The IYOU Group in Rural New Mexico

By Kialo Folsomito and Terri Winters, IYOU
Torreon, Ojo Encino, Cuba, New Mexico

My name is Kialo Winters of the Diné Nation (Navajo/Zia Pueblo) and my wife is Terri Winters (Navajo/White Mountain Apache). We live on the eastern edge of the Navajo Nation reservation, 26 miles south of Cuba, New Mexico. We grew up in the community of Na’ Neelzhiin (Torreon) all our lives and now reside in the neighboring community of Ojo Encino. Our three daughters, June (12), KC (4) and Erin (3) are true blessings to us and we fill their hearts with love, support and discipline each day.

We work within the three geographically connected communities of Cuba, Torreon and Ojo Encino, New Mexico. This area covers 900 square miles and has an estimated population of 4,000 residents. Life here consists of a complex mix of culture, tradition, family and land; there are Diné, Pueblo, Hispanic/Norteño, Black, White and other people in the area, families with a wide range of experiences in New Mexico. Members of each community struggle with poverty, long commutes to work and school (the nearest high school for the Torreon and Ojo communities is 30 minutes away), and lack of water and electricity. Families here face racism, alcohol and drugs and a high suicide rate.

In spite of these challenges, there remains a strong desire to find opportunities to build connections across communities, developing new concepts, skills and relationships between the people who live here in order to build our communities together. Our grandmothers and grandfathers talk of earlier times when the three communities used to work on each other’s land, build things together and share time. But in the last hundred years, the rivers dried up (due to diversions of the water) and overgrazing destroyed much of the farming land. As communities lost opportunities to work together and share time, they became isolated and, in some cases, estranged.

In 2007 we invited the community arts group, Littleglobe, to our area to work with us to explore our personal stories and make art together, as well as discuss the difficult issues that divide us. From this shared experience a group of us—ranging from elders to high-school students to children—saw our ability to realize our full potential in this world, regardless of life’s circumstance. Afterward, we created the IYOU group.

What is IYOU’s inspiration? The heartbeat of IYOU is creative expression. The twinkle in participants’ eyes when they find that hidden place of creativity, knowing they have created or shared something so awesome and profound that they will always look back to that success and continue to identify with that moment throughout their lives. We believe creative expression is an effective way for building self-esteem and instilling collaborative leadership skills, enhancing community trust and vision and building community capacity.

We saw this happen during our time with Littleglobe (in months of creative collaboration and the creation of a community performance/festival, “Common Ground TOC”). By working and creating together, over a period of months, strong connections emerged across the various divisions that separated us. Creating a collaborative performance for our community (in June of 2008), consisting of music, movement, songs, storytelling and poetry demonstrated our ability to build something meaningful and significant together—something that was deeply moving for all involved.

The IYOU group emerged from that experience and now works as a cross-community council that is developing its own projects— creating seasonal programs in storytelling, media literacy, poetry and sports; identifying community artisans we can support (either as workshop leaders or by other means). Together, the IYOU organizational team is also working toward the building of a green, off-the-grid community center for our three communities. So far, we have received two grants and have been given the use of an unoccupied day school for extracurricular school programs. We are also applying for larger grants for the continuing development of our community center plans.

We work hard so that IYOU community workshops promote safe and inclusive environments for our participants—community residents, youth, neighbors, etc.—to creatively explore who they are, where they came from, what they imagine and where they want to go. Two- or four-hour workshops offer individual and group exercises with writing, music, poetry, spoken word and/or film. We believe each person has a story, a talent, a skill, a contribution that is vital to their community and this world. In the sharing of these stories and contributions, we learn to understand each other, create and strengthen bonds between us while developing communal stories that can carry a community vision forward.

This unfolding community “vision” has already taught us that we want a community space/center that can offer after-school and summer programs (in the creative arts and sports) for our children, studio space for local artisans, workshop space for adult programs (in the creative arts), a place for community dialogue and more. We believe this community space will also produce works of art (exhibitions, performances, films, etc.) that allow us to share our stories through expressive mediums—stories that come from the heart and soul of the community.

AN EXAMPLE: I, Kialo, would like to share with you a story about my own ancestors, in the hope of illustrating why access to creative expression is so important. Working with Littleglobe in the making of the Common Ground Festival helped me to re-connect to this story and envision a way of bringing the story into a new form for my community and the world.

My ancestors escaped the U.S. military’s attempted genocide of the Diné culture in 1863, in the months leading up to what is called “The Long Walk” (1864). The Long Walk was the forced deportation of the Navajo People by the U.S. government in 1864. Navajos were forced to walk for 450 miles at gunpoint from their reservation in what is now Arizona to a place called Bosque Redondo, in eastern New Mexico. Many died along the way from cold, starvation and murder. Many more died in Bosque Redondo from starvation, lice, vermin and disease.

In the months before The Long Walk, the U.S. military began their sweep south, from the San Juan basin through what is called Dinetah, the land of The People (the Navajo). A small U.S. military cavalry arrived at a homestead located in the east plains at the base of the Chuska mountains. A tracker led the group to this location where a family of six lived. After attempts to seize the household and deport the occupants failed, the parents were murdered. Three children, with an infant, fled east by foot.

A few military individuals separated from this cavalry to capture the children. The pursuit turned to a 300-mile trek along the Colorado plateau where the children hid among vast crevices, boulders and gorges. During the pursuit, the siblings’ infant brother died of malnutrition and they were forced to bury him in a crevice in a sandstone wall-face in the plateau. A 17- and 15-year-old and their nine-year-old sister survived. They continued fleeing east and made their way into what is currently the Cibola National Forest, along the Mt. Taylor mountain range. There the 15-year-old was attacked by a bear and killed while gathering firewood. The remaining two girls decided to leave the safety of the forest not only because the killer bear was in the vicinity but it was taboo to be near such an episode of death.

The two girls fled northeast onto the farmland of the Pueblo of Zia. Here a Zia Pueblo farmer found the girls on his crop field, took them home and hid them. The pursuing military tracked the two girls into the Pueblo and searched the homes. The farmer and his family hid the two girls in a woodbox under beddings and blankets. The girls miraculously escaped detection and the military party continued on toward Bernalillo, New Mexico. The two girls, Glinibah and Pablita, were adopted by the pueblo and raised as its own, learning the language and customs. The youngest girl, Pablita, married a Pueblo man with the last name Medina and they had a daughter, Lola, together. Lola married a Pueblo man named Jesus Salazar and they had two sons. Lola and her sons were baptized in the Pueblo Catholic Church and were given names of Polito and Frank Montoya. Polito Montoya had 12 children, 48 grandchildren, and 94 great-great grandchildren. I am one of his great-great grandchildren.

In 2000, I took a college English class that focused on research. I remembered my uncle, Richard Montoya, sharing this story at a family reunion in 1998 and I decided to focus my research on learning what I could about Lola. During my research I found a published account, an excerpt from an archaeologist who studied the Pueblo culture of Zia during the early 1900s. This archaeologist told of the Pueblo governor giving an edict saying, “since the U.S. government is now helping the Diné people, they should resettle in their lands to the west.” The archaeologist records a Diné woman, raised in the Pueblo, taking her two sons and their inheritance back to Dinetah. This was Lola Salazar, my great-grandmother.

I am currently writing a historical novel and screenplay about how my grandfather’s great-grandmother, Pablita, endured close to 300 miles of rough terrain, physical extremes and emotional trauma to avoid being captured. Then I hope to produce a short film. I see this historical novel/film project as much more than informational. This story addresses the historical trauma caused by a nation that cited Manifest Destiny as its justification for eliminating peoples and cultures. I will always hold the deepest condolences in my heart when I hear oral stories from community members who would tell of their grandmothers and grandfathers who were beaten to death with the butts of rifles because they could not walk fast enough because their feet held blisters from their torn soles; of children shot because they were caught running away from the group; of mothers who were forced to leave their hungry, crying infants on the trail because these babies would not be quiet.

Many unheard stories, songs and traditions of the Diné were lost by the time survivors or their children finally returned from Bosque Redondo to the homeland of Dinetah. Some of these stories were emergence/creation stories; some were used in ceremonies (chants, songs and sand paintings) by medicine men or women. They will never be recovered. But other stories survive, like that of Pablita and her siblings. My hope is that by writing the historical novel and creating a short film I can both document past atrocities (in the hope these will not happen again) and affirm the capabilities, resilience and spirit of our people.