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How did First Voices begin?

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.

Northern Cheyenne artist Alaina Buffalo Spirit (Northern Cheyenne artist) and Preeti Vasudevan (Artistic Director, Thresh / First Voices) pictured in Billings, MT

"This project has opened up my heart and my mind...and it seems like once you open that door—that's where the trust comes in!"


—Jordis, Fort Peck Community College

How are Indigenous Communities involved?

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).


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Preeti Vasudevan

Artistic Director (Thresh)

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Alaina Buffalo Spirit

Elder, Ledger Artist, Storyteller


Donnie Wetzel Jr.

Tribal Relations & Resiliency Director

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Susan Wolfe

Art Educator, Lame Deer School


Aaron Rosen

Professor & Author


Monica Grable

Montana Arts Council


Adam Jahiel



Mary Serbe

Arts Education Leader


First Voices is produced by a richly-textured team of teaching artists, scholars, education specialists and storytellers from both Native and non-Native backgrounds. 

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Ruthie Shoulderblade

Knowledge-keeper, Storyteller


Mary Serbe

Art Education Specialist, Faculty MSU Billings


Thomas Christian

Elder, Tribal Liaison Consultant

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Chontay Standing Rock

Musician, Composer

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Seidel Standing Elk

Cultural Adviser, Lame Deer High School

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Ben Pease

Visual Artist


Dr. Sweeney Windchief

Associate Professor, MSU Bozeman

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Linda Henson

Cultural & Educational Adviser (FPCC)

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Sammy Jo Bird

Visual Artist, Rodeo Champion

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Peter Tolton

Videographer, Documentary film-maker

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Alaina Buffalo Spirit

Ledger Artist, Elder, Storyteller

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Preeti Vasudevan

Choreographer, Project Leader

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Roxann Smith

Cultural Adviser, Native Studies instructor (FPCC)

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Cal Christian

Director Chanté Project (FPCC)

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Tami Haaland

Dean, MSU Billings


Michael Turcotte

Nakóda Language Specialist (FPCC), Knowledge-Keeper

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Joseph R. McGeshick

Historian, Poet, Professor (FPCC)

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Susan Wolfe

Art Educator, Lame Deer High School

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Scott Smoker

Graphic Artist, Documentary film-maker

"Creating and sharing stories will help build a stronger community with more empathy because I could tell the story to my younger family members. They would most likely be more curious and they would want to tell other people. I was trying to make an example of how this can make a stronger community with more empathy."


—Juanita, Lame Deer High School

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