This summer, Tewa Women United (TWU) hosted the first annual Butterfly Wings Program for Native American girls 11 to 16 years old. The program focused on the development of healthy relationships and sexuality as well as body sovereignty. Body sovereignty is the right to bodily integrity and the exclusive control of one’s own body and life. Butterfly Wings brought together a committed group of five youth, two college interns, one high school intern and three staff members.
Program themes included: embracing the power of being a girl of color, self-care practices, honoring our spirituality as Pueblo people, taking control of one’s body and understanding the body’s functions. Other topics covered were: how to determine when a relationship is not healthy, how to identify the kind of relationships we want and potential partners, as well as how to make informed decisions about engaging in sexual activity and the use of contraceptives.
The program was not the traditional sex-ed young people may experience in school. It integrated more culturally relevant Pueblo activities into a 16-lesson curriculum. Several guest presenters taught about healthy femininity using traditional practices and knowledge. These included pottery making, beadwork, environmental justice education and the importance of understanding that what happens to the land happens to the people.
The program commenced with a ropes course facilitated by TWU Voices staff member and experiential educator Beverly Billy, who took all participants and staff through two exciting (and sometimes scary) team-building courses. There was plenty of laughter, some tears, and we were able to really bond with one another and build trust. This provided us with a solid foundation for everything that followed.
For every session we convened a prayer circle. One of the weekly practices was creating “paper prayers.” Instead of verbalizing prayers out loud, we wrote what was in our minds and hearts, while traditional music was sung or played. The paper prayers were burned together, outside. We equated the rising smoke to hitting the send button for a text message. Through this activity and others, we were able to connect on a deeper level with our spiritual selves.
A highlight was a retreat at La Mesita Ranch in Nambé. We spent three days and two nights at this beautiful, peaceful sanctuary filled with stunning Native American art. Through Rylin Bicenti (Diné) and Wysper Carpenter-Kish we learned about “artivism”—art that incorporates activism—and the concept of consent when it comes to our bodies as it applies to land and our relationship with Mother Earth. We learned how important it is for all of us, as women and girls of color, to stand up for our rights and be present when things are going on that impact our community.
Another highlight was when one of the TWU sayas (grandmothers), Evelyn Naranjo, taught us pottery-making in her lesson called “Healing with Clay.” This aligned with our lesson on generational trauma called “Trauma Rocks.” Saya Evelyn not only taught us how to build clay pots but also how working with clay can be a form of therapy. Sometimes when we are hurt and bothered by life’s difficulties, traditional art forms can be a way to heal and take some of the hurt away. Saya Evelyn reminded us that pottery, as with any art, is not meant to be perfect. She shared that some of her most popular pieces have been ones that were uneven and even broken in the firing process. This is a powerful metaphor: Imperfect and even broken things can be the most beautiful and sought after.
To learn more about healthy eating and lifestyles, we visited the new Healthy Foods Oasis Garden at Valdez Park in Española and helped fix erosion damage. There we learned about traditional foods grown in the Española Valley and collected “Indian” tea (also known as Kota or Debe in Tewa). With all of the unhealthy things that are being put in food, it is important to be aware and return to our traditional foodways and do what may seem unthinkable in this day and age: grow our own food.
In addition to learning so much about ourselves, we made lasting friendships. Thank you to the participants, interns, special guests and staff of Tewa Women United.
Michelle Martinez, a sophomore at Northern New Mexico College, is an intern at Tewa Women United under the A’Gin Healthy Sexuality and Body Sovereignty Program. 505.747.3259, http://tewawomenunited.org