As a relatively new member of the Vision Maker Media board of directors, I have been on a steep learning curve. I am so honored to have the opportunity to explore the whole arena of public television and film development for Native people, especially being an educator where we are always looking for authentic, relevant, culturally based materials to further educate ourselves and others. I am a Hochunk/Anishanabe with over 40 years of experience as an educator, focusing mostly on Native and multicultural education. I have worked at all levels from the classroom to national organizations committed to impacting policy that will better serve Native students and communities.
Most recently, I returned from Washington DC where I was serving as a Presidential appointee on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education (NACIE). This auspicious group is charged to develop a report to Congress annually, focusing on recommendations which will improve the whole arena of Native education. The NACIE is further enlisted in the oversight of the relatively new President’s Executive Order (EO) on Indian Education and Tribally Controlled Community Colleges, signed in December of 2011. This EO is designed to further elevate attention and efforts for improving educational outcomes for Native students, not only by the US Department of Education and the Department of Interior where the Bureau of Indian Education resides, but also the many other Federal agencies which have resources focusing on education and Native communities. This past week ushered in the first Interagency Task Force meeting to clarify the development of agency-wide work plans, no small task!
On a more personal note, I have just relocated to Olympia, Washington to begin a new position as Program Supervisor, Office of Native Education which captures a great deal of my previous personal experience, and lands me in a place where I can continue to support Natives and schools serving Native communities. I am not too far from my own three children, now young adults, all graduates from the University of Oregon who are beginning their careers and families. My two grandchildren are a constant source of inspiration and joy, and I am back on the west coast, close to my large extended family. Finding balance in my life means that I have time to work on my quilts and beadwork and I have regular gatherings with my daughters who are tremendous artists who continue to amaze me with their creativity and skill. With my son only an hour away in Seattle, life just could not get much better.
Finally, the use of film has acquired special meaning for me as a medium for tell our stories, since my cousin Renya Ramirez is working on a film, financed mostly by the Hochunk Nation , depicting the life and work of my grandfather Dr. Henry Roe Cloud. As the first American Indian to graduate from Yale in 1910, Grand as we call him, did all the major research and writing for the Miriam report which became the basis for the Indian Reorganization Act and has had far a reaching impact across Indian country, establishing the basis for tribal courts, scholarships for higher education, tribal governmental structures, and much more. I was recently interviewed for the film, along with my brother Mark who is a lawyer and head of Hochunk tribal Housing. I am eargerly awaiting the trailer, as this project unfolds.
This February, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel up to Alaska to film the latest episode of Growing Native. This trip would be the first of two as host Chris Eyre explores Alaska and all its Native cultures has to offer.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Alaska is a special place. Having never been to Alaska before, I was anxious to discover for myself just what exactly all the hoopla was about, and I figured two days would be enough. I was coming to Alaska with a mission – locate that elusive quality that takes the breath away and get it on film. In two days. If all the hype was even partly true, then two days would be more than enough time to find something, right? As it turns out, it didn’t even take that long.
First things first, though, it can’t be stated enough that things are different up there and I wasn’t as prepared as I may have thought. Yes, I knew it would be cold and snowy. Yes, I knew there would be subtle and significant differences between all the different Native groups. No, I didn’t realize the vital importance of good snow pants. No, I didn’t know that snow could pack differently than it does in Oklahoma (seriously, who thinks about that?). Suffice it to say, I’ll be better prepared next time! Next time, I’ll remember the extension cord is connected to the car before I back out.
With that out of the way, I wanted to share a little bit about the stories Growing Native looks to highlight in this coming episode. We went up there to film the Festival of Native Arts, an annual event hosted by Native students at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. The 2013 Festival was the 40th anniversary of the event that brings together many of Alaska’s Native communities to celebrate their arts and dances. Here, we got a whirlwind introduction to the more than 70 Native communities represented. We got the chance to learn some traditional dance moves, hear some beautiful songs, and then we met up with Marina Anderson. Marina served as our guide, sharing a local perspective on all this unique Alaskan gathering has to offer. Through witnessing the dances and taking part in the Festival, we had the chance to learn the value of gatherings like this one in keeping our cultures vibrant and innovative.
After the festivities, we met up with our friend Alan Hayton to check out the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre as the company prepares for an upcoming production of King Lear. This is no ordinary production, though. This version of Shakespeare’s classic is presented in the Gwich’in language. We heard the Bard’s words spoken in the People’s language, and witnessed firsthand the jump from language preservation to language innovation.
Our last day of filming started out beautifully, and by that I mean we met up with former Miss Indian World, Marjorie Tahbone, who would take us out to a spirit camp founded by respected elder Howard Luke. To reach Howard’s camp, we had to trek through the snow across the frozen Tanana River. At Howard’s camp, we spoke with him about the importance of keeping culture connected to the education of our young people. Later, we talked with Marjorie, who had been a student at the camp, and she stressed the importance of places like Howard’s camp to provide Native students the vital link that relates ideas of home and place to their academic studies.
All in all, it was a lovely trip. We were able to get a glimpse of who these people are, and the pride they take in calling themselves Alaska Natives. My two days there were full of wonder, as I was constantly learning, experiencing exciting new things and meeting amazingly talented people. As I stood in the middle of the Tanana, with snow up to my waist (sans good snow pants), breathing deep that cold, clean air, I felt like I got a real sense of where these people come from, if only for the briefest of moments. In that moment, I had an unfamiliar feeling of what I can only describe as unbounded hope followed by the fear and doubt such a feeling might bring. The people I had met, the things they were doing, it all spoke to the dauntless commitment they had to who they are as a people. Then, I thought, what will happen if we falter, if we stumble in our vigilance? I shivered then, whether from the cold or from the thought, I don’t know, and figured I better not linger too long in that place. I had good work to be done.
My name is Blue Tarpalechee and I am Muscogee (Creek) from Okmulgee, Oklahoma. I work at Vision Maker Media as the Project Coordinator, a title I’ve held since August of 2012, where I manage the development of the educational materials for our programs and serve as an Associate Producer for the Growing Native series. Be sure to check out our Growing Native page at nativetelecom.org/growingnative
Seeking untold stories of value has been Francis and Kjellstrand’s life long occupation. Having taught and presented all over the world, these two journalists have made storytelling their vocation.
While working at The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., Francis and Kjellstrand were assigned to a story on Isabella Blatchford, an Alutiiq woman from Kodiak Island, Alaska, who was in Portland for her breast cancer treatment. Captivated by Isabella’s story, they stayed in touch. Over coffee one day, Isabella shared her plans for her remaining days on this earth. Making a documentary about Refuge Rock was one her wishes. Francis and Kjellstrand were more than eager to help her accomplish this dream. Isabella died soon after reaching Refuge Rock, but not before asking Francis and Kjellstrand to finish the film they had started.
The hour-length documentary Finding Refuge follows two intertwined narratives. The first narrative is the story of a woman in the midst of a fight with cancer who yearns to set foot on Refuge Rock to reconnect to her Alutiiq heritage. Refuge Rock is a tiny island where Russian fur traders massacred hundreds of Alutiiq people in 1784, setting off a period of brutal cultural destruction that left generations of Alutiiq feeling shameful and pained. The second narrative tells a broader effort of the Alutiiq people today and how they are preserving and finding pride in their culture.
Francis and Kjellstrand applied to the Public Media Content Fund in 2012 and were awarded funding for Finding Refuge. Panelists who reviewed the proposal described it as “compelling” and “committed to highlighting the culture.”
Since receiving the award, the Finding Refuge team has completed two shooting trips to Old Harbour and Kodiak. They now have several clips edited for funding proposals and are in the process of creating an official website that will feature a new trailer of the film.
Presenting Finding Refuge as an authentic and true film is vital to Francis and Kjellstrand. “Because none of us grew up in or around the places or cultures we are documenting, we felt a strong need for a group of local, Native advisors who were willing to be available for advice, to look over footage or other material for accuracy or identification, and for help in finding information and contacts that we would need to build a respectful, accurate, and compelling film,” said Kjellstrand. The producers rely on their collaboration with three Native advisors who live in, or were raised in, Old Harbour.
Director of the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository in Kodiak, Alaska, Sven Haakanson, Ph.D.,serves as an advisor for Finding Refuge. Haakanson grew up in Old Harbour, was a MacArthur Grant recipient, and one of the anthropologists who discovered the location of Refuge Rock. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Harvard University.
“That site itself was one that I think people forgot—intentionally—because of what had happened there in August 13, 1784,” said Haakanson. “There were over 500 Alutiiq people—women, children, and men—that were killed in that one day. For me, this is where Russians took control of the peoples’ future and destiny at Kodiak. We became servants to the occupiers. We became a conquered people.”
Jamie Francis is from North Carolina and has worked for a variety of newspapers and has covered world news for six years until he and his wife, Pamela, decided to settle down with their two children in Portland, Ore. Francis has worked at The Oregonian for the past eight years. “Journalism for me has never felt like work…it’s a passion. It never feels like work,” said Francis.
As a young boy with a passion for telling stories, Kjellstrand moved from Sweden with his family to the U.S. and studied literature and journalism. Kjellstrand received his Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, with a focus on documentary photojournalism. In 2003, he was a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University where he studied Native American cultural history, politics, literature, and anthropological methods with Native American professors. Like Francis, he and his wife and children settled down in the west where Francis found himself at The Oregonian. Currently, Kjellstrand works as a freelance photographer and filmmaker in New York City and Portland, Ore. He has since won many national and international awards over the years, including Newspaper Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographer Association/Pictures of the Year International contest in 1996.
Finding Refuge is targeting a national broadcast for Spring 2014.
Even though nearly all of 1973 America knew of the occupation of the little village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation and came to know of the atrocious conditions under which many of the Lakota people lived out their lives, time has faded memories. As the 40th anniversary of Wounded Knee approaches, many of those who were part of the occupation, or indeed instrumental in it, have died. Appallingly, conditions have not improved in the lives of many of the people who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Some of these are the children and grandchildren of the original occupiers. It was thought that much more would have happened; much more would have changed than it has.
Wounded Knee was the brainchild of the American Indian Movement (AIM). This informal organization grew quickly from its 1968 origins in Minneapolis, MN, and developed a strong leadership core of young men and women. They didn’t always agree with one another, and sometimes violently disagreed, but they managed to design a national agenda. In 1972 they filled the highways on the way to Washington, D.C. to talk with the president about 20 points of vital interest. The promised meetings did not materialize, so Wounded Knee, just three months later, was intended to force the U.S. government to make good on its word.
Before nightfall on February 27, 1973, about 250 members of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO), residents of Wounded Knee Village, Indians from all over the United States, unaffiliated Vietnam veterans and AIM moved into and occupied the little village. The federal government did not listen to those who went to Washington in 1972. Now the government would have another chance to listen.
Tipped off, FBI agents and U.S. marshals were already there, having been called out to protect the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) building from an attack by AIM. Over time, they would completely surround Wounded Knee and pin the occupiers down in fire that heavily outgunned the occupiers. Armored personnel carriers, overflying jets, and semi-military tactics were used without regard for innocent, unarmed individuals inside the Wounded Knee compound. Had there been only armed men inside the compound against armed groups on the government side, there may have been some justification for the torrent of gunfire. It would later be disputed in court whether the U.S. Army and Air Force had authority to move in on the Indians as they had.
At the end of 73 days, Leonard Garment, counsel to president Nixon reaffirmed a guarantee of a meeting with five White House representatives and Oglala Sioux tribal elders if the occupation would end by May 11. The White House agreed to discuss broken treaties and compensation for lost tribal lands.
The Sioux National Anthem filled the air at sunrise on May 8 and 125 Wounded Knee defenders surrendered to federal authorities in three predetermined groups. The federal authorities overran the village, searching for expected explosives and large weapons. None were found and the marshals drove out empty handed.
The Nixon administration, in a flourish more suited to movie scripting, stated that it wanted to halt Indian militancy. It said Indian militants comprise a “revolutionary Indian element” involved in symbolic actions arising from attempts to redress the bloody Indian past. And further, they are not representative of the Indian population at large, are criminally oriented, and must be stopped by criminal prosecution before they create more havoc throughout Indian America.
But the subsequent trials did not yield the desired Nixon-ion result. Chief defense attorney Kenneth Tilsen wrote in 2012, “Of the 1200 people arrested at Wounded Knee, 99.89% were not found guilty of any offense and only 0.05% were found guilty of an offense serious enough to justify a sentence that required incarceration”
Editor's Note:Laura Waterman Wittstock has written about AIM in the forthcoming book: We Are Still Here: A Photographic History of the American Indian Movement by Laura Waterman Wittstock, photographs by Dick Bancroft and and an introduction by Rigoberto Menchu Tum (May 15, 2013)
Brent Michael Davids (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation) is a classically trained musician and composer. He has been a long-time fixture in the music scene of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region of Minnesota, but is now building a new home and studio on his reservation in Wisconsin. Through the American Composers Forum (ACF), he’s a founder of the First Nations Composer Initiative (FNCI). Known for his artistic flair and top hat, through the Blue Butterfly Group, Davids has received numerous commissions and honors.
Davids holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Music Composition from Northern Illinois University and Arizona State University respectively. He scored Sherman Alexie’s The Business of Fancy Dancing. Most recently, his music is featured in Opal, by Navajo filmmaking Ramona Emerson.
As an Alaska Native woman passionate about seeking protections for the land and indigenous people of our state, I find the life of Elizabeth Peratrovich truly inspiring. For this woman, to stand up and speak her heart and mind in a room full of scorn, with all the cards stacked against her, is tribute to the unconquerable spirit of Alaska Native people.
On the day of her testimony before the Senate when asked this question: ‘Will the Equal Rights bill eliminate discrimination in Alaska?’
"Have you eliminated larceny or murder by passing a law against it? No law will eliminate crimes but, at least you as legislators, can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination."
Injustices and inequalities against Alaska Native people still exist, yet there are many of us that are speaking up and taking a stand out of a moral obligation not just to our own communities, but to humanity as a whole. The gift and legacy of Elizabeth Peratrovich is that she turned that question back on to the legislatures, acknowledging the power they possessed and the moral obligation they were elected to uphold, and by doing so proved to us all the power one singular voice has in making the world a better place.
The production team for the upcoming Vision Maker Media series Growing Native recently came together to put the finishing touches on the Northwest episode. Chris Eyre (Southern Cheyenne/Arapaho) stopped by our offices in Lincoln, Nebraska on his way to the Sundance Film Festival. Eyre worked with series Producer Brandon Verzal and Associate Producer Blue Tarpalechee (Muscogee Creek) on the voice over, editing, and green screen elements for the recently filmed Northwestern episode. Vision Maker Media’s Executive Director, Shirley Sneve, was also in attendance for the green screen segments, pulling from her years of experience working with Native people to provide valuable insight into the process.
“I always enjoy getting to work with such skilled individuals as the team we have here,” Eyre said, “The episode is coming together really well, and I’m excited to get it out there for audiences to enjoy.” The Northwest episode will be the first of seven planned episodes for the Growing Native series. Coming up soon for the Growing Native team will be trips to Alaska, Oklahoma and the Great Lakes, so be sure to check back often for updates!
Raven Chacon is a member of the Dine’ Nation and an experimental musician, composer and educator. Raven has been building his own instruments for creating new sounds since he was a child growing up in Chinle. Today he teaches Native youth through various programs including the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project (NACAP).
We recently talked with Raven about his influences, composing and the next generation of Native musicians.
The NAPT / NAMAC conference began the following day and I was honored to hear from some amazing folks at NAPT.
I will post some of the pictures I took with a quick note about what the speaker offered / said.
After an introduction to the group of Native filmmakers / Filmakers of Native content, NAPT Executive Director Shirley K. Sneve explained the many offerings of the NAPT and spoke of the opportunities to develop and expand the scope of our programming impacts.
Our go-to person of the NAPT organization and direct link to Shirley, "George" talked to us about Production support through the Public Media Content Fund, professioanl Developement and the "SOP" of the NAPT and Producers.
After George spoke to the producers, a plethora of other great speakers from NAPT gave their insights and teachings regarding subject matter such as New Technologies, Social Media and Marketing, Interactive media and learning and teching priciples of media.
The presenters included Eric Martin, Jessica Kinser, Blue Tarpalechee and more.
Happy new year! Back in the office and off the Christmas couch! What are your favorite holiday foods? Oyster stew on Christmas Eve is a tradition that my mother brought to our table. What a delicacy! At our house, the stew took on a different look this year. Daughter Bonita and I are somewhat lactose intolerant these days, so instead of cream, we used broth. Making tamales is a tradition that my husband Tom and I started (by reading a cookbook by Diana Kennedy).
The holidays give us a reason to gather together and celebrate the season by preparing good food. Whether it’s something exotic like lobster or comforting like mashed potatoes, where we live and where we come from still defines what’s for dinner.
My brother Paul Sneve, his wife Tally Salisbury and their son Kenny spent the summer in British Columbia—returning to the school where he graduated—the Vancouver School of Theology. I ventured across the border to visit—just before our Growing Native shoot in Washington and Oregon. Tally accidentally found an amazing restaurant—right next to Kenny’s favorite store—Toys R Us.
Salmon and Bannock Bistro features First Nations cuisine. They won the Aboriginal Tourism BC award in 2012 for food and beverage.
Besides being a delicious place to eat, here’s why I like this place. The food is from the region, and indigenous. The menu changes with the seasons. I had salmon (of course), but we also tried some other things, like muscox, bison—and bannock.
Bannock for you lower 48 Indians, is made from the ingredients used for fried bread, but it’s baked so it’s healthier for you!
Other wild game, as well as seasonal fruit and vegetables were on the menu. They even serve a wild boar hot dog.