This summer, we reached the milestone of ONE MILLION period supplies donated. Now it’s September, and we are excited to report that we have blown past that milestone to 1.2 MILLION! In August, we were recognized by Walmart and Always as one of 50 “Period Heroes” working across the United States to end period poverty. That recognition came with a substantial donation of Always pads, which helped boost our donation numbers. The donation was split among larger school districts we support in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
Also, in August, The Kwek Society, with support from The Alliance for Period Supplies, began participating in the federal government’s #WeCanDoThis campaign, “stickering” the period products we ship out with information on COVID-19 vaccine availability. We are grateful that students are returning to their classrooms safely; we are participating in the campaign to help ensure that the Indigenous communities we support know how to access COVID-19 immunizations and boosters to remain healthy and keep moving forward.
On October 10, The Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts will celebrate Indigenous People’s Day by sewing moon time bags and filling them with period supplies for students participating in the schools and youth program serving the Penobscot Reservation in Indian Island, Maine.
On October 12, One More Page Books, the terrific independent bookstore in The Kwek Society’s hometown of Arlington, Virginia, will host a fundraiser for us. I will be speaking about our work, in person, at 6 pm that night. Books, puzzles, gifts, chocolates, and wine can be purchased in-store that evening, with a portion of the purchase price donated to us. You also can make purchases online here. If you use the coupon code KWEK22 when ordering online on October 12 (but only on October 12!), you won’t get a discount, but a portion of your sale will fuel our work. So please mark your calendars, make your shopping lists, and let your networks know about this fundraising event!
And later this Fall, Georgetown University student members of Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit Honor Society, will host an informational evening and pad drive benefiting The Kwek Society. Please consider your own pad drive, utilizing the toolkit for hosting a pad drive that the Alliance for Period Supplies has posted to its website.
We hope you will be inspired by these supporters to help as you can!
We are thankful to our donors for the ability to continue to expand, including through our recent partnership with Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, supported by a new funder, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation (read more about this below). We remain committed to adding partner schools and organizations across Indigenous North America to ensure that no one has to miss school, work, or activities of daily life while on their period. Please reach out to me with thoughts on who we might help next, to “talk periods,” or to share traditional teachings about periods. And please don’t forget to send your ideas for future newsletters to our newsletter editor Paige Willett.
We wish you a terrific Fall — and invite your support as we continue to combat period poverty!
Eva Marie Carney
Founder + Operator
Berry Fast Teachings: Rite of Passage Ceremony
— From Harmony Redsky
Many nations across Turtle Island (North America) celebrate with a ceremony the rite of passage of girls who reach womanhood. Not only is the onset of menstruation a transformation in social status within a community, but it also can include a change in roles and responsibilities. The rite of passage ceremony is an oral tradition and cultural practice that dates to the earliest teachings of the Creation story, with some ceremonies spanning back thousands of years. This is evidenced in rock paintings, petroglyphs, petroforms, and other ancient symbols and teaching rocks depicting womanhood, pregnancy, and birth. These ancient traditions are also reflected in the modern-day medicines that women use for menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and menopause.
In Anishinaabe culture, more specifically in the Ojibwe, Bodewadmi, and Odawa Nations, the rite of passage ceremony from girl to womanhood is known as the Berry Fast or Strawberry Fast. While the ceremony can vary from region to region, there are some shared fundamentals. At the time menstruation begins, girls begin a fast and refrain from eating for a period of a few days. They also begin a year-long fast in which they refrain from eating berries of any kind. During that one-year fast, girls receive the teachings of water, life-giving, and womanhood from the women in their families and communities.
The berry fast is a time of celebration. Communities offer many different supports to the girl, including providing crafts and supplies for skill building and craft making so that the girl learns how to use her hands and work hard, and receiving teachings on personal hygiene, self-respect and personal space, healthy relationships, healthy sexuality, and ways to support other women, Elders, and community members. Over the year, the girl learns to understand her strength, the sacredness of her monthly menstrual cycle, and the power she has as a water-keeper and life-giver.
When the year-long fast ends, a coming-out ceremony takes place to reintroduce the new menstruator to the community as a young woman. The ceremony breaks the young woman’s year-long berry fast with a community feast that includes berries and a giveaway that features gifts the young woman learned to make during her year-long fast.
HASKELL INDIAN NATIONS UNIVERSITY
The Kwek Society recently took on its first university partner — Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas! We are working with Haskell’s Supervisory Librarian, Carrie Cornelius, MLS (Prairie Band Potawatomi/Oneida) to support the moon time (period) needs of hundreds of Haskell students.
According to Carrie, “Each tribal culture reveres our women. The Kwek Society assists our women in the most basic of monthly needs. The Kwek Society helps Haskell Indian Nations University honor our women by providing feminine hygiene products in classrooms, dorms, and the library.”
Some 123 Tribal Nations are represented among the enrolled students. We were so pleased to learn this month that a recent significant donation from the Tribal Council of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation will not only underwrite our support of Haskell students but also will help fund the moon time needs of other students we are assisting across Native North America.
Glad Rags, a Certified Benefit Corporation operated out of Oregon, is a generous partner of The Kwek Society. Its mission is “to positively transform the experience of menstruation through reusable menstrual products and relevant education.”
One of The Kwek Society’s governing principles is that we are guided by the needs and desires of those we support. This means that we furnish those we help with the menstrual products they prefer — not the products we think they should use. When we start a new partnership, we offer the options of disposable pads and tampons, reusable menstrual products, and menstrual cups. While we find that most of the students and community members we support are interested exclusively in disposable period products, a portion have welcomed Glad Rags’ generous donations of their reusable, washable period pads. We anticipate that folks’ interest in reusables will expand and that our partnership with Glad Rags will deepen accordingly.
Kelsey Hennessy, GladRags Social Media Manager
Another of our governing principles is that we offer puberty and menstruation education alongside our donations of period supplies. Glad Rags offers a thoughtful small book that we commonly provide students, Passage: A Guide to Periods. The book explains the menstrual cycle in a lively, positive way. It includes journal pages and a pen-and-paper period tracker. Student feedback has been highly positive.
Board member and Newsletter editor
Paige Willett is a talented and vibrant Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member and employee residing in Oklahoma City. (She is also modest, so we at The Kwek Society edited this description to capture Paige’s spirit.) She began working with The Kwek Society as the newsletter editor and joined the Board of Directors in 2021. Watching founder Eva Marie Carney build the organization from the ground up, Paige was inspired by Eva’s passion for combating period poverty in Indigenous communities and wanted to help.
As a University of Oklahoma communications graduate, getting the word about the organization and keeping supporters informed about its expansion and needs fits Paige’s skill set. She tells us that working on the newsletter has been a rewarding experience, giving her the chance to learn about other organizations and individuals making a difference in period poverty, to see The Kwek Society increase its reach, impact, and donor base, and to normalize discussing menstruation as a part of daily life.
In addition to her work with The Kwek Society, Paige devotes time to her Tribe’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society chapter, volunteers with the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, and assists with events as an alumnus of Matriarch, an Indigenous women’s community group.
The Kwek Society, incorporated in Virginia, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (EIN # 82-4369803). Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Our financial statement is available on written request from the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs, PO Box 1163, Richmond, Virginia 23218. Our Candid/Guidestar report (we earned the 2022 Platinum Transparency designation) can be found here.