NOTE: This story was edited to change the name of Eva Marie Carney that was previously in the story as Eva Marie Caney.
ARLINGTON, Virginia – An article stated that a Pine Ridge Reservation student said about half of her friends couldn’t afford tampons or pads, forcing them to stay home for as long as a week when they are on their periods, causing them to fall in class.
The article written by Eleanor Goldberg in 2017 called Why Many Native American Girls Skip School When They Have Their Periods opened the eyes of Citizen Potawatomi Nation, elected legislator for the Nation, and human rights lawyer Eva Marie Carney.
According to Goldberg’s work, period products are not considered a basic necessity the way medicine or food is categorized, subjecting them to more tax depending on the state.
Only four states ― New York, Illinois, Connecticut, and Florida — have exempt tampons and pads from sales tax.
Carney was shocked at the rate of native girls on rural reservations experiencing period poverty.
In her research, she learned that one in four students left or missed school because they didn’t have period products, and that same ratio of students struggled to purchase period products.
Her immediate reaction was to do something to help combat this serious issue and supply community members living without easy access to these expensive necessities.
In 2018, Carney launched The Kwek Society (“Kwe’k” means “women” in the Potawatomi language); therefore can also be referred to as The Women Society.
As of April, the organization has 86 school partnerships across 12 states, including OK and Canada.
The latest data in April claims the society distributed more than 66,000-period supplies, over 800 moon time bags filled with supplies, and 235 puberty education books with an estimated 4,300 program participants this year.
Since its creation in 2018, after receiving the 501©(3) status, the woman-led and managed organization has expanded to provide period supplies to students living in native communities while emphasizing the usage of traditional stories about menstruation.
According to kweksociety.org, native people refer to menstruation as their “moon time.”
This gave Carney an idea to develop “moon time bags” to discretely keep supplies like pads, tampons, and liners on hand when the “moon time” approaches.
Moon time bags are made with culture in mind, made by fellow Native American women.
Books like Moon Time Prayer by Cindy Gaudet and We are dancing for you by Cutcha Risling Baldy are used to educate young native women about the subject.
The organization members also promote cultural practices and ceremonies used historically in Native culture when girls would enter their womanhood.
Will Rogers Elementary School Counselor expressed gratitude in response to the organization for providing self-care education.
“We appreciate your attention to the needs we face as we educate our students in this matter,” the Counselor said. “Our students often are not prepared for the changes in their bodies, and these booklets have been useful tools for us.”
The mission of the Kwek Society is to meet the need.
“We at The Kwek Society are focused on supplying Native students and communities the period products they need to maintain their dignity and celebrate their strength and moon times,” reads the mission statement.
Carney believes no one should have to miss school, work, or activities of daily life when they are on their periods, and no one should suffer the indignity of stained clothing or use period supplies for longer than intended and risk their health due to insufficient supplies.
“We collaborate with schools and Native programs across North America, rural areas, suburbs, and cities to eliminate period poverty among Native Americans. We educate about moon time as a time for celebration, and we work to support the dignity and strength of all we serve.”
The non-profit organization’s board consists of mostly Native Americans who all volunteer to keep young women supplied with these expensive period products.
In four years, the organization has maintained itself through donations, partnerships with tribes, and allies with other national organizations and non-profits.
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi was the first tribal Nation to donate to the organization, and many have followed suit in forms including monetary and supplies for participants.
The Kwek Society was invited to become an Allied Program of the Alliance for Period Supplies, a national organization working to ensure that individuals in need have access to essential period products in 2020.
The same year, the foundation obtained two large grants from the Sparkjoy Foundation and Burkehaven Family Foundation, which turned into a multi-year grant, giving a cushion to expand.
This expansion included adding a tribally operated school in Iowa, two tribally run health clinics in Oklahoma, an additional school partner in South Dakota, and more.
With the help of the Alliance for Period Supplies and U by Kotex, in December 2021, the Kwek Society showered tampons on Native schools and communities across Northern Maine.
It’s August, PERIOD Ontario, Chingona Makes, and thicfigtattoo made generous donations and commitments to the organization for future profits during the last quarter of 2021.
In December, Bras for Girls partnered with the Kwek Society to provide the same form of bras and breast education.
This year, funding has been secured from the Roundhouse Foundation and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation that will allow the continuance and expansion of outreach.
According to IRS rules, donations are critical to the organization’s work and are tax-deductible.
April Strobbe, School Board Member, School Volunteer, Shawnee Public Schools, is a supporter and ally of the Kwek Society.
Strobbe used their platform and partnership to develop the Shawnee Alliance for Period Supplies to ensure all Shawnee schools have adequate period supplies.
“The Kwek Society is a strong force on the issue of period poverty,” Strobbe said. “Our school district serves a large Native American population, and the grants of moon time bags have helped these students be more present in school and open doors to more conversations educating young students about puberty.”
The Kwek Society, from time to time, supports Strobbe and her local alliance.
On the Muscogee Reservation, the Mvskoke Youth Services offers a resource quite like this through their Street Outreach Program for youth in crisis and homeless youth.
The Street Outreach Program has two branches: hygiene kits and period packs.
The Hygiene Kits include shampoo, combs, toothbrushes, and more. The Period Packs include menstrual health items like pads, tampons, and cleansing wipes.
For more information about the program, call MYNS at 918-549-2557 or visit www.mvskokeyouth.com.
The website has more information and resources to view for those interested in ways to donate or how to get involved www.kweksociety.org.