Jeannette Rivera keeps Taíno culture alive with stories, songs and rituals

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In recognition of Native American Heritage Month in November, MassLive asked readers to identify people who are leaders from the Indigenous community throughout the state, working to make a difference in their own area of interest, be it politics, education, business or the arts.

MassLive will publish profiles of these leaders through November. These are people our readers have identified as inspirational, who may be doing good acts for their communities. They are being recognized for their accomplishments, leadership and commitment to inspire change.

Jeannette Anu Ihia’lo Rivera

Jeannette Anu Ihia’lo Rivera is the facilitator and trainer at Women of Color Health Equity Collective. (Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen / The Republican)Leon Nguyen

Jeannette Anu ihia’lo Rivera

Age: 40

Community: Westfield

Her story: Rivera is a cultural revivalist and activist of reclamation.

“The work I do is studying and learning from Taíno elders and wisdom keepers the ways of my Taíno ancestors and creating spaces in Western Massachusetts where my siblings and I can practice these ways with joy, curiosity, and without judgment, as an act of decolonization and reclamation,” Rivera said.

Rivera said that it’s important for Taíno people to have spaces where family stories, songs and rituals can be shared and witnessed.

“This is important because for far too long we’ve had to hide our Indigeneity for many, many generations in order to protect ourselves and our families from harm,” she said.

Rivera grew up knowing of her Afro-Taíno ancestry, but as an adult, she realized how much her ancestors were erased through history and were unrepresented.

In 2018, she began a journey of reclamation by seeking out elders, wisdom keepers and friends who could share Taíno culture and history.

In her words: “If you hear the whisper to reclaim your Indigeneity, to learn more about Taino history and culture, to show up for your ancestors, don’t hesitate. They are speaking to you, they are calling you to be the elder you never had and the elder future generations so desperately deserve.”

We’re always open to hearing about more inspiring people. If you’d like to suggest someone else who should be recognized, please fill out this form.

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