Protect ICWA Campaign Demonstrates the Strong Support of Indian Child Welfare Act

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Published January 23, 2020

Oral Arguments Made in Brackeen v. Bernhardt Case in U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

NEW ORLEANS — Leaders of national American Indian organizations were in the courtroom of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to hear oral arguments defending the Indian Child Welfare Act in the Brackeen v. Bernhardt case.  

They left the New Orleans courtroom feeling confident the 41-year old Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) will be upheld.

“We look forward to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision,” said Sarah Kastelic, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, in a news release from the Protect ICWA Campaign. “We are confident the Fifth Circuit will affirm ICWA’s strong constitutional grounding. ICWA protects children in state child welfare systems and helps them remain connected to their families, cultures, and communities.”

The Protect ICWA Campaign is comprised of the following four national American Indian organizations: National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Association on American Affairs (AAIA), and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF).

“Today, before an en banc panel of the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Indian Country advocated a strong and compelling argument that the Indian Child Welfare Act is not only constitutional, but serves the best interests of American Indian children,” NCAI Chief Executive Officer Kevin Allis commented to Native News Online. “ICWA has been successful in reversing the unacceptable removal of American Indian children from tribal families and communities, ensuring that our culture, customs and traditions continue to endure.”

Oral arguments were heard on Tuesday were held at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Courtesy photo

“We are confident the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will again confirm the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act,” said John Echohawk, executive director of the NARF.  “We will always stand with our children, families, and Tribes against any and all efforts to diminish our communities, well-being, and sovereignty.”

“There has been an overwhelming amount of resources coming forward to support the Indian Child Welfare Act,” said Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, executive director and attorney for the AAIA. “We should be spending our resources protecting Indian children and not fighting interest groups that seek to dismantle the government-to-government relationship between the United States and Tribes. The Fifth Circuit will be on the right side of history protecting Indian children, and by doing so strengthening the child welfare system for all children.”

A nationwide coalition of 495 tribal nations, more than 60 Native organizations, 26 states and the District of Columbia, 77 members of Congress, 31 leading child welfare organizations, and Indian and constitutional law professors agree ICWA is vital to the well-being of Indian children and the stability and integrity of Indian families today.

To learn more about ICWA visit: or read the full text of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The following briefs were filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Fifth Circuit in Brackeen v. Bernhardt:

Defendants-Appellants Briefs

United States Brief

Tribal Intervenor Defendants Brief

Navajo Nation Brief

Amicus Briefs Supporting ICWA

486 Tribes and 59 Indian Organizations Brief

26 States and District of Columbia Brief

Members of Congress Brief

Casey Family Programs and Child Welfare Organizations Brief

Indian Law Professors Brief

Administrative Law and Constitution Law Professors Brief

Professor Gregory Ablavsky Brief

Native American Women, Indian Tribes, and Organizations Brief

Quapaw Nation Brief

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Saint Regis Mohawk & New York’s Environmental Conservation Dept. Enter into Agreement to Restore Part of St. Lawrence River

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Published January 23, 2020

Unique St. Lawrence River Restoration Joint Coordination Will Benefit Region’s Ecosystem and Cultures

MASSENA, N.Y. — The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) signed a history-making agreement to restore natural and cultural resources in upstate New York near the Canadian border.  

The tribe and New York government agency said the historic cooperative agreement calls for accelerated restoration of natural resources and traditional Native American uses within the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern near the Mohawk’s tribal lands, Akwesasne Territory, and Massena, New York.

The agreement is a first-of-its-kind across the United States portion of the Great Lakes and provides a roadmap for coordinating studies and restoring natural and cultural resource uses between the two government agencies, while recognizing their unique jurisdictions and shared interests, according to a news release distributed on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.

 When the Area of Concern was first identified in 1987, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe voiced the need to have Akwesasne recognized as an equal partner in remediating the serious environmental pollution inflicted upon our territory, according to a statement from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council. 

The work to finalize this cooperative agreement took several months.

“The formalization of this agreement is the culmination of a new, exciting, and historic partnership between the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council and New York State,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Areas of Concern are geographic areas around the Great Lakes that are environmentally degraded. 

In 1987, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement designated 43 AOCs in order to focus restoration work on these areas. The Massena area of the St. Lawrence River was originally listed as an AOC because of elevated levels of heavy metals and PCBs in sediments, wildlife, and water samples collected in the lower Grasse, Raquette, and St. Regis rivers. Significant progress is being made in remediating and restoring these waters, but more work remains.

The agreement also includes the formal renaming of this unique location from the “St. Lawrence River at Massena” to the “St. Lawrence River Area of Concern at Massena/Akwesasne” to identify the efforts of the Mohawk governments at Akwesasne to protect and enhance the water quality of territorial waterways. A new map has been developed that captures the extent of the Akwesasne Territory and identifies traditional use areas within the Area of Concern.

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NATIVE A&E: Fests, events and music news

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Photos from previous Sarasota American Indian Festival. Courtesy photo

Native A&E

Published January 23, 2020

Native News Online has launched a new weekly column to highlight upcoming arts, entertainment and cultural events taking place around Indian Country. Every Thursday morning, we’re delivering a round-up of arts markets, festivals and entertainment happenings that are coming up. 

Here’s a quick look ahead at a few events this weekend and a quick nod to a classic track by a Native American artist.  

Sarasota Native American Indian Festival: Jan. 24-26, 2020
Sarasota Fairgrounds
3000 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota, Florida

The 13th annual incarnation of the popular Florida festival brings the culture and artistry of the Native American people to the Sarasota Fairgrounds.

In 2008, the annual event was founded by the late Rex A. Begaye. As a traditional Din’eh (Navajo) artist, it was his vision to bring authentic Native American culture to the Sarasota area and to share the artistry, dance, music and food of many Native American tribes with the community.

Posted by Sarasota Native American Indian Festival on Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Some of this year’s attractions include Rick Bird and the Bird Choppers as host drum. With his drum, dubbed the “Bird Chopper,” he is known for working with children and introducing them to culture. He will also bring the newest members of his grand baby tribe, who are all learning the dances, drum and flute in the circle.

Another special guest artist is Lowery Begay from the Dine’ (Navajo) Nation and traditionally raised on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and Arizona. For over 15 years, Begay has been a world champion hoop dancer and Northern Style Fancy dancer, as well as a cultural educator, storyteller and drum maker while playing the Native Flute. In that time, he’s performed across the globe, from Japan to  Norway and many spots in between.   

Arts-wise, Christie LaTone, from the Zuni nation, brings her family’s traditional jewelry and gorgeous inlay jewelry.

Other names on the roster include “Native soul” musician JJ Otero, Peruvian flutist SICANNI, flutist and storyteller Harold Little Bird, Amber Dawn with Morning Crow Designs, Cherokee nation storyteller Frank Silverhawk, and the Sarasota-based group: the Bird Tribe Band. There are many others slated to appear, check for all of the entire list.

American Indian Arts Exposition: Jan. 26- Feb. 16, 2020
Flamingo Hotel Ballroom
1300 North Stone Ave., Tucson, Arizona.

Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
Phone: (520) 248-5849

The American Indian Arts Exposition starts Sunday and runs through Feb. 16, with demonstrations and artists changing out every three-to-seven days. Dances are held at pool side, and there’s continuous flute music daily. Beyond that, authentic crafts and art from 80 tribal nations are showcased. Free admission and parking, scholarship donations appreciated.



Saturday, the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe Winter Pow-Wow kicks off in Hollister, North Carolina at the Doe Spun Building (403 Gibbs Ave.). Doors open for the event at 11 a.m. Festivities will commence with Grand Entry at noon. Along with new attractions, as always, there will be singing, dancing and food.

The Otoe-Missouria Tribe also hosts the Winter Encampment on Saturday at 7 Clans First Council Event Center in Newkirk, Oklahoma. Red Rock Creek is the Co-Host. The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska is the Honored Guest. The Oklahoma City Pow Wow Club & The Kiowa Gourd Clan are the Special Guests.


Back in 1974,  Native-American rock sensation Redbone hit No. 5 on the Billboard pop chart thanks to its now-enduring classic, “Come And Get Your Love.”

While the writer of the song, Lolly Vegas, passed away in 2010, his brother (and the band’s bassist) Pat Vegas chatted with journalist Marc Myers in a new Wall Street Journal piece about not only the band’s history, but the message, evolution and history behind their biggest hit single. Vegas told the WSJ: “The beat was a joint effort, with Pete laying it down while we fine-tuned it. What we came up with was a Native-American dance beat. When you dance to the Indian tom-tom, it’s a straight beat with an emphasis on the upbeat—don don-don, don don-don. Not don-don don-don, like in the movies.”

Visit the WSJ for the full story.  

Editor’s Note: If you have an upcoming arts event or powwow you want share with Native News Online readers, please send information in advance to: [email protected]


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90-Year-Old Alaska Native Woman is First American Counted in 2020 Census

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Alaska Native 90-year-old, Lizzie Chimiugak, the first American counted in the 2020 Census on Tuesday, celebrates with her community. NPR photo

Published January 22, 2020

TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska — One day after celebrating her 90th birthday, Lizzie Chimiugak became the first American citizen to formally be counted in the 2020 Census on Tuesday.

Chimiugak, an Alaska Native was counted at her home in Toksook Bay, a remote Alaska Native village, was chosen by the Census Bureau as the first place in the United States to begin the official count that is mandated by the U.S. Constitution to occur every 10 years.

Census statistics are used to determine the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives and inform how billions of dollars in federal funds will be allocated by state, local, and federal lawmakers every year for the next 10 years.

After being counted, Chimiugak participated in a Native village dance ceremony. Villagers listened to a program that included the importance of being counted in the 2020 Census and to discuss climate change, another issue impacting Native Alaskan lives.

Toksook Bay is a village located on Nelson Island along the Bering Sea in southwestern Alaska. Census takers must get a head start in rural, remote areas like Toksook Bay when the ground is frozen and prior to the spring thaw, when residents leave to fish, hunt and seek out warm-weather jobs.

More than half of households on tribal lands across the country have nontraditional addresses where the Census Bureau can’t mail a census form. With no at-home mail delivery and a short window to respond before seasons change, receiving an invitation this way would be nearly impossible for remote Alaska residents.

That is why the Census Bureau worked with Alaska Native leaders to determine the best way to count people living on their lands. In Toksook Bay and other remote areas of Alaska, census takers will visit people at home and will fill out their questionnaires in person.

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First Nations announces inaugural cohort for Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship

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Published January 22, 2020

LONGMONT, Colo. — Nonprofit organization First Nations Development Institute and the Henry Luce Foundation announced the selection of ten fellows for the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship.

Created in 2019, the Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellowship honors and supports intellectual leaders in Native communities who are actively working to generate, perpetuate and disseminate indigenous knowledge. 

Selected fellows receive a monetary award of $50,000 and access to additional resources for training and professional development, according to a statement. The fellows convene three times during the fellowship year to share knowledge and progress toward goals. Fellows will also receive a grant of $25,000 to continue their work after the fellowship.

“We are honored to partner with the Henry Luce Foundation to support this talented cohort of fellows who are working to advance Indigenous knowledge across Native communities,” Michael E. Roberts, President and CEO of First Nations, said in a statement. “Historically, Indigenous knowledge systems were dismissed, devalued and attacked. This fellowship demonstrates that Indigenous people do possess valuable knowledge that can transform communities. These talented individuals demonstrate the ingenuity and genius present in Native communities.”

Sean T. Buffington, Vice President of the Luce Foundation, praised the newly-named fellows: “These knowledge makers and knowledge keepers are exemplary leaders, serving their communities by sharing their insight and understanding. The Luce Foundation is proud to support their work and to invest in the ongoing, millennia-old project of Indigenous knowledge-making.”

The inaugural class of Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows was selected by an Indigenous advisory committee from over 550 applicants, and represent 13 Indigenous nations from 7 states.  

The 2020 Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellows are:

  • Clarence Cruz (Khaayay), (Ohkay Owingeh-Tewa) — Traditional Potter and assistant professor 

  • Dorene Day, (Ojibwe Anishinabe, Nett Lake, Minnesota) — Activist-Indigenous Birth Revitalization

  • Rahekawę̀·rih Montgomery Hill, Skarù·rę (Tuscarora Indian Nation) — Linguists/Language Activist

  • Lisa Yellow Luger (Standing Rock Sioux) — Tribal Justice Specialist

  • Trisha L. Moquino (Cochiti/Kewa/Ohkay Ohwingeh) — Educator and co-founder of Keres Children’s Learning Center

  • Corine Pearce (Redwood Valley Little River Band of Pomo Indians) — Basket Weaver, Artist and Environmental Steward

  • Hanna Sholl, (Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, Alaska) — Contemporary Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) Artist and Culture Bearer

  • Lloyd Harold Kumulāʻau Sing Jr. (Native Hawaiian) — Traditional mixed-media artist and cultural practitioner

  • X’unei Lance Twitchell (Tlingit, Haida, Yupʼik, Sami) —Indigenous Language Teacher

  • Peter Williams (Yup’ik) — Artist and Activist

Additional information about the 2020 fellows, including bios and links to their work, is available on First Nations’ website under the 2020 Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows section.

Photographs courtesy of  First Nations Development Institute.

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Beware of Scam Phone Calls from People Who Claim to be from the Social Security Administration

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Published January 22, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Social Security Administration is warning the public about scam telephone calls from individuals claiming to be Social Security staff and threatening unsuspecting people with fines and arrest if they don’t pay immediately with cash or a prepaid debit card.  

Additionally, the scammers will also send a fake email with attached documents that appear to be from the Social Security Administration. The documents appear real because they use what appears to be official Social Security Administration letterhead.

The elderly are being targeted and are falling for the fake schemes and losing money. The Social Security Administration says it has received over 450,000 imposter-related complaints last year. The Federal Trade Commission reports that Social Security-related scams ended up with losses of almost $19 million between April 2018 and March 2019.

The following Public Service Announcement (PSA) video from Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul provides information about the problem and how to handle the situation:

Social Security employees do occasionally contact people—generally those who have ongoing business with the agency—by telephone for business purposes. However, Social Security employees will never threaten a person, or promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money. In those cases, the call is fraudulent and people should just hang up.

The Social Security Administration will not:

  •   Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.
  •   Contact you to demand an immediate payment.
  •   Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  •   Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.
  •   Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.
  •   Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.

If there is a problem with a person’s Social Security number or record, in most cases Social Security will mail a letter. If a person needs to submit payments to Social Security, the agency will send a letter with instructions and payment options. People should never provide information, including giving your social security number, or payment over the phone or Internet unless they are certain of who is receiving it.

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Navajo Nation and New Mexico Indian Affairs Department Partner to Raise Human Trafficking Awareness

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The Nez-Lizer Administration with New Mexico Secretary of Indian Affairs Lynn Trujillo at the
New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M. on Jan. 21, 2020.

Published January 22, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. On Tuesday, Navajo Nation leadership, along with the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department, issued a proclamation recognizing Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

“Human trafficking is a very serious issue around the world and more so for Indigenous peoples, including New Mexico tribes. We are proud to partner with Secretary Trujillo to raise awareness throughout the state for our women and children and their families who have been affected by human trafficking. We need to continue working together to end this problem in our communities,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

Nez was joined by Navajo Nation Myron Lizer, 24th Navajo Nation Council members, New Mexico Indian Affairs Secretary Lynn Trujillo, and Deputy Secretary Nadine Padilla gathered at the New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

According to the International Labor Organization, there are approximately 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, 26-percent of which are children and 55-percent of which are women and young girls. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported an estimated one out of six endangered runaways are likely child sex trafficking victims, and between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year.

The Navajo Nation and New Mexico Indian Affairs Department proclaim January 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, in the name of freedom and equity of all people, and encourage education and advocacy to bring forth public awareness to the terrible injustice. We call upon law enforcement, community organizations, families, and the entire Navajo Nation to recognize the vital role we must all play to end human trafficking, states the proclamation.

“I am honored to take part in the signing of the Navajo Nation and New Mexico Indian Affairs Department proclamation recognizing January 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Thank you to President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer for your efforts to combat and eliminate this epidemic. I am confident that together, we can raise public awareness of human trafficking and be the strength for the powerless and the hope of the victims,” stated Secretary Trujillo.

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Cherokee Nation Moves To Ensure Its Tribal Citizens Are Counted in 2020 Census

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Published January 22, 2020

#CherokeeNationCounts campaign will help ensure tribe receives crucial funding and grant opportunities

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation has kicked off its 2020 Census efforts by introducing its #CherokeeNationCounts campaign. The Cherokee Nation is urging all tribal citizens to make sure they completely fill out the Census form.

The Cherokee Nation says filling out the Census form will help to ensure the tribe receives key funding for programs including Indian Health Service and housing allocations through Housing and Urban Development during this new decade.

Cherokee Nation officials cite the 2010 Census, saying some of its tribal communities in Sequoyah and Adair Counties had a lower Census participation rate. Nationally, there was also under-reporting of children under the age of 5.

“We’re launching a #CherokeeNationCounts campaign to tell our tribal citizens to fill out the 2020 US Census, because if we aren’t all counted, we leave money on the table,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “The Cherokee Nation estimates for every one Cherokee Nation citizen who doesn’t get counted, it’s a loss of about $50,000 in federal funding over the course of a decade that helps our tribal programs and services.”

By April 1, each home will receive an invitation to participate in 2020 Census either online, by mail or telephone.

Aside from its impact on funding, an accurate count in the Census helps Cherokee Nation better understand the demographics and needs of tribal communities — not only in Oklahoma, but across the United States.

The tribe has established a Complete Count Committee, made up of tribal departments staff, to educate tribal committees about the 2020 Census and how to accurately complete it.

The Complete Count Committee wants to assure tribal citizens that information submitted as part of the 2020 Census is confidential and protected by federal law, and will not impact tribal citizens’ housing, income or custody arrangements.

More information is also available at

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Q&A: Bird Runningwater, Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program

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N. Bird Runningwater

Published January 22, 2020

Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program
Jan. 23-Feb. 2
Sundance Film Festival
Park City, Utah
Public tickets on sale Jan. 21

Bird Runningwater belongs to the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache Tribes, and was raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. From there, he’s carved out a longstanding career at the Sundance Institute’s Indigneous Program.

For more than 20 years, as the director of the program, Runningwater has guided the organization’s investment in Native American and Indigenous filmmakers through mentorship, labs, grants and fellowships. From the script up, it’s an ongoing support system for Native-made film projects. His team has introduced 140 Indigenous filmmakers to the world, curating a roster of over 350 films along the way.

Native News Online chatted with Runningwater about his career in the movie business and this year’s Sundance Film Festival—which includes five Indigenous-made films and the announcement of the annual Merata Mita Fellowship.

This year’s selected films are: Charter (World Dramatic Competition), Little Chief (Narrative Shorts), Lichen (Documentary Shorts), Now Is the Time (Documentary Shorts), małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore (New Frontier).

Ane Dahl Torp and Troy Lundkvist appear in Charter by Amanda Kernell, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Sophia Olsson.

Native News Online: While you live in Los Angeles now, you were raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. How did that upbringing inspire you to work in film and the arts?

Bird Runningwater: I grew up with very limited exposure to television. We were living in such an isolated part of New Mexico, we had maybe one good TV station, two if you rotated the antenna. My youth couldn’t be consumed by being glued to the television screen. As a result, I grew up in a really beautiful, mountainous reservation community that’s very traditional with a lot of ceremonies.

I was one of the rare ones of my generation where I wasn’t raised a fluent speaker of our language, but all of my peers understood and spoke our language. I was surrounded by an amazing and creative traditional space where I was able to create my own entertainment, thanks to the storytelling abilities of the people around me. Also, because I wasn’t influenced by television, I wasn’t aware that misrepresentation was happening on that screen. I had the great privilege of being able to be dismissive of misrepresentation in Westerns and all of these other iconic images people were getting wrong. I ended up working from a really different place.

With hundreds of films behind you, have you had time to work on any passion projects?
I’ve started to think of some of my own creative endeavors and actually telling some stories, specifically for my Mescalero community. I want us to be able to see ourselves reflected on the screen. Now that we’re inundated with satellite TV, digital platforms, cell phones—it’s so different now. I’d like to be able to create content for my own community.

Lichen by Lisa Jackson

So far, has Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime been supportive of the Indigenous film boom?
They have not. No.

That’s kind of disappointing.
Yes, but I will say, this past Thanksgiving, one of the films we supported through our Merata Mita Fellowship was a film called The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. That film was acquired by Ava DuVernay’s company, ARRAY—and she has an output deal with Netflix. They released that film on Thanksgiving and the social media campaign around it … trended higher than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The 2020 festival starts up this week—any Indigenous film you’re most excited about?
Picking just one is like picking your favorite child. But, if we think about Amanda Kernell’s film that we’re showing (Charter), she’s Indigenous Sámi from Sweden and we’re premiering her second feature. Her first film was Sami Blood. She’s a very talented director—we also showed her short film previous to Sami Blood.

Then, stateside, there’s Sky Hopinka, whose film (małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore) we’re premiering. We’ve been showing his short films for quite a few years. He has such a distinctive style, distinctive voice and a distinctive lens through which he portrays a story. Now he’s really upped his game and created a feature-length film—with that specific style of storytelling that he creates. That film is playing at our New Frontiers section, which is reserved for films that are considered to be experimental or non-traditional. 

A still from malni – towards the ocean, towards the shore by Sky Hopinka, an official selection of the New Frontier Exhibitions program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

And then, one of the short films by Erica Tremblay, Little Chief, that’s one of the shorts that came out of our Native Lab. Two years ago, we accepted her into the lab to develop this project. She was given a grant to help her make it, refine it in the post process and to finalize the film. This is her first foray into fiction storytelling, she’s more traditionally a documentarian.

Those three are really exciting artists that we’ve been fortunate to work with before. It demonstrates the commitment that Sundance and my program have toward the growth of artists and their ongoing work and unique perspectives.

Robert Redford is the founder of the Sundance Film Festival. How instrumental was he in the Native program, and is he still involved?
I interact with him quite often. The reason my program exists is because we were managed by Robert Redford and the Institute created a thread to support Native filmmakers. That stemmed from the work and personal passion he did prior to the establishment of the Institute. Robert was nurturing filmmakers and mentoring filmmakers well before the establishment of the Sundance Institute.

To premiere Smoke Signals at Sundance back in the late ’90s, was huge, right?
For him to reach that point, finally, in 1998, where a film is theatrically released into American theatres, that was written, produced and directed by Native American filmmakers was a culmination of decades of investment. Today, we have a small, but mighty team. We’re constantly engaged with the filmmakers we select to work with. Once we get involved with a project, ideally, we would like to see the project through from development into production and then connecting with audiences.

We stay in touch over the long course of a filmmaker’s career, with the hopes of hopefully they won’t need us. It’s difficult to obtain, but hopefully they can transition into a sustainable career. Somebody who’s moved into that realm is Taika Waititi, who’s one of our alumni. I showed his first short film at Sundance back in 2004. I helped him with his first two feature films, to get them made. Now he’s nominated for six Oscars.

Now Is the Time by Chris Auchter

There’s so much talent out there, how do you decide what filmmakers have submitted the best applications?
We’re really known for our curatorial process and vigor. Through that, we’re accessing the originality of someone’s voice, their ambition and what it is they want to do. We look at the voice they have and see how we can help strengthen it and get it out into the cinematic universe. Ideally, it’s someone who has a spark, so you can just fan the flames of creativity and help mold and guide it. Hopefully, at one point it will flame and take off.

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