Celebrating 30 Years of Growing Beloved Community

photo: Brandon Soder

By Dr. Corrine Sanchez

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Tewa Women United (TWU). It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our beginnings, to recognize our contributions to our community, and to envision the future.

In 1989, a small group of women from the six northern Tewa-speaking pueblos came together to talk about their struggles with domestic violence, addiction, the breakdown of families, and other challenges. As they shared their stories, the women found strength in learning that they weren’t alone.

Together, the women fortified their strength, courage and voices. Over time, TWU created a space for a Pueblo/Tewa women’s perspective to be forged. In the protection of circle gatherings, women began to recall stories passed down by their grandmothers that spoke of the sacredness of women, the power women possess and the vital role they play in carrying on our Pueblo/Tewa way of being.

Through engagement in TWU, the women began to reclaim their power to practice their self-determination, sovereignty and independence. For some, this came through the decisions to leave violent relationships. For others, this meant staying in relationships but actively working on communication and boundary setting. Others decided to gain more skills through education and training and other women created programs/projects, which drew on the strength of our families and communities.

TWU came about from finding a way, together, to answer the questions, “How do we continue to share our experiences with each other and others and continue our healing?” and “What can we do to support one another and others from our communities and families?”

We were an all-volunteer organization until 2001 when we received our 501(c)3 status. TWU is the only independent Native women’s non-profit organization providing direct services, advocacy, and prevention services within the original boundaries of our Tewa homelands in what is now the Pojoaque-Española Valley of northern New Mexico. Our name comes from the Tewa concept wi don gi mu, which translates to “we are one.”

Tewa Women United has always been a social justice organization—that’s been in our mission statement since the very beginning. We try to reclaim our voice, our strength, our power, our traditions, our language, our practices in everything we do. We’re not just about providing direct services and Band-Aids. We strive to understand how dominance works, how oppression works, and understand what the tools are that allow us to survive and transform dominance and oppression. We are a collective of all of our experiences with multiple women, men, and children. Those experiences have guided our processes and directions, and that is where the power is.

We are trying to get to a place where women are not just seen as body parts, but as the creators of life – because every person has to go through the body of a woman to get here. We, women, have been so disregarded as far as our power and our voice. There are high rates of violence committed against women and children in all communities, not just Native communities. We questioned, how come? So we began to ask, how do parents become parents? What did they learn? This work has influenced our development, and our pivot to prevention in recent years.

Our work is infused with the language, values, and practices of our Tewa life ways. The spirit of our work is embodied in the Tewa concept of wo watsi: with our breath is our commitment to live life as a prayer and view life as a cycle, knowing that what we do and give comes back. Therefore, as Tewah Towah (Tewa peoples), we should move in this world with generosity and a life-affirming reciprocity.

As Tewa peoples, we are taught that it is the responsibility of each of us to protect the most vulnerable in our community. During our 30 years of herstory, that responsibility has taken diverse forms. Currently, it is expressed through these programs and projects: