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Google Honored Two-Spirit Leader for Native American Heritage Month

Google Doodle featuring the late We:wa
Via Google

The late We:wa of the Zuni people is remembered as a spiritual leader who helped popularize indigenous art and who stood up to the U.S. government as settlers approached Zuni land.

For the start of Native American Heritage Month, Google dedicated Monday's Doodle to the late We:wa, a two-spirit leader of the Zuni people of Zuni Pueblo, which is in what is now known as New Mexico.

The late We:wa -- referenced as such in honor of the Zuni's tradition of not using the present tense when referring to a person who has died -- was born sometime around 1849. They were Lamana, Zuni for a two-spirit person. Lamana people were recognized as a third gender that was outside the male and female binary, according to Google. In historical records, the late We:wa and other Lamana were referred to with he and she pronouns.

Lamana were revered for representing harmony and balance. As a Lamana, the late We:wa learned skills that were taught to both men and women. Their talent allowed them to be one of the first Zuni people to sell ceramics and woven items to non-indigenous people. This, according to Google, catalyzed the appreciation of indigenous art.

Mastering the religious, cultural, and historical traditions of the Zuni tribe, the late We:wa became a respected spiritual leader. Their knowledge was so immense that they went with U.S. anthropologists James and Matilda Stevenson to Washington, D.C. to be part of a cultural exchange. In D.C., the late We:wa asked U.S. officials to protect Zuni land from settlers from the east.

"The idea that We:wa was our first ambassador between the U.S. Government and the tribe is very impressive. We:wa learned English to aid our tribal leaders in DC," Doodle artist Mallery Quetawki said. The artist noted that the late We:wa and their husband adopted many children that had no one else to turn to.

"They had a wealthy household--not based on money and material, but on the warmth of [their] character in helping those in need and being in that dual role of spiritual and social guidance," Quetawki added. "We:wa was a caregiver in both our physical and spiritual realms."

Curtis Quam, museum technician and cultural educator at the A:shiwi A:Wan Museum Heritage Center, told Google the late We:wa helped others "understand we are not just Native Americans, we're people."

He added that the Doodle of the late We:wa could help further conversations around inclusion in multiple ways, including for native voices as well as for other marginalized individuals. "Choosing someone as iconic as the late We:wa is contributing to this bigger picture of who we are as people."

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