Santuario Arco Iris

aka: Arco Iris Earth Care Project (AIECP)

Santuario Arco Iris, an intentional land community located in Ponca (Newton County) near the Buffalo National River in northwestern Arkansas, was founded by Maria Christina DeColores Moroles (also known by her ceremonial names Sun Hawk and Aguila) originally as a sanctuary, or “sacred land space,” for all women and children, particularly women and children of color. Moroles, who identifies as a so-called two-spirit woman of Mexican and Indigenous American descent, has lived on the wilderness preserve since 1976, when she moved there with her five-year-old daughter, Jennifer. Her partner from 1982 to 2011, Miguela Borges, was also instrumental in the development of Santuario Arco Iris and its associated nonprofit organization, the Arco Iris Earth Care Project (AIECP). (Moroles prefers the pan-Indian term “two spirit” to the term “lesbian” to describe a third or non-binary gender identification and sexual orientation that derives from Native American ceremonial roles and culture.)

As part of the surge of communal, back-to-the-land ventures nationwide and in Arkansas in the 1970s, Arco Iris emerged as a splinter group of the Wild Magnolia (formerly Sassafras) lesbian land community in Ponca. After living by temporary arrangement on Sassafras property now known as Santuario Arco Iris, Moroles negotiated with the Sassafras Women’s Community to deed 120 acres of their 500-acre property to women of color. In 2000, many years after the Sassafras Women’s Community had disbanded, lesbian feminist communard, sculptor, and writer Diana Rivers, the original property purchaser, and Moroles agreed to place the remaining 400 acres under the stewardship of AIECP. Gradually, Moroles and other women of color created a multi-structure, off-the-grid living community and retreat center in the rugged, mountainous terrain.

Drawing eclectically from various spiritual and ideological traditions, Arco Iris weaves eco-feminist, Indigenous American, and non-Western concepts of sustainable environment and community, social justice, and natural healing into its mission. As Moroles stated, “Santuario Arco Iris has served as a rural shelter for women and children of color, to regain our self-respect and self-determination and heal from our personal and ancestral wounds. We learned from nature how to be healthy women and good parents and community members. Recovering our indigenous cultural, spiritual ways and remembering our matriarchal ceremonies to protect ourselves, our children, and above all our Mother Earth, we started from scratch on rural wilderness land, with no elders or community, no money, no road, no homes, no infrastructure. We were poor working class women, survivors of every type of abuse and neglect, and we made our way back home to our roots and our Mother.”

Located in Newton County—historically a conservative, religious, sparsely populated region with very little racial diversity—Arco Iris survived numerous insults and acts of aggression from neighbors and local authorities in its early years. According to Moroles: “We faced every type of oppression and obstacles as women of color, two spirits, poor and working class people with little to no formal education, and we held our ground for us, for our children, and their children’s children.”

Over the years, many volunteers labored to restore the land and old logging road; they built the main house, clinic building, cabins, nature trails, and a large pavilion with an outdoor kitchen. Every spring, the elders and other affiliated members of the broadly defined, multi-generational Arco Iris community meet to walk the boundary of the land in a blessing ceremony. Arco Iris continues to host various ceremonial lodges, yoga retreats, herbal medicine workshops, and other activities related to the organization’s core mission.

Never intended as a strictly lesbian-separatist settlement, Arco Iris now welcomes in its community both women and men with serious commitment to its ideals of healing, social justice, and sustainability. Moroles and Borges reared both a daughter and a son on the land, and a male cousin currently resides at Arco Iris with Moroles. Nevertheless, Arco Iris remains rooted, in philosophy and programming, in what has come to be known as the lesbian land movement (also called the “landyke movement”), as well as in broader social and cultural movements for indigenous peoples’ rights, anti-racism, alternative healing, and ecology.

For additional information:
Arco Iris Earth Care Project. https://arcoirisearthcareproject.org/ (accessed July 30, 2020).

Cheney, Joyce, ed. Lesbian Land. Minneapolis: Word Weavers, 1985.

Norman, Rose, Merril Mushroom, and Kate Ellison, eds. Landykes of the South: Women’s Land Groups and Lesbian Communities in the South. Sinister Wisdom 98. New York: A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2015.

Thompson, Brock. The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2010.

Lauri Umansky
Arkansas State University

Last Updated: 07/30/2020