Jade Begay

Tesuque Pueblo, Diné

Curator Jade Begay (Tay tsu’geh Oweenge/Tesuque Pueblo, Diné) is an Indigenous rights organizer. She is the Climate Justice Campaign Director for NDN Collective and serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.


Tribal Affiliations:

Artwork Affiliations:

Jade chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:

Maria and Julien Martinez bowl

Maria (Poveka) and Julian Martinez
San Ildefonso
c. 1925–30
3¾ x 10¾ in. (9.5 x 27.3 cm)
Collection School for Advanced Research

Ignacia Duran Rain God figure

Ignacia Duran

Rain god figure
Clay and mica
6 ⅜ x 3¼ x 3 ⅝ in. (16.2 x 8.3 x 9.2 cm)
Collection School for Advanced Research

Remembering Forward

Some of my earliest memories of Pueblo pottery date from when I was a child. My babysitter’s mother was an elder in our community who made Pueblo rain god figurines. Her name was Ignacia Duran, and she was quite famous for her pottery and leadership in our small Pueblo community. I remember times when the other kids and I would sit and watch her form the clay while she told us stories about our people and our village. I recall warm summer days when we would find clay or mica in the hills and mountains near our Pueblo, and if I really tune into these memories, I can remember the smell of the room where she made her rain gods and other pottery. It smelled like a mixture of sagebrush and petrichor, the scent of water on earth.

Similarly, when I think of Avanyu or see imagery of this respected spirit (who represents water, lightning, and celestial forces), memories rush back of growing up in my Pueblo. I think of the ways my people are connected to water and the forces of nature—how we hold dances to summon rain, and how, on those occasions, Avanyu is painted on the skirts of the men dancing. I think of how we work together to clear the acequias (irrigation channels) so that the water flows freely, to make way for abundance in our fields and on our farms.

These two pottery pieces bring these memories immediately to mind and connect me very viscerally to them. These are memories that give me strength and are a source of grounding in my work as an organizer and documentary filmmaker for climate justice and Indigenous rights, two issues that I believe are inherently interconnected and interdependent. Furthermore, these memories—of my elders working with clay as we children looked on, of my people dancing to call in rain, of gathering glittering mica from the earth—are among the main reasons why I do what I do in my career. Ultimately, my motive in my work is to protect the cultural ways of life that make up our identity as Pueblo people.

These pieces also bring up questions for me about our relationship not just with our beloved earth, but also with Avanyu and other spirits who are guardians of the land and water. When I hold and am present with each of these pieces, I wonder—when it comes to climate change, drought, and flooding—what lessons are ahead as we face great uncertainty about the seasons and the weather. How long will we be able to continue working with clay? Do our rain gods, who evoke joy, and Avanyu, who urges us to show reverence, have something to teach us during this time? Is the call to action simply one to connect more with our precious clay while we still can?