“The Earth is our mother; from her we receive our life and our ability to live. It is our responsibility to care for our mother, and in caring for our mother, we care for ourselves. Women, all females, are a manifestation of Mother Earth in human form.”
– Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women, 1995
When I was a little girl, my Lita (abuelita/grandma) and I were sowing seeds in the garden for vegetables and flowers. She told me that when you bury a seed in the ground and it blooms and gives fruit, that meant everything was all right… but if it didn’t, something was not right and I had to be more attentive to its needs. She would tell stories of times when food was plentiful, rich and nourishing and when the purest water could be gotten from un ojo de agua (a natural spring), and when her cuñada (sister-in-law), a partera (midwife), would help birth beautiful, healthy babies like my mama, as was her esperanza (hope) for me. As we both grew older and my Lita continued her journey beyond this world, I began to see a very different picture from what I remembered in her stories.
Today, I see more and more babies born without brains, spines, or limbs, and many “uncurable” diseases. Our food and water are contaminated by neglect and inattentiveness; our Earth Mother shakes from the violence of machines injected into her womb. She weeps as her waters turn shades of color from oil spills and bloodshed, and she gasps for clean air for her grieving lungs. Something is not right!
I hear my Lita’s words as I reflect on the past 20 years of Kalpulli Izkalli and the women and their families that created it. I am witness to a transformation of our organization, of our community, and most importantly, I’m seeing the transformative process that has changed the lives of many we have come in contact with. This is our story of women coming together, sowing seeds, sembrando salud (age-old wisdom and knowledge of health and healing) over the past 20 years to transform the health and environment of our community. Some are just beginning to sprout.
Historically, indigenous women have played significant leadership roles in the health, well-being and development of families and communities. These roles included intergenerational passing of knowledge to future generations. Unfortunately, with colonization, women’s leadership roles through rituals, ceremonies and other means have been taken away and, in many cases, lost. In 1999, Kalpulli Izkalli created the Promotoras Tradicionales (women who promote and practice traditional and natural medicine) Project as an intergenerational model for culture and knowledge transfer related to healing exclusively for women. We began by sharing what we knew with each other, seeking out elders and curanderas in the community, and offering workshops or tekios (community work or sharing for community good). We eventually created the Cihuaphatli (Women’s Medicine) Project.
The community requested that we open a space where we could offer health and healing services. That was the beginning of establishing a clinic, Topahkal (House of our Medicine) Health and Healing Center, in 2001. Through the center, the Promotoras Tradicionales bring equitable and culturally appropriate health, mental health and healing to indigenous and immigrant women and their families, provide women with skills, capacity and leadership to advocate for themselves and their families and improve community health systems. Our services are also provided at community healing spaces and health fairs. The clinic operates as a “traditional gift exchange” serving mostly low-income patients. No one is ever turned away.
By 2005, the Promotoras Tradicionales realized that there needed to be more women doing this work. An apprenticeship program was created. Through a “reproductive justice” lens, the project has maintained a focus on our role as women, as life-givers, caregivers, nourishers and co-creators. It has provided opportunities to raise our voices in decisions that are only ours to make as women. “From a healthy earth come healthy women; from healthy women come healthy children.” Kalpulli Izkalli has worked towards effective traditional indigenous approaches to move our families and community toward healing and justice. One of the biggest challenges has been getting women to take back their voice (their power) to heal themselves, and inspire them to mobilize that collective voice and move from personal transformation to community transformation.
These efforts will transform our community for future generations. Currently, the founding mothers and their families, including a new generation of young people, are in a process of regeneration of the Kalpulli Izkalli. Regeneration is vital in the process of letting go of what no longer serves the community and allows the new to resurge. Gardens thrive when weeds are removed.
Traditional Healing Fair
On Sept. 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., we will honor our abuelas, grandmothers and those who came before and blessed us with sembrando salud. Our 20th anniversary celebration, the Encuentro de Medicina Tradicional, will take place at the Westside Community Center, 1250 Isleta SW.
Sylvia Ledesma is the coordinator for Kalpulli Izkalli in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 505.452.9208.