ZUNI, NM (Mar. 21, 2023) — In recent surveys, Zuni families and youth reported a variety of positive outcomes in the wake of Ho’n A:wan Productions’ 5th annual Delapna:we Project. Made possible with support from the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and countless individual donors, this innovative project brings the Zuni people’s traditional oral stories to life through the performing arts.
A collaboration between the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project, A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, Edaakie Arts, ShiwiSun Productions, Zuni Public Library, KSHI Radio and other Zuni community members, the 2022-23 Delapna:we Project began with theater camp in December and concluded with a film premiere on Feb. 3, a time frame that adheres to Zuni cultural protocols for the winter storytelling season.
“In their surveys, 75 percent of parents and guardians said their children spoke more Zuni at home during the project, and 83.3 percent said their children connected with positive role models while they were with us,” said Tahlia Natachu, ZYEP’s executive director. “One hundred percent said their children had fun and were positively impacted by the project.”
The youth agreed with that assessment. In their surveys, more than 90 percent said they feel hopeful about their future, have positive role models in their lives, and believe that speaking the Zuni language is important. In addition, 100 percent said that traditional Zuni stories are important to them.
Each Delapna:we Project incorporates cultural education and performing-arts activities. Participants also learn the basics of the traditional oral stories that historically served as the primary sources of entertainment, history sharing, intergenerational bonding, and cultural education for the Zuni community.
During this year’s project, 27 youth, adults and elders enjoyed team-building exercises, built positive intergenerational relationships, and connected with traditional oral stories that the Doris Duke Foundation recorded in the 1960s.
“We split the participants into groups and had them choose storyboarding, puppets, creative writing or film,” Natachu said. “Each group took the story of Shumak’olo:wa (dragonfly) and used their chosen art form to tell or retell the story, keeping in mind our goal to make the content relatable for people so we can prioritize our families, culture and language.”
The puppet group staged a live puppet show in the Zuni language for families of the participants, with the rest of the community able to watch via Facebook. The creative writing group listened to the original Delapnanne (plural of Delapna:we) and created their own stories based on the originals.
“They recorded the stories, which were first told in Zuni and then in English,” Natachu said. “KSHI, our local radio station, featured a new story every Wednesday for five weeks.”
The storyboarding group listened to the delapnanne and then drew images for visual storytelling. These were compiled into a coloring book that participants could take home and community members could download.
The film group worked together to bring to life a script written by Keith Edaakie, the Delapna:we Project’s leader and director. Edaakie’s script merged the traditional story with the contemporary world, showing a modern Zuni family and how they incorporated the values from Shumak’olo:wa in their lives. The film also included clips from the other activities, so everyone in the Delapna:we Project had a part.
The community was able to view the film through a special YouTube premiere event. At the Zuni Public Library’s new location, participants and their family members watched the film in person while snacking on popcorn and traditional alekwi:we (parched corn).
“Youth, families and elders were very proud, and each year, we’ve seen anticipation and support continue to build in our community for the Delapna:we Project,” Natachu said. “We had the most volunteer involvement this year, with volunteers representing so many vital parts of our community. We want to give a special thanks to Odell Jaramillo for sharing her talents, resources, and love for Zuni youth and culture. Thank you, also, to Shelly Morningsong and Fabian Fontenelle for their musical contributions to the project. And, we’re deeply grateful to SAMHSA, as well as to everyone who contributed to the Delapna:we fundraising campaign. We couldn’t have done this without you.”
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.