When the 3 Sisters Collective applied to be part of last year's AHA Festival of Progressive Arts, they didn't even have an idea in place.
"We had just been brainstorming, we had just been talking about Natives living in Santa Fe and how it's such a crazy experience and different ways we feel marginalized or singled out or outright ignored," co-founder and newly minted PhD Christina M Castro tells SFR. "Then AHA came around and we saw Ginger [Dunnill] was facilitating that, and we thought, let's apply—we may not have a concrete idea, but we'll come up with something."
That something was the Un-Equal Exchange, a mock boutique with a subtle but powerful interactive statement on cultural appropriation. Inside the Un-Equal Exchange, the collective displayed pieces of kitschy Native-themed clothing and textiles bought at yard sales, and alongside these, they crafted cardboard cutouts of tribal garb akin to paper doll clothing that visitors could try on.
"And if people wanted to try out the cardboard cutout of ethnic clothes, they could, but they were big and uncomfortable," Castro continues. "And it should be uncomfortable."
Castro recently completed a doctoral program in justice studies at Arizona State University through its School of Social Transformation. 3 Sisters co-founder Autumn Billie currently attends ASU as well but pops in on Santa Fe now and again; the final co-founder, Autumn Gomez, is training to become a doula. Together, the collective partners with organizations like Wise Fool, Tewa Women United and the Alas de Agua Collective to host anything from gatherings and events to marches and protests. For example, at the Women's March in January, 3 Sisters joined with Tewa Women United on the Plaza to provide a more Indigenous point of view after it was discovered that no Native women had been invited to speak.
"It was sad that in such an Indigenous-rooted area, there was a complete blankness," Castro says. "Their defense was that they tried to contact Tewa Women United, but when Tewa couldn't provide a speaker, they dropped the ball."
Last October, following the events of the now-defunct Entrada that found peaceful protestors arrested, 3 Sisters, led by Gomez, staged a peaceful reclamation of the Plaza and its surrounding areas.
"In the year since we've done that, the Entrada is gone," Gomez notes. "We did it peacefully, we reclaimed the territory."
And this is only the beginning.
3 Sisters, which operates under the fiscal sponsorship of Wise Fool, was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the Kindle Project after being recommended by Alas de Agua's Israel Francisco Haros Lopez. Some of that money is already earmarked for screen-printing resources and projects—and Castro is quick to mention that much of what they'll print with and on will be purposefully secondhand—the bulk of the grant, however, is just waiting to be dispersed into future projects and ideas once Billie, Castro and Gomez identify them.
But what about right now, today, this week? With Indigenous Peoples Day coming up this Monday Oct. 8, on the Saturday before, 3 Sisters plans to meet at the State Capitol and march to the Plaza raising awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW)—a crisis in North America that is all but ignored by the media. Countless Indigenous women have either gone missing, been raped or murdered—or all three—and awareness must be raised.
"We're coming to bring the information," Castro explains. "We're going to have speakers, I think we're going to have some young poets, then we'll make our way to the Plaza which is having existing events—but it needs to be everybody's issue, not just our issue; we already carry so much. And I'm down with solidarity, I'm down with strategic planning, but I'm not down to do other peoples' work for them."
As such, 3 Sisters Collective is open to partnerships and allyships, so long as those who wish to get involved are sincerely looking to help. The group is also looking for ways to create and hold safe, healing spaces for Indigenous people and, overall, affect change on Santa Fe from the Native perspective.
"If it wasn't for those spaces, I would not be where I am right now," Gomez says. "It's taken a lot of work to be social and to be in public, and I'd like to create those spaces for other Indigenous people and people of color."
Castro echoes these sentiments, and acknowledges it's important to try and help heal Santa Fe rather than leave it behind. "I want to be here. It's a great, energetic place," she says. I like being here because I think there's a lot of room for great ideas to blossom."
Find more about 3 Sisters Collective at facebook.com/3SistersCollective here.
Indigenous Peoples Day March for MMIW
11 am Saturday Oct. 6. Free. The Roundhouse, 490 Old Santa Fe Trail.