South Dakota film will feature the voices of ancient Native Americans

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RAPID CITY, SD (AP) – Urla Marcus has long hoped to preserve the voices of the region’s elders in a carefully crafted artistic format. Now Marcus, director of the Center for American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University, is going to help shape a documentary to do just that.

Staff at the Center for American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University prepare to work on a documentary – and strengthen many of the Centre’s services – by leveraging a $ 242,769 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities which came into effect this school year earlier. The grant was made possible by the US bailout.

The university announced earlier this month that it had received the grant “to restore and expand public programming at the BHSU Center for American Indian Studies (CAIS).”

Marcus, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, said the grant made it easier to hire Tiarra Little as a program manager for the Center for American Indian Studies. Little, a member of the Oglala Lakota Oyate who grew up in the Pine Ridge and Oglala areas, began her post on November 1 and will play a key role in shaping the documentary, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Little received her masters in educational policy and management from Harvard University, and she is expected to work for a year at the Center for American Indian Studies as she prepares for her doctorate. studies.


“She’s going to be the spearhead of the documentary and she’s going to be looking at our Native American studies program, especially our assessment,” Marcus said.

The post was added, Marcus said, after the post of deputy director of the Center was frozen in March.

The grant will also be used to support and develop CAIS programs such as the annual Wacipi, or Pow-wow; American Indian Awareness Week; a series of lectures and various coursework, according to an announcement from the university.

Little, in addition to her MA from Harvard, has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University in Comparative Studies of Race and Ethnicity, with an emphasis on education, access and equity.

“I was heavily involved in the native communities of Stanford and Harvard during my studies,” she said. “I think it’s a strength to be able to tap into these experiences as I help support students at BHSU.”

At Stanford, in her sophomore year, she co-taught an alternative Spring Break course – part of a service-learning program – designed to help students make contributions to diverse communities during spring break. The class focused on Native American and rural education, and she traveled to Pine Ridge over spring break, along with the students and the other co-teacher, to be of service.

“We visited organizations to learn more about Indigenous education,” she said. “It was the very first time that I saw behind the scenes of my home community. It was the first time that we looked at the professional side of Aboriginal education.

Little has also worked on a wide variety of other service projects, including those in several countries around the world. Much of her experience working with people, however, touches close to home.

“I come from a big family, a blended family, and so the simple fact of being able to supervise and give advice to my young parents has been a constant,” she said.

She said her work at the Center for American Indian Studies will encompass a wide range of tasks.

“So far he has given pep talk,” she said. “Sometimes it’s about getting people home – people who need to be escorted home during the break. “

She said she also wanted to help people stay connected to “what’s going on in our communities at home” and consider “how that relates to what’s going on here at school.”

She stressed the importance of working with Lakota Omniciye, a student organization on campus, as well as other activities.

For the documentary, Marcus said the Center brought in three consultants: Jace DeCory, professor emeritus at BHSU, as well as filmmakers Kenn and John Little – unrelated to Tiarra Little. The two brothers created the film “More than a Word”, a project described in http://morethanawordfilm.com/.

Both are members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that straddles the border of South Dakota and North Dakota.

DeCory is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe.

“She’s an elder herself,” Marcus said of DeCory. “She is very well known, not only in our state but in our region.”

Marcus praised DeCory’s expertise and said DeCory will conduct a large portion of the interviews in the documentary, Marcus explained.

Marcus said people at the Center for American Indian Studies had previously recorded the voices of the speakers, including during BHSU’s celebration of American Indian Awareness Week. But the documentary goes even further.

“We’ve always wanted the opportunity to capture what these speakers are saying – and what our elders, more specifically, are saying – in a professional manner,” she said. She added that “we can use (the documentary) in our lessons and distribute it more widely so that the audience can use it as well.”

Marcus said plans were underway to visit five elders.

“We will go to their homes and do (the interviews) in their home communities,” she said.

Marcus noted that it has been a trying, and in some cases devastating, time for the elders in the community.

“We have lost so many of our seniors to the pandemic, and we haven’t had the opportunity to get their information and hear their stories,” she said. “We’ve always listened to them, but we never really got the chance to record them.”

This will be the first time the Center for American Indian Studies has produced a documentary, Marcus said.

“It’s brand new,” she said. “That’s why it’s important for us to work closely with John and Kenn. They have made documentaries and we rely on them a lot to guide us.

In January, she said, the Littles, who both live outside the region, will come to campus and help train interns and lay the groundwork for the film. Later they will work with the material that has been recorded.

“We’re going to send them all the images, and Kenn will be putting them together in particular working with his equipment,” Marcus said.

Marcus mentioned his intention to conduct interviews in February and March and then edit the film during the summer. She said the film would likely be available online and noted the possibility of a public screening.

“We would like to have a release,” she said.

The grant is also sponsoring five interns to work at the Center for American Indian Studies, and they will also contribute to the documentary.

Marcus reflected on some of the other activities that the NEH grant will also help support and develop. She said two interns will be working on the annual Wacipi, or Powwow, this spring for planning, fundraising and organizing. The Wacipi has been canceled for the past two years due to the pandemic, she added.

“It’s a great cultural event, and a big part of our community is participating in it,” she said.

And Marcus said a key function of the grant would be its funding for Tiarra Little’s position as program manager.

“It’s really important for us to have our assistant back at the Center to work with the students,” she said. “She’s from Pine Ridge, so she shares a lot of her experience with the students. She is a recent (university) graduate herself, so she knows the challenges our students face and she also knows how to celebrate their successes.

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