When MaryAnne Quiroz discovered she had the opportunity to open an arts and cultural center in St. Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, she and her husband Sergio decided to cultivate the space in collaboration with their fellow activists and agitators. Of the roughly 20 activists, artists, and healers who responded to the Quirozs’ initial 2017 call to action, eight remain as part of the Indigenous Roots leadership collective today. “All of us want to create access with and for folks, so how do we co-create together?” explained Aiyana Sol Machado.
The community labored for weeks to transform the space from what was once a dusty industrial print shop. Today, it is home to a light-filled gallery for dance and visual art (in addition to rooms for wellness and co-working) on one floor, and a meeting space downstairs. Gatherings at Indigenous Roots are conduits for connection — to relationships that grow community, and to knowledge passed down in Indigenous cultures all over the world. On any given day, the space is host to events that range from storytelling workshops to free organic grocery pick-ups to discussions around radical parenting.
Minnesota Women’s Press sat down with the five women of the Indigenous Roots collective to talk about how they organize the space through an evolving ecosystem of support.
MWP: How do you organize and distribute roles?
MaryAnne Quiroz (MAQ): It is difficult for me to work in a linear system. My husband and I are teachers in our dance and drum circle [Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli], but we ask for a lot of input from our members with the guidance of elders. The teachings from elders [are] the foundation of what we do. Those teachings have structure, but not necessarily a linear hierarchical one.
Aiyana Sol Machado (ASM): All of us on some level have had to deal with mainstream dominant culture — working in that space in our education, or in our professional careers, or both. [It is] not that we don’t know how [to work in hierarchy]. We have all had to resist it.
MAQ: I have seen [hierarchy] in our school systems. If we are going to create a space or a center around learning, it is not about who has the most knowledge or the most experience. We all have [experience], and it would be great if we intersected and built on each other’s strengths and assets.
Daniela Montoya-Bathelemy (DMB): It [adds] toxic stress in your life when you are working in a structure [based around authority]. I worked in policy for the state, and before that, I did foster care work in New Mexico. In either situation, you have all these people trying to do all this good and help [others], but the internal structures are so stifling that people’s passion for their work dies out. What they are striving for ends up being retirement as soon as possible and staying there for the health care, which is legit, but your creativity, your passion, your ability to learn from and coexist with your coworkers changes so much in a structure [based around authority].
Alejandra Tobar Alatriz (ATA): I think [we organize with] how elusive certainty is in real life [in mind]. [Working in a collective], we have to keep checking in with each other. It is an antidote to a dominant way of being.
ASM: It is not about any one of us. It is about co-creating in this space. There were a lot of questions when we first came together, and there are still a lot of questions.
ATA: That is what life is!
ASM: Right, and I love that you said that. I think we are all comfortable with ‘We are going to figure this out together.’ No one is going to let the other down. [It is about] knowing that we are in each other’s corners.
MAQ: We could go for two months not seeing each other and still feel supported. I think half the battle of the work we are doing is [when] people ask: How do you do what you do? Instead of calling it [vertical or horizontal] hierarchy, it is circle leadership.
MWP: How does the work you are doing in this space focus on decolonizing learning?
MAQ: I would say it is more unlearning than decolonizing, because we live in a dominant colonized society. I was raised in a third world country [that was] also very much colonized. We did not have a lot, so coming to the United States felt like we had an abundance of things and opportunities — but we also did not, because we grew up marginalized and discriminated against. We came here and were forced to assimilate in order to survive. We learned history that was not accurate or representative of the original people who are stewards and caretakers of this land.
Reyna Day (RD): I am still in school. Learning in school is very linear and one-sided, but I am very blessed and grateful to have the collective.
DMB: I focus on reproductive and sexual health. When I talk about holistic sexual health, I am talking about you as a person and your life force — your anima that fuels everything that you are. It is your power. Your sexual health has nothing to do with anybody else.
MAQ: Our men [also] need to value sisterhood because it is what sustains and nurtures our society. It is this fabric of us, whether you are a mother or not, or whether you gave birth to your children or not, it is this unspoken thread of connection.
DMB: Womb energy.
MAQ: We are our grandmothers, because we are still unlearning the trauma, pain, and hurt they passed down to us while also embracing the resiliency of ancestral teachings. We romanticize ancestral teachings [but] it was not perfect. We are humans and we are supposed to evolve.
ASM: And we are doing it in a modern context. Is it the exact way that our ancestors did it? No! We are reclaiming.
ATA: There is a sensitivity to when [terminology] starts to sound too nice and packaged, when we start to look for formulaic ways to check things off and be done with them. [At Indigenous Roots] we honor language with a grain of salt. We use terms to spark patterns of behavior.
MAQ: So [decolonization] is a buzzword now, we probably used it before it became a buzzword.
DMB: Like [how] self-care turns into a capitalistic thing.
ASM: My mom is going through her own stuff as a 68-year- old woman who has been a yogi since the age of 19. She studied all over with Indian masters and she is now feeling like, fuck yoga, because of what it has become. [She thinks] ‘I don’t want to be associated with it.’ That is painful. In my 37 years of watching my mother, she has been a yogi. She meditates daily, she sits on her head daily. We have pictures of all of us [in her] third trimester doing a headstand with her big ol’ belly. But [yoga] has been so colonized and co-opted. How do we also resist all those labels?
MWP: How do you honor individual identity within a collective without being individualistic?
ASM: Individualistic ideology is a very colonized way of thinking. I don’t believe any one of us wants to do this alone. That is why all of us hold on tightly to each other and why we are working as a collective. This idea of individualistic ideology has never shown up in this space.
MAQ: Or it weeds itself out. We are an ecosystem. [Everyone] has their purpose, their potential.
ASM: We do not believe that men have a certain role and women have a certain role. Yet we need this duality. [In] Indigenous communities, there is this space for those that live in both worlds of masculine and feminine. [The men in the Indigenous Roots collective] navigate our masculine energy like we navigate their feminine energy. We expect men in this space to check [those] who are not respecting the women in this space.
DMB: I do not think any of us would flow the same way without the support of one another.
MAQ: Being part of a collective pushes you to learn how to communicate and not assume. We are learning from each other constantly.