Read: Dissertation by Alicia Litschi about the Indigenous Women’s Space Alma de Mujer Con Alma: Dialogues in Decolonizing Counseling — Reciprocal Ethnographic Explorations in Indigenous Spaces for Community Healing
Alma Mujer by MARSHA A. GÓMEZ
My awareness and training on environmental and human rights issues and a general reverence for the Sacred Mother Earth and her creations started at an early age under the guidance of my parents. I not only remember their teachings but their actions in defense of the land.
At the age of 8, I remember standing next to my father as he single-handedly squared off against the Corporation of Engineer and Dow Chemical, that was threatening to destroy the land and fishing grounds of my people. He discovered and exposed illegal toxic dumping in the Atchafalaya Basin in southern Louisiana.
By the age of 17, in the late 60’s, I began my involvement in organizing anti-VietNam War Moratoriums and Civil Rights Issues. Upon moving to the Ozark Mountains, my involvement progressed to take on new dimensions in the 70’s with the rise of the American Indian and Women’s Movements.
The projects I initiated there and continue in some form to this date included the Women’s Radio Collective, Women’s Street Theater Troupe, Women’s Work (an all women’s construction crew and apprenticeship program), Hard Labor Feminist Newspaper, and the Northwest Arkansas American Indian Resource Center, Native American Political Prisoners awareness, Leonard Peltier Support Group, Big Mountain Support Group, Rita Silk-Nauni Defense Committee and Anti-nuclear moratoriums.
In September of ’81,I relocated to Austin, Texas, brought here by the City of Austin, to teach community art classes in traditional pottery at thc Dougherty Art Center. I also worked for two years as Manager of Designer’s Space managing a 1000 sq. ft performance space and 40 art studios at 2 locations in Austin. I then went onto becoming the first Artist-in-Resident for the City of Austin, implementing quality art/cultural programming to the community, and low-income “minority” constituents for 3 years, I taught over 5000 students from ages 3-93 during this period.
My involvement with native American land rights and political prisoners developed intensely here as awareness of these issues in the Austin area was minimal. As one of the coordinators of the Leonard Peltier Support Group, we hosted several American Indian Film Festivals and conferences, lecturing in public school systems and hosting national speakers. In 1982, we formed Artist asIndigenes, a national pan-indigenous women’s artist association, where I served as co-director for 4 years. We showcased artwork of over 250 native artists in this period and hosted major touring exhibitions and symposiums on the Concerns and Contributions of Indigenous Peoples.
In 1984, the Indigenous Women’s Network (IWN) was founded. As one of the co-founders, I continue to serve on the Board of Directors to date. IWN, is an international coalition of indigenous women of all ages who work in rural and urban communities applying indigenous values to resolve contemporary problems. We offer technical assistance, support and development of economics, social and cultural projects, which utilize appropriate technology and contemporary methods which are based on traditional philosophies and practices. We have hosted 2 International conferences and produce a biannual magazine, Indigenous Woman, that hasinternational distribution.
My work for the Foundation began in January 1986, as part-time coordinator of special events and outreach co ordinator to women of color at the Austin Women’s Peace House, then located on West 6th Street, The Center provided services to the women of Austin, in various formats; offering meeting space for numerous workshops, a resource library of books, files and information on issues of concern to women, which continued to grow with the on-going years and change of location and directors. Involvement with the Foundation then expanded to working at Stonehaven Ranch, coordinating special events and attending international conferences and speaking tours.
In May of 1988, we opened Alma De Mujer center for Social Change, where I am presently and since its inception served as director and care-giver along with my comadre, Esther Martinez. Located in a beautiful valley on Cypress Creek near Lake Travis, outside of Austin, the center primarily provides retreat and conference space to non-profit organizations, and groups of individuals that are working to build a better world for all of Creation.
We also serve as a resource and network information center for indigenous and environmental issues and give summer workshops to “disadvantage” youth, i.e. Texas State School for the Deaf and various “at-risk youths” programs. A successful organic garden supplies the groups with food, herbs and fresh flowers. The Center has graciously facilitated over 200 different organizations and approximately 6,000 people in this 6 year period.
A number of important conferences of regional and international scope have taken place at the Center, such as, the National Indigenous Women’s Conference and Community presentations. The Southwest Regional Indigenous Women’s Conference of Youth and Elders, Southern Sustainable Agricultural Network, Bioregional Conferences, United Farm Workers, Border Coalition Against Radioactive Dumping, and numerous American Friends Service Committee’s regional and national conferences, to name only a few.
My international travels associated with the Foundation are as follows:
1985 – Decade of the Women Conference, Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) representative and workshop panelist on Appropriate Development and Economics in Nairobi, Kenya.
1987 – World Congress of Women, Chaired the Indigenous Women’s Problems Commission and served on NGO Working Group for Indigenous/Minorities, Resolution proposal to the United Nations, which was adopted (Paragraph 141) in Moscow, U.S.S.R.
1991 – Alma, Corazon y Vida, Multi-Media/Multi-Cultural Art of Women from the Western hemisphere (Art exhibition/presentation and cultural exchange with Italian women) in Rome, Italy.
1992 – “500 Year Reconciliation with Native Peoples”, Speaking Tour to Europe, London, Italy, Germany. (W.I.D.E.) Conference on Economics and Development in Dublin, Ireland.
ECO ’92 -NGO/United Nations Conference on the Environment, my involvement primarily with the International Indigenous Commission and Planeta Fem Women’s Forum. Follow up presentation/slide shows and pamphlets of information/resolution on all of these conferences were given to my community as well as distributed nationally. As an artist/activist for 20 years, I have been a contributor of articles and artwork for several books and videos and various newspapers.
In May of 1988, I was commissioned by Genevieve Vaughan and the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, to create a life-size sculpture that would represent the emerging nurturing and feminine forces at work in the universe today. Thus, Madre del Mundo, came into being. She was initially installed on the U.S. occupied Shoshone land across from the Missile Test Site in Nevada, for a Mother’s Day Peace Protest. Since that time five more Madres have been installed in various locals, including one at the Peace Farm in Amarillo, Texas, across from Pantex, the largest nuclear war-head assembly/dismantling facility, one on the U.S./Mexican border in Brownsville, where she stands in direct defiance of the desecration of the land and its peoples.
In the spring of 1988, I was very fortunate to be asked to co-manage Alma de Mujer Conference and Retreat Center with Marsha Gómez, a friend and well-respected member of the Austin community. This was also my introduction into working with Genevieve Vaughan and the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, both of whom have been instrumental in creating a support for my different grassroot projects.
Here at Alma de Mujer the span of years has taken on many-faceted aspects, from daily maintenance tasks to environmental and human rights issues.
Being located in the midst of golden-cheeked warblers and black-cap vireo bird habitat, the position of caretaker has led me to protect the land as well as its endangered Species. Sad to say, this oasis of pristine hill country is under threat of constant development. In our first year of Operation here, a tract of land above us was being proposed for development of condominiums, There was opposition to it and with the help of the Neighborhood Association, former Mayor Cookesy, thc Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance, the Endangered Species Act, our work here at Alma and Gen Vaughan, the development was brought to a halt. Our work on these issues locally is a representation of what is going on the world over (In some areas, there is greater devastation.}
Over the years, our involvement in supporting indigenous issues has brought us a great blessing in bringing different indigenous elders to Alma. In 1990, we hosted the Southwest Regional Indigenous Women’s Conference. This conference brought to Austin’s awareness the struggles and visions of the indigenous people and the importance of re-examining the commemoration of 1992. The Elders brought to us their ceremonies as well and showed us the importance of these traditions.
Working for positive social and environmental change through the Foundation and Alma has been a learning experience that has opened my awareness and led to great discoveries. One of these discoveries was made supporting the people in Mexico protesting the location of a nuclear dump in Kinney County, Texas. While further pursuit of supporting the people fighting this issue, I discovered a major trend occurring on the Texas-Mexico border. With this information I wrote to different Texas newsletters informing them of the nuclear dump issues being proposed throughout these regions. This work led to networking with people in Sierra Blanca, Texas who are also fighting a major proposed international nuclear dumps. Organizing with women in the Foundation as well as other grassroots environmental and social justice organizations, we created “Breast Cancer and Nuclear Radiation, Women’s Action for the Environment Conference” co-sponsored by University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work. Here we hoped to create an awareness of these issues facing the people of Texas.
At Alma, in addition to servicing groups and trying to provide them with as conducive as possible a setting to achieve their goals, we also offer information on other work we do at local and national levels. This, in turn creates a multiplier effect in that they take the positive effect of being at Alma and in turn spread it to their respective communities.
Prior to my work for the Foundation and Alma, I studied child development and hoped to pursue a career in working with children. These studies led me to the teaching of Maria Montessori and helped me further open the door to better awareness to fellow humankind. This understanding as well as experience prepared me, in a sense, for the work I now do here at Alma.
GROUPS/ORGANIZATIONS HOSTED AT ALMA DE MUJER RETREAT/CONFERENCE CENTER
1988 – 1994 PREPARED BY M.A. Gómez
AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), AFSC Advisory Council, AFSC National Latin American/ Caribbean Task Force, AFSC Women, Power and Poverty National Conference, AFSC Training of Trainers, AFSC/Youth and Militarism Draft Council.
Aids Education for the Deaf
AISD Native Education Program with Paula Underwood Spencer and The Meredith Foundation
ASA-AIDS Services of Austin
AIM (American Indian Movement)
American Peace Test
Amigos dc las Americas
Ananda Marga Meditation Group
Ananda Marga Yoga Women’s Seminar
Association of Texas Midwives
Austin Community Gardens
Austin Habitat for die Humanities
Austin Independent School District-High School Youth Training Seminar
Austin Rape Crisis Center
Austin Area Association of Black Social Workers
Austin Women’s Political Caucus
A.W.A.R.E. (Workshops on Curing addictions through Spirituality)
Barbara Davis Council Group
Bioregional Texas Teams Conference on Realistic Living
Black Women’s Leadership Planning Group
Blackshear Committee Executive Board
Breast Cancer Conference (Foundation sponsored) hosted speakers and participants.
Border Coalition Against Radioactive Dumping (State-wide group, including Mexican representation)
Radiation Hearing Group.
Capitol City Community Center
CEACO (Central East Austin Community Organization)
Chicano Youth Leadership
Christian Fellowship Organization
City of Austin Environmental Department
Criminal Justice Committee
Crossties (Washington, D.C. Group)
Dao-Chi Meditation Group
Discover Quest (Physical/Mental Health Issues)
ELLAS – Latina Lesbian Group of San Antonio
East Austin Midwife’s Group
Ernesto Cardenales Reception and Poetry Reading
ESOS (East Side Youth Leadership Group
Family Health Center FDC Meditation Group of Los Angeles, California
For the Love of Christi (support group for people who lost loved ones)
Gibson Foundation Healing Alliance
Indigenous Women’s Network
International Women’s Work Study Group
Justice for Women Council Presbyterian Church
La Pena Latino Cultural Organization
Lambda Leadership (State-wide Gay Student Assoc). CLGBSG
Latina Writer’s Group (hosted Cherrie Moraga, Norma Alarcon (literature professors from the University of California).
Lesbiana Latina Encampment
LLEGO (National Lesbian and Gay Organization)
Mary House Catholic Worker (Aid to Homeless)
Media Pool Participants of California
Mental Health for Women (Melba Vasquez)
Middle Earth Unlimited, Inc.
Midwest Regional Unity Sponsors/Youth Retreat (5 State Area)
Mujeres Activas-Laredo, Texas.
Mujeres Unidas – S.W. Regional Planning Conference (organizing caravan of women and children to attend
Indigenous Women’s Strategy Workshop and Youth and Elders Conference in Oklahoma
MT. Zion Task Force on Drug/Alcohol Rehab
National coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Midwives Association
Native American Liberation RC Weekend
Native Women Elders Reception/Talking Circle
New Life Birth Center
New York Learning Alliance
NOKOA (African-American Newspaper)
NOSOTRAS (Latina Women’s Group
Our Lady Youth Center
Peace Project of Houston
People of Color Caucus
Permaculture Designer’s Course for teachers training certificate (10 day intensive course) with Patricia Dubose
P.O.D.E.R. (People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources)
Political Congress of Black Women
U.T. Radio, Film and T.V. Dept
RAFI-USA (Rural Advancement Foundation International)
Re-Evaluation Counseling of Austin
Root Women Theater Company
Scar Clan Creative Women’s Working Group Shaman Meditation Group (Dream Alliance)
Shaman Ochaum Outreach meditation Weekend
Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group
Southwest Regional indigenous Women’s Meeting with Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas
Southwest Regional Indigenous Women’s Conference
Teenage Parent Council of Austin
Texas Abortion Rights Action League (TARAL)
Texas Community Development association
Texas Development Institute
Texas Human Rights Foundation
Texas/Oklahoma Sanctuary Network
Texas School for the Deaf
Texas School Service Foundation
Travis County Health Department
UFW (United Farm Workers)
United Cerebral Palsy
University of Texas Counseling Center
Upward Bound Program
U.S. Committee for Action on Asylum Concerns
Veterans Peace Convoy
White Earth Land Recovery Project
Whole Earth Dwellers (Bioreglonal)
Whole Foods (3 state leadership/strategic conference)
Women Eiders RC Group
Women in Good Company (for women in mid-life/menopausal times)
Women of Color in Media/Performance Art with D.C. director, Michelle Parkerson
Women of Color Music Memorial Day Festival
Women of Color Support Group
Women’s Empowerment Retreat
Women’s Space of Houston
Women’s Radio Network
Women’s Water Video Project
World Council of churches
Young Adults/Teens RC Retreat
Youth & Elders Conference
Many, if not most, of these organizations have used our space on more than one occasion, several on numerous occasions in the course of seven years.