Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (Zuni Pueblo, NM)

Organization and Community

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, is a place of powerful cultural and spiritual resilience. The Zuni nation has survived hundreds of years of systematic oppression and disempowerment while maintaining cultural and linguistic integrity. For example, a large majority of the Pueblo still speak Zuni and follow the religious calendar. Today, in addition to historical trauma, the Pueblo faces several challenges including the loss of the center of Zuni culture (the Zuni River drying up), changes in housing development patterns, and loss of interest and knowledge of Zuni culture across generations — all of which have contributed to population-level health problems such as obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, and suicide.

The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project was founded in 2008 by a group of concerned community members committed to addressing the health issues of the Zuni community, with preventive strategies for and with Zuni youth. Today they work to advance their mission “to promote resilience among Zuni youth so that they will grow into strong and healthy adults who are connected with Zuni traditions” through summer camps, community gardening, and hiking trails.

Arts and Culture Approach

The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project has always believed Zuni culture to be essential to the health of youth and families. In the past few years, they have worked with partners to offer a number of Zuni youth programs that emphasize the importance of Zuni language acquisition, traditional agriculture practices, Pueblo art forms, traditional songs and dances, culturally significant sites, oral storytelling, and connection to the elders. These culturally enriching activities are designed to promote physical activity, improve nutrition, and provide a safe space where Zuni youth can connect to positive role models.

Although arts and culture have always been a part of Zuni Youth Enrichment Project programming, they utilized the ArtPlace Community Development Investments opportunity to more deeply explore how arts and culture could be integrated into their first major capital project — a new park and community center. Their key arts and culture effort was advised by a committee of six Zuni artists who were partners through every phase of the park’s development. The artists acted as mediators, organizers (introducing staff to new community partners), designers who worked with the architects, and even builders who constructed parts of the park. Throughout all of these roles, they were guided by the principle of placing the Zuni culture first in all of their efforts. Because of the artists’ cultural and creative lens, the park has wrapped the resilience of Zuni cultural traditions around present and future Zuni generations. With the help of culture bearers, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is learning how to establish a cultural foundation for all of their health strategies.