ZUNI, NM (Jan. 23, 2022) — As 2022 drew to a close, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project celebrated the successful conclusion of its inaugural “Rooted in Healthy Traditions” After-School Program. 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, this dynamic program served 79 children in the Pueblo of Zuni’s elementary and middle schools.
From Aug. 23 to Sept. 29, 60 Zuni youth in third through fifth grades attended RHT at Shiwi Ts’ana Elementary School. Then, from Oct. 11 to Dec. 8, 19 youth in sixth through eighth grades participated in their own version of the after-school program at Zuni Middle School.
The kids started each session with physical activity, led by ZYEP Physical Activity Leaders Leanne Lee and Tyler Sice. Afterward, they engaged in core activities in three focus areas: Traditional Art, led by Assistant Art Coordinator Kandis Quam and Art Leader Liam Simplicio; Knowledge Sharing, led by Youth Development Leader Norene Lonasee; and Food Sovereignty, led by Food Sovereignty Leaders Dylan Solomon and Kenzi Bowekaty.
RHT Director Tara Wolfe and RHT Coordinator Kiara Zunie supervised the program. Wolfe said physical activity was an essential part of each gathering.
“We wanted the kids to be physically active for at least 45 to 60 minutes a day, especially after a day of school,” she explained. “That meant playing Zuni versions of well-known games, such as Ninja Juice, which is similar to Red Light Green Light.
“They also played tag and basketball, and they learned some yoga,” she continued. “Most importantly, they engaged in team-building. We loved watching the ZMS students build on their communication and leadership skills throughout the program.”
The nonprofit youth organization designed each RHT focus area to strengthen the connection young people have with their Zuni language and culture. Physical activity, traditional art and knowledge, and food sovereignty are all critical to the long-term well-being of the Zuni community, and today’s young people are tomorrow’s leaders and culture bearers.
In Traditional Art, elementary-school students learned to weave on canvas, while middle-schoolers learned to weave traditional belts and hair ties. Weaving, an ancient art, is deeply rooted in Zuni culture.
In Knowledge Sharing, all children received homework help before the beginning of the core activity, and they learned Zuni language through clanship games, Zuni word searches, “Ho’ le’shina” (“My name is”) activity cards, and making paper mache offering bowls. Middle-schoolers had the opportunity to visit last year’s Shalako houses.
“Students carried in donations as they were greeted by the hosting families,” Wolfe said. “The young girls assisted in peeling corn, washing dishes and helping around the house, while the young men helped chop wood and load it into the outside oven in preparation for breadmaking. From RHT staff and the host families, students learned about the importance of the winter solstice and what it means for the Zuni people.”
In Food Sovereignty, all program participants learned about traditional Zuni gardening practices. They visited community gardens and learned to harvest, put a garden to rest for the winter, and seed save.
Program mentors also incorporated Zuni language into the students’ experiences, giving them opportunities to learn new words each week. And, they learned to make healthy recipes like fresh mango salsa with blue corn chips.
“With every activity, the students were able to understand our ZYEP Food Sovereignty motto: We Grow, We Eat, We Share, We Save,” said Food Sovereignty Leader Dylan Solomon Jr.
The RHT program at Shiwi Ts’ana concluded with a field day, gift giving, and healthy pizza from Mustard Badger Catering. The middle school program ended with a RHT Family Paint Night, held at ZYEP’s Ho’n A:wan Park on Dec. 12.
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.