Indigenous-led Nonprofit Distributes Period Products to Native Students in Wyoming

The Kwek Society receives national recognition for its work

Students from Wyoming Indian Schools show off period products. The Indigenous-led nonprofit Kwek Society provides period supplies to three Wyoming Indian Schools. (Courtesy photo from The Kwek Society)

By Kristi Eaton

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Walmart Inc. and Always have named an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization that seeks to eliminate period poverty as Wyoming’s “period hero.” 

The Kwek Society was among 50 period heroes to help donate 2.5 million pads to students nationwide.

One in four teens has missed class due to a lack of access to products, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies. In Wyoming, where one out of seven women and girls between the ages of 12 and 44 live below the federal poverty line, the organization reported, products can be out of reach.

Period supplies aren’t cheap: At a Target in Cheyenne, for example, a 50-pack of ultra thin Always pads costs $10.49, while a 28-pack of Tampax tampons runs $7.99.

A calculator helps project the cost for such purchases, but it is estimated that the average woman will spend nearly $2,000 over her lifetime on period products.

The Kwek Society, founded by Citizen Potawatomi Nation member Eva Marie Carney in 2018, provides pads, tampons, liners, cotton underwear, puberty education materials and moon time bags sewn by supporters and filled with period supplies to Indigenous communities and groups. It recently reached a major milestone: distributing its 1 millionth product.

The Kwek Society, which means “women” in Bodéwadmimwen, the language spoken by the Potawatomi people, donates supplies to three Wyoming Indian Schools and three Fort Washakie Schools.

“Period poverty is an unconscionable problem across North America, not just in Indian Country,” Carney told the Wyoming Truth. “It is a top reason students miss school. . . . We elected to focus our ending-period-poverty work on Indigenous people, because many of us who are behind the Kwek Society are Indigenous. Seven of our nine Board members are Indigenous kwe’k, and we have not identified another period supplies organization dedicated to our Indigenous relatives.”

Through the partnerships with Wyoming schools, Carney and her team share Native teachings and traditions around periods with Indigenous students, while ensuring that  they have the necessary supplies during moon times to remain in school and thrive. 

In populated areas, Carney said, those in need typically have access to product drives. But in rural communities, supply redistribution efforts don’t exist. What’s more, in less populated areas, there are fewer big-box and dollar stores where low-income people might buy period products. And in many of those locations, Internet access is either nonexistent or unreliable, making it difficult to order more affordable supplies online.

The impact in Wyoming

Karen Harms, the kindergarten through 8th grade school counselor at Fremont County School District #21 on the Wind River Indian Reservation, said period supplies for students are part of the school nurse’s budget. 

“A lot of times our students do not have supplies in their homes, so students are able to take what they need with them,” Harms told the Wyoming Truth.

Fifth grade students receive the Kwek Society’s moon time kits; Indigenous cultures refer to monthly menstruation as moon time.

At Wyoming Indian Schools, also located on the Wind River Reservation in the community of Ethete, the pre-K through 12th grade students are members of the Northern Arapaho, Eastern Shoshone and other tribes.

“Our nearest Wal-Mart is 30 miles away,” said Jenn Runs Close To Lodge, the middle school’s librarian, cultural mentor and Native arts instructor. “Our community has a small convenience store; however, the cost of personal care products can be very costly.”

She added, “Some of our families struggle financially, and personal care products may be on the bottom of the list when it comes to purchasing other needed household items. The partnership with Kwek has allowed our school the opportunity to not only offer personal care products for students during the day at school, but also to take home much-needed items.”

Prior to the partnership with Kwek, Runs Close to Lodge and other staff members purchased and distributed supplies to students as needed.

“Now we have baskets in every bathroom in the high school and middle school, including the locker rooms,” she said. “This has allowed our young women to have access, as well as temper any embarrassment they may feel about asking for supplies.”

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