In this section we provide context for First Voices—how it began, who’s involved and how we’re aiming to develop the project. If you have any questions about the project that you don’t find answered here, please don’t hesitate to email@example.com.
How did First Voices begin? How are Indigenous communities involved?
In 2017, Thresh Founder & Artistic Director Preeti Vasudevan visited schools in Lame Deer, Montana, at the heart of the Tsitsistas/Suhtai Nation (Northern Cheyenne reservation). At that time she was engaged as a storyteller-educator for Yo-Yo Ma's Silkroad organization. While working with students and elders of the Lame Deer community, Preeti recognized fascinating parallels with her own South Asian (Indian) heritage. By tapping into the ancient wisdom of elders, the younger generation were connecting to their culture and finding ways to apply this wisdom to their own lives in a contemporary context.
First Voices was initiated by Preeti with colleagues from the Lame Deer community as a response to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the Reservation. With the death of many elders, the younger generation was experiencing a critical loss—of ancestral connection, of hope and empowerment through the power of storytelling between the generations.
First Voices works with tribal Elders and students to create digital (video-based) performances of Indigenous ancestral stories. Tribal Elders and Knowledge-Keepers work in partnership with First Voices on all elements of the project, from selecting and narrating the Indigenous story in the original language, to building partnerships with the tribal colleges and reservation high schools whose students interpret and create the digital story in conjunction with teaching artists in five artistic disciplines (movement, music, visual art, writing, and filmmaking).
How do Native and non-Native teaching artists work with students as they create First Voices digital stories?
Every tribe tells its own stories in a way unique to their culture. When First Voices partners with a tribe, elders select the stories, which are filmed as they are told in the original language. The next step is to work with Indigenous speakers to add accurate captions (so the text of the story can be followed in the original language) and subtitles (where an English translation is provided).
Northern Cheyenne artist Alaina Buffalo Spirit (Northern Cheyenne artist) and Preeti Vasudevan (Artistic Director, Thresh / First Voices) pictured in Billings, MT
Tribal college and reservation high school students then spend one week working with teaching artists from their own tribe, as well as other tribes, plus non-Native teaching artists. Each teaching artist spends the week developing the students’ ability and confidence in one artistic discipline. The five artistic disciplines are movement, music, visual art, writing or Indigenous language, and filmmaking. Ultimately, the students interpret the story in all five disciplines. The footage of the weeklong process is edited to create the finished story, which combines the original storytelling and narration with the students’ contemporary interpretation.
The process also involves mentorship, opportunities to earn college credits, and exposure to healthy Indigenous meals. After the stories are completed, some students will attend screenings and other presentations.
How is First Voices connected to Thresh?
Both Thresh and First Voices were founded by Preeti Vasudevan (see bio here). Thresh was founded in 2005 to create a provocative dialogue between Indian (South.Asian) and western performing arts and to connect heritage cultures with contemporary life. Thresh is a New York-based, female-led performing-arts nonprofit producing work about storytelling in all its forms. First Voices is a project within Thresh, focused on Indigenous digital storytelling.
Preeti Vasudevan is personally involved with all Thresh and First Voices stories. Everything stems from her passion as a performer, her expertise as an artistic director and choreographer, and her natural ability to connect with people she has met across the globe.