By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative
Albuquerque, NM – The youth took a collective deep breath, and as Arlyn John began to sing a traditional traveling song, the cars and other noises of the city seemed to fade away.
For many, the journey they were about to begin, biking from Zuni Pueblo to Taos Pueblo, is the biggest trip of their lives. The Cycles of Life program chose this route for their healing ride, using the same route that Coronado’s army took centuries ago when the goal was the destruction of Indigenous communities.
“I am excited and also nervous because I have never biked this far,” admits Franchesca Sisneros (Dine’/Hispanic), a high school student at the Native American Community Academy (NACA) who, along with her fellow youth taking part in the Cycles of Life program, built her bike that she will now use to ride across the state. “I am thankful to have this opportunity because I know that a lot of youth do not have chances to do something like this.”
Arlyn (Dine’ – Zuni clan, born for Tangle Water), a teacher of personal wellness at the Native American Community Academy (NACA), who also coordinates the NACA Conservation Corps (CC) summer program similarly breathed a sigh of. Weeks earlier he was looking for a program for his CC students, and came across the Cycles of Life Program. “It seemed like a great fit, a way to connect taking care of yourself and taking care of our Earth,” he recalls.
We are learning first-hand the power of critical thinking linked with action through, taking an indigenous perspective on health and education,” says Jake Foreman, the program’s creator. “We are creating a space that supports, encourages, and strengthens youth to realize their innate potential as compassionate leaders for our Mother Earth through service, exercise and exploration of our local community.” In addition to learning bicycle maintenance and working to build bikes that are “funky and fresh” the youth have learned how to make traditional-style waffle gardens, did an energy audit on a local building, and learned more about green energy initiatives in our region.
The inspiration for creating a summer program for indigenous youth that connects bicycling, gardening and art came from my personal understanding of the interconnectedness and impermanence of everything on our planet. A profound lesson of impermanence came when my father passed away last spring.
Cycles f Life ran off ‘loving service’ and lots of committed partners, says Jake. Entities involved in the Cycles of Life Program include community members in the Zuni, Laguna NACA and the NACA Conservation Corps, NM Game and Fish, the Sierra Club, UNM CLPS Program, Molina Healthcare, the Native Health Initiative, and Instituto Sostener.