ZUNI, NM (Oct. 11, 2022) — The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project has concluded its first “Rooted in Healthy Traditions” After-School Program for children in third through fifth grades. Made possible with support from the CDC’s Tribal Practices for Wellness in Indian Country, the New Mexico Department of Health, and Native American Agriculture Fund, the six-week program took place at Shiwi Ts’ana Elementary School in the Pueblo of Zuni.
Sixty Zuni youth attended the program from 3 to 5 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from Aug. 23 to Sept. 29. During each session, the kids participated in physical activity and special focus areas that included traditional art, knowledge sharing and food sovereignty.
“We wanted the kids to be physically active for a full hour, especially after a day of school,” said Tara Wolfe, ZYEP’s program manager. “For six weeks, they played games ranging from Zuni versions of Duck Duck Goose and Red Light Green Light to a variety of tag games. Our students also took part in yoga, led by their mentors.”
“I liked playing games with my friends on the field,” reported fifth-grader Lakin Peina.
In the food sovereignty focus area, the children learned about traditional Zuni gardening practices. Wolfe said they were able to visit community gardens so the student could get their hands in the earth and even help harvest some crops. Program mentors also incorporated Zuni language into the students’ experiences, giving them opportunities to learn new words each week.
“During our garden visits with the students, we encouraged them to greet the gardens in Zuni and speak to them,” said Dylan Solomon Jr., ZYEP Food Sovereignty leader. “This was beyond memorable, because the students spoke in Zuni throughout the lessons and as we left the gardens.”
Language is a vital component of all ZYEP programs, as it is important to the livelihoods and longevity of the Zuni people. Native food sovereignty is another critical piece, Solomon said, and staff members are dedicated to teaching Zuni youth about traditional diet, traditional gardening and farming methods, and healthy nutrition. He observed that the RHT program reflected both.
“This was very fulfilling, because the students were able to understand our ZYEP Food Sovereignty motto: ‘We Grow, We Eat, We Share, We Save,’” he explained.
“We learned many new Zuni words related to agriculture and nature, and much more, through fun, interactive games and scavenger hunts,” said Kenzi Bowekaty, who works alongside Solomon as a ZYEP Food Sovereignty leader. “To me, that is where connecting back to our culture should begin.
“Whether it involves greeting our plants when we walk into our garden, preparing a meal together, running around and exercising while connecting to the land, tending to the garden, or jamming to traditional music while working, these are simple yet valuable Zuni traditions that will be carried on by our children,” she continued. “I hope and pray that these memories and lessons will stick with them, and encourage them to continue.”
In the traditional art focus area, ZYEP art leaders Kandis Quam and Liam Simplicio taught the students how to weave on canvas. Elder mentor Diana Kostelecky was deeply involved, sharing her weaving knowledge and experience with the children.
“I liked weaving, because it helped me keep focused,” said fourth-grader Louis Keahna Jr.. “And I got to learn more about our traditions.”
Youth Development Specialist Norene Lonasee taught the knowledge-sharing focus area. In addition to providing homework help, she engaged the children with fun and exciting activities such as clanship games, Zuni word searches, “Ho’ le’shina” (“My name is”) activity cards, learning how to make paper mache offering bowls.
“I liked learning new stories and speaking the language,” said fifth-grader Sydney Mahooty.
On the final day of the RHT program, staff, mentors and students gathered for a field day, gift giving, and a pizza party — with healthy pizza, courtesy of Mustard Badger Catering. Next, the RHT program moves to Zuni Middle School for the next quarter of the 2022-23 school year.
To learn more about the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project and its programs, and for information about making donations, partnering with ZYEP, and volunteering, call (505) 782-8000 or visit zyep.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest news and events, follow the nonprofit youth organization on Facebook (/zuniyouthenrichmentproject), Instagram (@zuniyouthenrichmentproject), YouTube (/ZuniYouth), and TikTok (/zyep09)
Founded in 2009, the nonprofit Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is dedicated to promoting resilience among Zuni youth so they will grow into strong, healthy adults who are connected with Zuni traditions. ZYEP fulfills its mission by providing positive role models, enriching programs, and nurturing spaces that contribute to the healthy development of Zuni youth. ZYEP strives to provide every child with the encouragement and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.