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Conscience Magazine

Indigenous Women Rising

By Rachel Guerra Cordero de Lorenzo, MPA March 14, 2023

I was born to teenage parents and raised on my father’s ancestral land in Laguna, New Mexico. Catholicism is a part of my life that I cannot shake off, even though I have grown resentful of it. My story — my family’s story — is full of hypocrisy about church teaching.


Growing up, I heard from my Catholic and Baptist relatives that not only is abortion a sin, but so is sex before marriage. It’s ironic because my mother’s parents pressured her to have an abortion despite church teachings. I am here because my mother chose to parent, and that’s a huge part of reproductive justice — making the decision to parent, or not. 

I remember my parents trying to get their marriage blessed in the Catholic church. They second-guessed themselves, simply because my mother had her tubes tied after her fourth baby was born. (I am the oldest of nine, and I am the only child from my mom and biological dad — talk about sex outside marriage!)

Two months after my puberty ceremony in Mescalero at 15, I had sex with a boy for the first time. I had just been celebrated for the ability to have a period and was making an incredible attempt to reconnect with some kind of tradition I was born into, but I was also slut-shamed by a Catholic nun and my mother. Despite all this, I feel like I did a great job taking care of my sexual health.

My ancestors taught our young people about their bodies and assisted with the full spectrum of pregnancy-related care. We relied on the environment to control our fertility and be well in every regard. My Pueblo people use boiled cedar water for spiritual and physical wellness. My ancestors both enjoyed sex and knew how to treat a variety of health conditions with plants. Indigenous people are taught that “life is sacred” — and our people have always been out there sending fetuses back to the Creator.

My resentment toward the Catholic church comes from the way they have shamed sex and sexuality. The Spanish used Catholicism as a tool to justify enslavement, genocide, sexual abuse, and the dismantling of languages, cultures, and societal norms. Even part of the traditional regalia of my Pueblo people is not very traditional at all — the first layer of dress is long-sleeved, forced on my Pueblo ancestors because the Spanish felt embarrassed looking at SHOULDERS and BREASTS. They forced my ancestors to wear old nightgowns.

My people — and my family — are living proof of how Christianity has been used to control women, children, and LGBTQIA+ community members. White supremacy has shamed us for who we are and how our bodies work. The sexual shame I have lived with as an Indigenous person is by design. 

I work with abortion funds now because I know that to deny our sexual selves is inhumane. My ancestors knew that educating our children about our bodies kept us safe and helped us understand the connection between ourselves and the earth. As an Indigenous person raised Catholic, I believe there is a way to honor our humanity and reciprocity of respect between the teachings of Jesus Christ and my ancestors’ traditions. 

Rachel Guerra Cordero de Lorenzo, MPA
Rachel Guerra Cordero de Lorenzo, MPA

(they/them) (Mescalero Apache/Laguna Pueblo/Xicana) is a nonbinary parent who was born and raised in New Mexico. Rachael graduated with a BA in political science and a master’s in public administration from the University of New Mexico. In their spare time, Rachael is a writer, a photographer, and cat adopter.