contraception and relationships.

 

The Circle of Grandmothers is another interwoven thread throughout TWU’s program areas. The COG is the nurturing breath that infuses and inspires the work of TWU. The grandmothers’ circle is a gathering of supportive elders who act as cultural wisdom-holders and mentors for survivors and community organizers.

 

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For more information or to provide some support for Tewa Women United, call 505.747.3259, email info@tewawomenunited.org or visit http://tewawomenunited.org

 

Corrine Sanchez is executive director at Tewa Women United.

 

 

 

Poem by Beata Tsosie-Peña

 

Stories of resilience and survival

Flow through our remembrance as we search

For springs of wellness within our homes

Opportunity that reflects our cultural strengths

Poor, struggling families

Polarized into focusing only on jobs

Destructive industries that split them away from their first relationship

Their first environment of woman

Furthering agendas of disconnection, decimation

Continued dislocation to land, air, and forever

Testimony from grandmothers releases our tears

Speaking what was silenced decreases our fears

Earthen embrace of forested wisdom

Asks for our collective grief

To untangle our relatives from their mistakes and tribulations

Energy cleared for the 7th generation of healers

We are battling for the reclamation of memory

An end to cycles of damage that begins

With violence towards our Mother

And ends with violence towards her daughters.

 

~Beata Tsosie

 

 

 

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