Weaving Intersectionality by Learning from Indigenous Artists

Interactive Doodle of the late Zuni artist, We:wa, illustrated by contemporary Zuni Pueblo artist, Mallery Quetawki.

Google Doodles are unique visual content that temporarily alter the Google logo on the search engine’s main homepage. Generally, these graphics feature a figure throughout history who has made significant contributions across culture. The subjects are chosen for various reasons, for example, honoring their birth/anniversary or recognizing their work within a larger thematic context such as Native American Heritage Month. The latter theme was the basis for one of the best and most engaging Google Doodles yet, an interactive representation of the late We:wa, a nineteenth century Zuni weaver, potter and spiritual leader.

The interactivity and context behind this Doodle, provides a very immersive and profound educational experience that expands our knowledge and understanding of both Indigenous people’s culture and the diversity of human identity. Google’s platform as a search engine also enables viewers of their Doodles to gain additional insight into the subjects and themes represented, by finding results for sites and online publications that present factual primary and secondary sources. Performing a “Google search” is exactly what I did in order to further my research into Zuni culture and the incredible life and legacy of We:wa.

Behind the Doodle: Celebrating the late We:wa. via YouTube

We:wa lived in Zuni Pueblo, which is known by the non-Native populace as present-day New Mexico. Though he was born as a male, We:wa identified as a Łamana (thah-mah-nah), which translates to mean “two-spirit,” or a person who assumes a non-binary gender identity. In Zuni, Łamana is considered to be a third gender, outside of the male-female binary structure. The Google Doodle page for We:wa explains that “The term ‘Two Spirit’ became widely adopted in the 1990s to encompass the various non-binary gender identities and expressions amongst Indigenous peoples. In the Zuni tribe, Łamana is the recognized third gender outside of the male-female binary system. Historical records have used both ‘he’ and ‘she’ pronouns in reference to Łamana and the late We:wa. Because Łamana and many modern Indigenous Two-Spirit people are considered distinct from male and female genders, we have aligned with our Zuni community collaborators and elected to use the ungendered singular pronoun ‘they.‘”

We:wa was an integral advocate and activist in their own tribal nation and across the United States. In 1885, they visited Washington D.C. with other Zuni delegates as part of a cultural exchange effort to provide the Smithsonian Institute with important ethnographic research via primary sources and artifacts. This contribution included works of pottery and textiles that We:wa made during their visit.

Photograph of We:wa weaving. Collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
BAE GN SI 3646, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

While the late We:wa’s work is presented as part of Zuni history (as the Google Doodle notes, “As advised by the Zuni tribe, it is discouraged to speak of community members who have passed on within the present tense. Therefore, we refer to We:wa as “the late We:wa” out of respect for their memory and spirit.“), the work of Zuni artists continues the legacy of their well respected cultural leader. In expanding and presenting the artistic contributions of the late We:wa, a contemporary generation of Zuni artists contributed to the Google Doodle. The digital illustrations and animations were created by Zuni Pueblo artist Mallery Quetawki, and the music was written by Zuni Olla Maidens. Through the Doodle’s animations, songs and interactive weaving activity, we are immersed in the creativity of Zuni society. The whole endeavor is a really advantageous way to learn about their culture and artistic processes. Furthermore, the late We:wa’s Łamana identity should encourage insightful conversations about the fluidity and nonbinary nature of gender within specific cultural communities like the Zuni, as well as our broader collective culture.

Screenshot from the We:wa Google Doodle, featured on Google’s homepage on November 1, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Google.

Collective learning through art and cultural narratives, helps us all to be more understanding, compassionate and aware of our own complex identities and the differentiated identities and experiences of people around us. When asked what she hopes what each of us might take away from her Doodle, Quetawki says, “I hope that people become aware of our traditional customs and the fact that they are very much in practice currently.  Our ancient ways of life are still here and we can all learn from one another.  We:wa was a male individual who lived as a woman.  He is an ancestor of ours whom we think so dearly. If we could all be caring and empathetic to one another we can all live We:wa’s legacy.”

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