The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced on Thursday, November 16, 2023, that the Pueblo of Zuni is one of nine communities chosen to receive the 2023 RWJF Culture of Health Prize. The prize celebrates communities across the country where people and organizations are collaborating to build solutions to barriers that have created unequal opportunities for health and well-being.
“For me, Zuni being a RWJF Culture of Health Prize winner is a great honor, and it is a step toward Indigenous ways of knowing and being getting recognition for the ways they help us and Mother Earth heal from the various traumas that have caused us to be ‘unhealthy,’” said Tahlia Natachu, executive director of the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project, a partner in the Pueblo of Zuni. “When a community is entrusted with leaning into their strengths and culture, amazing things can happen. We saw that with our own eyes through our collaboration with Zuni on various initiatives. We hope that this prize will elevate our story and allow other communities to see that they can also accomplish their wellness and health goals through the teachings of our ancestors. We must return to our roots.
“I will never be able to fully express my appreciation for RWJF and our partners who made this experience possible,” she continued. “Every single person who invested a piece of themselves into this initiative is the reason we are successful today. It’s all for our youth. They are our greatest treasure.”
Since partnership within communities is at the heart of the prize, it is awarded to whole cities, towns, tribes, reservations, and counties. The Pueblo of Zuni joins eight other 2023 prize winners, including Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; Detroit, Michigan; Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles County, California; Ramsey County, Minnesota; and Tacoma, Washington.
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“The work of our current and past prize winners highlights the real staying power of community-born solutions, and their success inspires greater collaboration across public and private sectors,” said Julie Morita, MD, RWJF executive vice president. “This year’s winners demonstrate what’s possible when we work in partnership and ensure that community members with lived experience take the lead to identify and dismantle barriers to health and well-being.”
As a prize winner, the Pueblo of Zuni will receive $250,000, national and local promotion of the community’s stories to inspire others, and other opportunities to expand networks and accelerate progress toward building a healthy community.
For the Pueblo of Zuni, fostering a Culture of Health centers on reclaiming sovereignty by reintroducing centuries-old farming practices and working across generations to preserve language and cultural practices. Because partners have focused their work on language and culture reclamation, they have been able to uplift culture as an avenue for achieving community health.
At the center of it all is Zuni’s deeply unifying approach. The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project collectively addresses issues such as food sovereignty, community education, cultural preservation, sustainable agriculture and gardening, and water conservation. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, partners worked together with the Zuni Agricultural Committee to create and distribute gardening and rain harvesting kits to over 500 families, reintroducing traditional gardening practices and providing critical resources.
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