Finding Their Voice, Manifesting Their Vision

“My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awaken it will be the artists who give them back their spirit.”  - Louis Riel, Metis leader hanged by the Canadian Government in 1885

For the Anishinabe people of the Great Lakes, the words, stories, and prophecies transmitted through time from the ancestors continue to guide many of our communities, families, and individuals. The 7th Prophecy, or 7th Fire, speaks of a time when the “New People” (young people) will awaken and proudly stand with conviction to courageously lead our Nations into the future. This is that time. Our spiritual leaders and Elders interpret the 7th Fire as a confluence between the ancient and technological. The time when young people are reminded to not ever forget who they are and where they come from, but are also encouraged to use what they “know” to protect and advance our way of life. Today it is not uncommon to see Anishinabe youth learning the Ojibwe language from podcasts or creating Facebook pages to promote the culture.

On our rez, a group of young people are finding their voices and bringing their stories to life through short films. They are showing the world who they are, while at the same time honoring their heritage. The catalyst for this powerful movement was a May 2011 visit from Sundance Institute and the internationally renowned program, FILM FORWARD: Advancing Cultural Dialogue. The Saginaw Chippewa hosted six independent films and two Indigenous filmmakers who engaged with our youth and community. Award-winning filmmakers, Taika Waititi and Peter Bratt, facilitated a Tribal youth film workshop and together they ignited a youth filmmaking revolution.

Over the past year, the energy from the young Tribal filmmakers reverberated all the way back to Sundance Institute and bounced back again. On July 20, 2012, Bird Runningwater and Owl Johnson of Sundance’s Native American and Indigenous Program, revisited our community to witness the momentum. This time they brought with them Iñupiaq writer/director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean and his ground-breaking film On the Ice for a Community Screening. The Sundance staff and Andrew were thrilled to host 75 Tribal youth for another youth film workshop (an increase of 50 youth from the 2011 workshop).

Owl Johnson began the workshop by sharing a funny, thought-provoking and inspirational multi-media presentation about his career in film and media. He truly reached the youth on their level and became their immediate big brother and mentor. As youth streamed out of the workshop for a break, some were bopping down the hallway to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song. Owl had referenced the show during his presentation and many immediately downloaded the song onto their phones. His presentation was followed by two Tribal youth who introduced and screened five short films. The youth began with their first film and progressed to their most recent production. Andrew, Bird, and Owl were impressed to see the growth and evolution of their eye, detail, sound, and quality from one film to the next. “You guys are on the precipice of becoming professional filmmakers,” exclaimed filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean.

Andrew concluded the workshop by screening his short film Sikumi. He facilitated an inspiring and encouraging dialogue with the youth – and, he too became big brother and mentor. The youth were most curious to learn about the logistics and costs to make a feature-length film. Andrew gave them a realistic, sometimes challenging, yet humorous and rewarding glimpse into filmmaking.

The day ended with a Community Screening of On the Ice in a local movie theater that exceeded capacity (people were sitting in the aisles). Holding true to most Anishinabe gatherings, whether it is a ceremony or Clan Feast, we sit shoulder to shoulder and no place is too small to squeeze in one more relative. The turn-out was evident of the Saginaw Chippewa’s gratitude for the growing relationship that has developed with Sundance Institute.

The 7th Fire is blazing and Saginaw Chippewa youth are fanning the flame…and, it is most definitely a fire that is being fed by Indigenous filmmaking and Sundance Institute.

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