Celebrating 30 Years of Growing Beloved Community
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:
- Environmental Health and Justice, including the Española Healing Foods Oasis project. We recognize that the health of our ecosystems is what sustains us through generations and it is our responsibility to protect these for those yet to come.
- Indigenous Women’s Health and Reproductive Justice, including our Yiya Vi Kagingdi Community Doula Project (now in its tenth year).
- V.O.I.C.E.S. (Valuing Our Integrity with Courage, Empowerment and Support), our culturally-based response to sexual violence. We integrate ancient healing practices that have long existed in Indigenous communities to help individuals and communities move through grief, release trauma, and reclaim their spirits. (Program ended 07/31/19).
- Women’s Leadership and Economic Freedom, an inter-generational leadership development that includes our A’Gin Healthy Sexuality and Body Sovereignty project as well as our Saayaa’In elder women’s wisdom circle.
- The Gathering for Mother Earth.This annual event, started in 1996, offers the community an opportunity to come together for eco-systemic revival and revolution.
- In all of our programs, we center the issues of Native women who have so long been silenced through colonization, sexual assault, and the cultural stripping of the birthing process. Even so, the whole community benefits from our work. Our sexual violence and doula services are open to all in our community. Our Saayaa’In is a multicultural, multiracial circle of elders. We’ve always been a multicultural, multiracial organization.We’re really about loving, caring, and taking responsibility for ourselves and others. In our Tewa language, we’re using our interpretation of Tewa values, which are uniquely applied across all our programs and communities.We warmly invite everyone to be part of this celebration of 30 years of healing and growing beloved community. Please sign up for our email list to receive updates about what we’re planning for this special year. We look forward to sharing it with you!
This article is also published in the March issue of the Green Fire Times.
Thank you for your support to sustain our work to grow beloved community, and end violence against women, girls, and Mother Earth.