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Posts Tagged ‘native’

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Photo: WGBH Educational Foundation
In the PBS program
Molly of Denali, Alaska Native Molly Mabray helps her mom run a trading post in an Alaskan village.

In the old days, TV shows meant to educate children tended to be dry and clunky. Sesame Street began to move the bar, and now my grandkids and other children are learning a lot from shows that are fun, like Wild Kratts and the Octonauts. They amaze me with the facts they produce to correct my misperceptions about nature.

Now they are giving a thumbs up to a new show about indigenous people in Alaska.

Mandalit del Barco wrote about it at National Public Radio (NPR), “For decades, animated children’s stories included negative stereotypes of Indigenous people. …

“More recently, Disney and Pixar got kudos for more authentic representations of Native people in the films Moana and Coco. Now, TV networks and streaming services are reaching children with realistic portrayals on the small screen — where they consume most of their media.

“The new PBS show Molly of Denali is the first nationally distributed children’s series to feature an Alaska Native lead character. She’s 10 years old; her heritage is Gwich’in, Koyukon and Dena’ina Athabascan. She lives in the fictional village of Qyah, population 94. She goes fishing and hunting, and also looks up information on the Internet and on her smartphone.

“Molly is computer-savvy,’ says the show’s creative producer, Princess Daazhraii Johnson. ‘I think it’s really important for us to show that, because we are modern, living people that are not relegated to the past. That stereotype, that romanticized notion of who we are as Native people, is rampant.’

“Johnson says when she travels, she still meets people who assume all Alaskans live in igloos and are Eskimos — ‘which isn’t a term that people really even use anymore up here,’ she says. ‘We have 229 federally recognized tribes in Alaska; we have 20 officially recognized Alaska Native languages here. We are so diverse and dynamic.’ …

“In one episode, Molly learns that her grandfather stopped drumming and singing as a child when he was taken away to a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. ‘At the school we weren’t allowed to sing the songs from our people,’ an elder tells her. ‘We were made to feel bad about who we were.’

“Johnson says this storyline really happened to one of the elders on the show’s advisory board. It’s a kid’s show, so it has a happy ending: Molly and her grandfather sing together.

” ‘We’re just over the moon about Molly of Denali, because this is exactly the type of thing that can really began to shift perceptions in this country,’ [Crystal Echo Hawk, CEO of the media watchdog group IllumiNative] says.

“Echo Hawk says that for years, Hollywood didn’t produce stories about or by Native people because it didn’t think a market existed for them. But that, she says, was shortsighted. Her organization polled more than 13,000 Americans, and found that nearly 80% of them said they want to learn more about Native peoples. …

“For several decades, the Australian and Canadian Broadcasting Corporations have spotlighted shows by and about their indigenous populations. Now, Netflix is partnering with three Indigenous cultural organizations to develop the next generation of First Nation creators across Canada.

“And in the U.S. and in Latin America, Netflix is running the animated film Pachamama. The story centers on a 10-year-old boy in an Andean village who dreams of becoming a shaman. His people suffer under both the Spanish conquest and the Incan Empire.

” ‘It’s told from the point of view of the Indigenous people,’ says Juan Antin, who wrote and directed the film. … Antin, who is from Argentina, says he was inspired by his travels with his anthropologist wife in Bolivia and Peru. ‘There, I fell in love with the culture of Pachamama, which is how the indigenous people call Mother Earth, having respect, love to the Earth,’ he says.

“The Cartoon Network series Victor and Valentino features two half-brothers in a fictitious Mesoamerican village, exploring myths that come to life. For example, they follow the dog Achi into the land of the dead, where they encounter a chupacabra and other legends.

“Animator Diego Molano, whose heritage is Mexican, Colombian and Cuban, … says it’s about time networks began showing cartoons with Indigenous characters and themes. He just hopes it’s not just a fad.”

More at NPR, here, and at the New York Times, here.

 

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Photo: Annie Tritt for the New York Times
Muriel Miguel, a founder of the feminist Native American collective Spiderwoman Theater, is considered a grandmother of the Indigenous theater movement in the United States and Canada.

I’ve been interested to read how indigenous peoples around the world are reaching out to one another and starting to benefit from the strength of numbers. One result has been the emergence of international festivals staking out a place for native people in the arts world. I’m late with this story, but I wanted you to know about one such festival. It took place in January in New York City.

Siobhan Burke at the New York Times noted in particular that a grandmother of the Indigenous theater movement in the United States and Canada, Brooklyn-born playwright Muriel Miguel, was scheduled to be “among the 30 or so artists participating in this year’s First Nations Dialogues New York/Lenapehoking. (Lenapehoking is the homeland of the Lenape, the original inhabitants of the area encompassing New York City.) Taking place at multiple downtown theaters, the Dialogues bring together Indigenous performing artists from Australia, Canada and the United States for a week of performances, discussions and other gatherings, beginning Jan. 5. …

“In drawing attention to the breadth of contemporary Indigenous performance — with works spanning dance, theater, performance art and genres in between — the Dialogues are something rare for New York, if not unprecedented. Describing what to expect is not easy and not intended to be. In deciding what to program, the chief organizers — [Merindah Donnelly, an organizer of the series and the executive producer of BlakDance in Australia], the choreographer Emily Johnson, and Vallejo Gantner, the former director of Performance Space — set out to challenge a notion they often come across, that Indigenous performance fits any single description. …

“Ms. Donnelly said. ‘The people making it are Indigenous, but Indigenous is not a genre.’ …

The offerings here — many of which deal with themes of trauma, grief and healing — include Ms. Miguel’s Pulling Threads Fabric Workshop, in which storytelling and quilting serve as tools for mending old wounds. …

“While the tone may be somber at times, there is also much to celebrate. SJ Norman, an Australian artist of Wiradjuri and Wonnaruah heritage, said in an email that the opportunity to gather in New York ‘feels like an honoring of the continued existence of our peoples in the big city, as well as the dynamism and globalism of our peoples, which is absolutely vast.’ …

“A Native Alaskan artist of Yupik ancestry, Ms. Johnson has been working tirelessly to counter what she calls ‘the perceived invisibility’ of Indigenous performing artists, particularly in the United States. …

“One approach to bringing the United States up to speed is an ambitious pilot program, the Global First Nations Performance Network, which will be in development during this year’s Dialogues. … The network also requires, of each presenter, a commitment to undergoing what Mr. Gantner calls ‘a kind of decolonization process.’ …

“Ms. Johnson sees this year’s Dialogues as a microcosm of what the network may eventually accomplish, including opening up international exchange. For the Australian choreographer Mariaa Randall, whose ‘Footwork/Technique,’ [explores] the footwork of Aboriginal dances, a highlight of the Dialogues is the chance to simply talk and listen with peers from around the world.

“ ‘In our countries we can become kind of siloed,’ she said. ‘I want to be able to sit with and see and hear from other First Nations females: what their struggles are, their achievements, and how they continue to keep their culture and their practice together, to keep moving forward, because sometimes it is really hard.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Colombia Games
A scene from the ‘Ancient Wisdom’ smartphone games, which allow players to learn about Colombia’s indigenous peoples.

As we have discussed before, there are many cultures and languages in danger of dying out, often because few people know about them.

A Colombian game company has taken a step toward addressing that ignorance, providing school children with entertaining phone games to help them learn about their indigenous neighbors.

Joe Parkin Daniels writes for the Guardian, “In a simple wooden hut on a Caribbean beach, a young girl sits at the feet of her grandmother, who is crocheting a brightly coloured shoulder bag whose intricate design draws on the mythology of the Wayuu people.

“It’s the opening scene from a smartphone game that seeks to educate Colombian children about their country’s endangered indigenous cultures.

“Some 3.4% of the Colombia’s population belongs to 87 different indigenous groups that speak 71 languages. But experts warn that these diverse cultures are at risk of dying out, threatened by climate change and violent armed groups operating in isolated regions the state has not reached. The National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (Onic) estimates that 35 ethnic groups are at risk. …

“The games, available for iOS and Android devices, challenge players to learn the languages and cultures of the country’s indigenous groups, which vary from farming communities in the northern Darién jungle to nomadic hunter-gatherers in the Amazon. …

“The games narrate indigenous creation stories, and players must solve puzzles and draw the wild animals that populate indigenous myths.

“ ‘From one day to another these cultures could be lost,’ said Juan Nates, the CEO of Colombia Games, which recently relaunched the games. ‘When we started this project, I assumed there were three or four indigenous tribes; it was a shock to know how many there are – and how little we know about them.’

“The project was funded by the Sura Foundation, an educational subsidiary of the Sura banking group. The Sura Foundation has also sent about 200 teachers to schools to educate children about endangered cultures. …

“For Nates, raising awareness is key to preserving at-risk indigenous cultures. ‘People can’t worry about something, can’t do something, if they don’t know about it,’ he said. ‘It feels good to help with that.’ ”

Unfortunately, native children themselves usually don’t have smartphones, so it seems like the next step for a kindly philanthropist or foundation would be to get them some to use in school. (Can’t imagine anyone wants children looking at phones more than that.) And it would be nice if the different groups of kids could actually meet.

But what a good start! I’d love to see a game like this in parts of the US where there are large indigenous populations.

Finally, I don’t want to close without giving a shout-out to the Tomaquag Museum, which works to improve New Englanders’ knowledge of Rhode Island tribal culture through educational activities for children.

More at the Guardian, here.

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Art: Rene Meshake
Ojibwe artist Rene Meshake was part of a group of indigenous storytellers from Canada who attended the Untold Stories conference in Ireland in May.

As many people know, there was a dark period in US history when authorities thought is would be a good idea for indigenous children to be separated from their language, families, and culture. The same thing happened in Canada. Today, those children and their children are reclaiming their voices and telling their own stories.

Here is Catherine Conroy at the Irish Times: “On a Friday morning in a house in Dublin, I sit down to speak with three indigenous storytellers from Canada. They are here for a conference called The Untold Stories of the Past 150 Years/Canada 150 at [University College Dublin]. …

“Maria Campbell, Rene Meshake, and Sylvia Maracle, from Canada’s ‘Indian Country,’ accompanied by indigenous historian Kim Anderson, tell me a story of pain, resilience and the rebuilding of a shattered community through stories.

“Sylvia Maracle is an activist and storyteller from the Tyendinaga Mohawks. She believes their stories will resonate with Irish people, ‘with colonisers having come and disrupted what was probably the natural order.’ …

“She tells me of a conversation she had with an Irish taxi driver when she arrived. ‘He asked, “Are people recovering their memories?” I said, “They were always there, we just didn’t have the conversation.” He said, “That’s what happened here.” ‘ …

“Maracle believes in the power of storytelling as a force for rebuilding their communities. She feels privileged to have been ‘old woman raised’ by her traditional grandmother. …

“Maracle tells me that people now visit Maria Campbell ‘because they want this good medicine, this traditional stuff.’

“Campbell agrees that storytelling is medicine. ‘I grew up with a great grandmother and she never spoke English, she was a total “savage” according to the priest because she never converted.’

“But while Campbell grew up with stories, she always felt split between her traditional home life and her life outside. It was only after she stopped using drugs and attended her first ceremony in her late 20s that she realised the healing power of the stories, which came from ‘the old ladies, always women laughing.’ It was a revelation to realise ‘that you’d got this medicine, everything you need to help put yourself back together.’

“Campbell tells a story about the effects of colonisation that she learned from her teacher, the Old Man. …

“He had been trying to explain to her the effect of colonisation on their community’s wahkotowin, which in English means kinship, ‘but if you look at the word bundle, it’s all of our laws, it’s the way that we talk to each other, the way that we laugh.’

“He threw [a] jigsaw in the air. ‘He said, ‘”That’s what happened to us, everything was shattered and wahkotowin flew. Maybe you have three pieces, maybe she’s got half of one, if we come back together and we start to rebuild that, you bring your three pieces, you bring yours, and soon we’ll make the picture.” ‘…

“She recalls one story she wanted from her father that he would not give. ‘Then he got diagnosed with a terminal illness and I had to do the translating for him [in hospital]. I kind of went to pieces when we were driving home. He pulled to the side of the road, rolled me a cigarette, and he said, “That story you want, I’ll give it to you now.” He retold it and she understood now that it was a story about death, not the funny story she’d always thought it was.

“She translated and published the story. ‘In my family’s way, they were telling me that they trusted that I would treat it with integrity.’ ”

More at the Irish Times, here.

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