The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project’s Storytelling and Art Projects Provide Youth with Cultural Opportunities and Needed Support During Pandemic

ZUNI, NM (Jan. 28, 2021) — Thanks to remote-learning technology, dedicated staff and community partners, and a little extra resourcefulness, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project was able to offer its Zuni Winter Storytelling Project and Middle School Art Elective to local youth during the 2020-21 school year. Both annual programs provide valuable, culturally relevant opportunities for creative expression.

The 3rd Annual Delap’na:we Zuni Winter Storytelling Project

The 3rd annual Delap’na:we Zuni Winter Storytelling Project is currently under way. This year, a team of community members, artists, teachers, and others are working together to turn the final performance into an animated production. Youth performers will do voiceovers for the characters, and ZYEP also will use Zoom to record some scenes in which family members will interact.

Twenty-one young people have been participating in a weekly Zoom theater camp that teaches the various elements of theater and how to act in a public performance. The meetings incorporate activities such as team building, voice exercises, and acting exercises to prepare participants for rehearsals and voice recording sessions.

Once they have a prepared script, the youth participants will begin formal rehearsals. The final performance will be available to the Zuni community in a secure online venue in mid-February; this is a strict storytelling timeframe that meets appropriate cultural guidelines.

“Delap’na:we are traditional oral stories that were a main form of entertainment, bonding, and education for Zuni people in the past,” explained Tahlia Natachu, youth development coordinator. “Our goals for this project are to provide cultural education around delap’na:we and give our youth an opportunity to use the Zuni language. We also want them to gain mentors, build meaningful intergenerational relationships, and provide young people with a safe space to connect with each other during this difficult time when they are separated from extended family members and friends.”

As Delap’na:we was practiced less often in the 20th century, a 1960s philanthropist named Doris Duke invested in Zuni Pueblo so the community could record storytellers sharing these stories. The audio recordings captured many hundreds of hours, and in 2018, A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center approached ZYEP to collaborate on a project that would bring these recordings to life through theater.

“In November, we met with our community partners to brainstorm how we could still provide this program for the sakes of our participants and our community,” Natachu said. “The last two years had a big impact, and we felt this year, especially, our community needs the performance — they need to hear these stories. Since we were adapting all of our other programs for remote learning, we decided to do the same with our Oral History Theater.”

Zuni Middle School Art Elective

ZYEP also invested in visual arts during this school year. The youth project’s Middle School Art Elective took place from Oct. 13 to Dec. 17, 2020 with 11 youth participants at Zuni Middle School; instructors included Natachu, fellow ZYEP team member Kiana Etsate-Gashytewa, local master artist and public health advocate Mallery Quetawki, and middle school Zuni language teacher Diane Cooche.

“The focus of the class was resilience through art, and each week, we focused on topics like self care, mental health, culture as strength, art as history, art as a message, and so much more,” Natachu said. “ZYEP staff delivered all art materials to students, and then we gave our presentations and had class discussions over Zoom. We also provided mentoring, checking in with each student every week to see how they were doing. We want them to know their community cares about them.”

During the elective class, students created a digital story of their experience, taking pictures and documenting what they did and how they felt. They wrote artist statements that explained their work. They also created a collaborative mural, which Quetawki put together.

“Each student painted a wooden square that became part of the mural,” Natachu explained. “The paintings represented what they wanted to contribute to the community. The mural’s overall message and purpose is to bring strength and hope to our people during this challenging time. When you look at all the different paintings, you see what each student’s positive contributions and vision of strength and hope.”

Quetawki is creating a digital version of the mural so viewers can access it online. Clicking on each individual painting will take the viewer to that youth artist’s digital story.

“Through this art elective, we seek to teach students about the power of art,” Natachu said. “Art teaches history, continues traditions, preserves culture, and imagines the future.”

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 And, to stay up to date on the latest news and events, follow the nonprofit youth organization on Facebook (/zuniyouthenrichmentproject), Instagram (@zuniyouthenrichmentproject), and YouTube (/ZuniYouth).

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.