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Shaun Griswold
Source New Mexico

Mallery Quetawki signed onto the biggest art project of her life and couldn’t tell anyone. Her family and friends noticed she was busier than normal, but she couldn’t say much.

“I was living and breathing nothing but this project for that month and a half,” Quetawki said.

She told them one thing and it suddenly created an understanding.

Google.

“They’re like ‘All right, that’s all you got to say.’ ”

Artist Mallery Quetawki works on a painting of the late We:wa, a Zuni artist and leader. The painting became the Google doodle on Nov. 1, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Mallery Quetawki via Source NM)

Google updated its homepage late Halloween night, hours before Native American Heritage Month officially began in November.

Quetawki and anyone else visiting the website could finally see the interactive doodle that’s a lesson in Zuni Pueblo culture and highlights the notable late artist We:wa.

“As a mother, daughter, matriarch of sorts, from my community in Zuni we have a lot of roles and responsibilities as individuals and as women,” Quetawki said. “I have a role that I need to make sure I’m teaching and I’m learning, and teaching at the same time. I need to absorb everything I can and teach the things that I already know. And I’ve actually really put that heavily into my artwork.”

The Google doodle project was a collaboration between the company and the tribe. The Zuni Pueblo council had to approve the artwork and story.

The project also includes a YouTube video with further history about the project and We:wa.

Curtis Quam and Cordelia Hooee with the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center in Zuni coordinated between the two parties and brought Quetawki into the mix to create paintings for the project.

It was up all day Nov. 1 to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. When a new Google doodle is posted on Nov. 2, people can still access the images and all information about We:wa on its website.

We:wa (wee-wah) was a cultural figure in Zuni Pueblo. A person who was born around 1849 and was recognized as a third gender outside of the male/female binary, that is referred to in the Shiwi (Zuni) language as Łamana. We:wa learned skills that were taken on by men and women. He became an expert weaver, a skill practiced in the tribe primarily by men. She became a skilled ceramics potter and cooked alongside women in the community.

We:wa was one of the first to sell their art to non-Indigenous people, gaining greater recognition as an artist. They also became a storyteller and protector of Shiwi songs and dances as a spiritual leader.

We:wa was also an ambassador, traveling to Washington D.C. in 1885, where they lobbied U.S. officials to protect Zuni from settlers.

During a recent visit to the Smithsonian Museum, Quetawki said she saw papers and artwork We:wa created.

“It just all came together like I was in such awe and amazement, seeing the other culture items that they either collected from We:wa while there (visiting) or that she actually created and gave to the museum,” she said.

Google Doodles is featuring a two-spirit Zuni Pueblo fiber artist, weaver and potter We:wa in honor of Native American Heritage Month on Nov. 1, 2021. (Google screenshot)

When Quetawki signed up for the project in late September the fast deadline and process was something different. A painter, she had to send sketches to the Google team, something she says she doesn’t do when creating her paintings.

This was also the first time she had one of her pieces animated.

She said her mother passed away from cancer last year and that loss centered her priorities to share Zuni cultures.

“There’s kind of a taking over of our responsibilities,” she said. “I have to connect with individuals, especially Native American communities and revive that idea of sharing knowledge and passing it down. And I feel that being born and raised in Zuni is like that, that was already there. And it just got stronger and stronger as the years went.”

The Google doodle launch quickly turned into a celebration for tribal communities. At her kids’ schools in Zuni, it was the talk among students and teachers.

“Several teachers who are really good friends of mine are like, ‘Oh, thank you for helping us start with that blog today on Native American Heritage Month,’ ” she said. “I’m trying to help pave the way of using art as a teaching tool.”

The lessons in Zuni matriarchy leadership are also represented in the Google project by songs from Juanita Edaakie and Loretta Beyuka from the Zuni Olla Maidens.

“We have all maidens throughout the whole interactive game, and to me that just also brings up the idea of our matriarchy here,” Quetawki said. “Just the power of strong women and how women lead in our communities and things. We have pictures of the art, the weaving and so many items that were included in the paintings and the doodles and there’s so much story to be told. It’s not going to end with just Zuni on Google. We basically put our whole culture out there and there’s a lot to be talked about.”

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This story was originally published in Source New Mexico and republished with permission.