Nava T’o I Yiya: Protecting the Most Vulnerable

The heart of Tewa Women United’s work is ending violence against Native women, girls, and our Earth Mother by cultivating a Culture of Peace.

As Indigenous women, we are the carriers of cultural, spiritual, ancestral, and physical lifeways, passed on through generations. This womb wisdom informs all our work, and from this place we understand that our communities are only as healthy as Nung Ochuu Quiyo, our Earth Mother, and as the most vulnerable amongst us.

In our Tewa language that person is Nava T’o i Yiya, the land-working mother who provides food for her family and community, who carries ancestral ways of knowing as well as our legacy of farming and pottery making. She is the central figure in our organizational logo, surrounded by life-giving maize (corn) and by butterflies and pollinators. She has been ever-present with us through the years; you have probably seen her figure at workshops, events, and actions. Nava T’o i Yiya is a reflection of all of us and at the heart of all we do.

We believe that when Nava T’o i Yiya is protected, everyone will be protected. Yet, federal standards for environmental exposure of substances such as chromium, PFAS, and tritium are usually calibrated to a different reference point, that of a hypothetical 20- to 30-year-old urban Caucasian male (known as “Reference Man”). These standards do not protect land-based people of color, pregnant families, or infants—all of whom are at greater risk of being impacted by radioactive toxicity. 

Our advocacy is rooted in this ethic of protecting the most vulnerable, and we see the interconnection of environmental, reproductive, and gender justice. Through Opide we braid “movements” such as environmental, reproductive, gender and healing justice. The continued manufacturing of plutonium pits for nuclear warfare, the release of toxic waste into our air and waterways, the fracking of our lands, the construction of “man camps” that engender sexual violence – none of these are life-affirming acts. As Tewa Women United, as mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and aunties, we advocate for an end to the constant assaults of environmental violence on our lands and bodies. These intersections must be taken into consideration when determining land use and policy, as well as determining who makes decisions regarding land use and policy. 

This perspective is expressed powerfully in the teachings of Katsi Cook, Mohawk midwife:

“Woman is the first environment. In pregnancy our bodies sustain life. At the breast of women, generations are nourished. From the bodies of women flows the relationship of those generations both to society and the natural world. In this way, the earth is our mother, the old people said. In this way, we as women are earth.”

It is time to listen to and trust the wisdom of Indigenous women in our role as life-givers. When Nava T’o I Yiya is put at the center of policymaking, all of us are safer.

This year, we invite you to explore with us how to center Nava T’o I Yiya in all of our work for environmental, reproductive, and gender justice.  Please consider…

Learn more…

The Use of Reference Man in Radiation Protection Standards

Reference Girl: Why We Need Her Now