An excited group of young Native Americans presented their own documentaries on October 15 at South High School. Working together with MIGIZI Communications the pupils produced short films focused on topics concerning the local American Indian community-issues that are barely covered by the mainstream media. As stated on their homepage, all projects managed by MIGIZI Communications pursued the goal “of countering the misrepresentations, inaccuracies, and falsehoods promulgated about Native Peoples in the major media.”
During the past summer, 15 students worked in three groups on MIGIZI projects in cooperation with Step Up, a summer job program for youth in the Twin Cities. Through their high schools, the students applied for the summer project and produced their own short documentaries with the help of MIGIZI media specialists. All three groups selected topics with a special focus on the Native American community.
“This focus provides a way for the students to explore their own culture and native issues-issues that are contemporary and important in the community today,” said John Gwinn, Project Coordinator for this summer’s program. “For example, one of the stories is about Fort Snelling. What is the Fort? Why is it even still here? There is the anniversary of a war that happened here coming up in 2012, but what do people really know about it? Our projects help creating more awareness and understanding of what certain parts of the Twin Cities mean to Native people, what their past is and what is going on with them now.”
Pamela Rusette (17), one of the students, worked on a documentary about sacred sites. “These places are sacred to Native Americans, they go there and gather,” said Rusette.
Morningstar Osceda-Webster, also a 17-year old student, supported Pamela in this project. According to her, projects like this help her and others to learn about the community. “The films tells what our ancestors went through and let people know what happened at the places,” said Osceda-Webster. “And hopefully they learn to respect and get a new understanding of our culture.”
MIGIZI Communications uses media technologies to form a better understanding and transparency in the American Indian community. Melissa Whiteman, a project coordinator and media specialist, underlines the importance of media. “Our program helps to create better role models for native youth. It helps our youth to gain their voice-they have a voice already, but now they get a chance to strengthen this voice and a chance to tell their stories to the world and to have an audience that will really listen to them,” said Whiteman. “The students can also find out who they are-they do research on the projects, they talk to different people and they start to connect with people in the community.”
This project helped students to gain media and social experience by working together on a documentary. “We had to learn how to divide the responsibilities. Who was going to do what-editing, researching, recording, grabbing the equipment and setting it up. In the end, we all had our own thing to do,” said Rusette.
But not only the students benefitted from the shared experiences this summer, emphasized Gwinn. “When we teach media it is great that they learn the skills about the equipment and technical aspects. Some of them get good at it and can take it to the next level if they want to and explore it as a career. But it is also the content what is exciting for us – watching them learn more about these topics, explore them and be able to communicate that to the public is fascinating.”
Whiteman underlined this, saying that “you could see their progression and their confidence grow in working together to reach one single goal. And it is a special thing to see this development because John and I are kind of their parents – in a way like media parents.” For her the media is a special tool that can help communicating these experiences and new messages. “It is also like a spiritual experience getting your message across to the world. Relating our stories to younger generations help our elders to keep that traditions and teachings alive. It is creating healing and it is happening right now. These young students are regaining their stories, they are regaining our people’s stories.”