To mark the first day of Indigenous People’s Month, Google honored the late We:wa, a Zuni Pueblo artist, spiritual leader, and diplomat, with a Doodle on its homepage today. An ambassador of the Zuni in Washington, D.C. and staunch protector of the tribe’s culture as a master craftsperson, We:wa is known for creating woven works and pottery during the 19th century.
Born in 1849, We:wa was lhamana, a Zuni category for a male-bodied person who takes on feminine tasks and at times wears feminine attire. Lhamana is considered to fit under the Indigenous umbrella term “two-spirit,” which connotes third-gender categories within Native communities.
When We:wa’s elders learned that they were lhamana, the artist’s religious training was passed onto female tribe members following an initiation ceremony in which We:wa was dressed in entirely female attire for the first time. We:wa would learn how to create ceremonial pottery from a female kinswoman, and was also assigned female tasks like grinding corn and carrying water. However, this didn’t preclude We:wa from learning how to weave textiles, which was considered a male form of art-making within their culture, or from becoming a farmer for part of their life, an occupation that had also been reserved for men.
We:wa has become the stuff of legend because they became so well-versed in so many different traditions. Not only did they master their various forms of art-making, they would also become keepers of medicinal knowledge and lore, which required intensive memorization and training.
The textiles and pottery We:wa made were some of the first to become available to settlers for purchase and would mark We:wa’s willingness to deal with colonists. They would come to learn English and form a relationship with anthropologist Matilda Cox Stevenson. Through this relationship, We:wa would have the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. to advocate for their tribe.
While in Washington, D.C., We:wa was seen as a cis woman, and the newspapers reported heavily on this visit from the “Indian Princess.” During that trip We:wa positioned themselves on the White House lawn with their backstrap loom and began weaving.