This digital arts media program trains economically underserved and technologically disconnected young people to express their public voice and preserve the legacies of underrepresented communities and cultures.
An eight-week summer program, the Native Voices digital storytelling initiative connected youth with community elders to create short multimedia videos. By bringing youth and elders together to collaborate on a focused project, this initiative combined the traditional art of storytelling with contemporary filmmaking to bridge the generational gap which too often divides today’s youth from their elders. Participant ages ranged from 11 to 18 and came from the Sacramento City Unified School District. Many of the participants came from mixed ethnicities and represented many tribes including Yurok, Miwok, Yacqui, and Native Hawaiian. Over 15 students worked together in smaller groups to create their short films based on the stories they learned from elders. The students recorded the stories and expressed each story through art. They created all the drawings for three stories that ranged from creation for the Pomo and Potawatomi tribe to how the robin got its red breast. Elders interviewed included Dean Hoaglin from the Pomo Tribe; Rhonda Pope, Tribal Chair from the Buena Vista Me-Wuk Rancheria; Susan Jim of the Yurok tribe of Northern California; and Jeanine Gaines from the Citizen Potawatomi tribe of Oklahoma.
With support from NACF, participants in Native Voices completed three short films based on traditional tribal stories. Because of the flexibility of the grant, program directors reported that they met with more participants more often within the Sacramento City Unified School District. The students who participated in this project had talking circles and gained knowledge of critical issues facing their community and used that knowledge to gather others to the cause. Through this project, students learned more about preserving their own cultures, working with elders on new methods of cultural documentation, teamwork and leadership skills, and how to share their work with their community. Students left this project with more confidence, accountability, and cultural awareness.
Native Voices held its 3rd Youth Film Premiere at Caroline Wenzel Elementary School on October 11, 2012. Partnering with the Sacramento City Unified School District’s American Indian Education program, they premiered three films based on traditional tribal stories along with an open house to all American Indian parents in the school district. Over 60 people attended, and the event was exciting for these young filmmakers who saw their work shown and appreciated by those in attendance.
Frankie Jones, a current participant in Native Voices had this to say about the program: “Native Voices helped me take the initiative in my life and has also given me a sense of belonging in the Native community.”