ABOUT FIRST VOICES
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).
FOUNDING ADVISORY BOARD
Artistic Director (Thresh)
Alaina Buffalo Spirit
Elder, Ledger Artist, Storyteller
Donnie Wetzel Jr.
Tribal Relations & Resiliency Director
Art Educator, Lame Deer School
Professor & Author
Montana Arts Council
Arts Education Leader
TEAM & STAKEHOLDERS
First Voices is produced by a richly-textured team of teaching artists, scholars, education specialists and storytellers from both Native and non-Native backgrounds.
Art Education Specialist, Faculty MSU Billings
Elder, Tribal Liaison Consultant
Chontay Standing Rock
Seidel Standing Elk
Cultural Adviser, Lame Deer High School
Dr. Sweeney Windchief
Associate Professor, MSU Bozeman
Cultural & Educational Adviser (FPCC)
Sammy Jo Bird
Visual Artist, Rodeo Champion
Videographer, Documentary film-maker
Alaina Buffalo Spirit
Ledger Artist, Elder, Storyteller
Choreographer, Project Leader
Cultural Adviser, Native Studies instructor (FPCC)
Director Chanté Project (FPCC)
Dean, MSU Billings
Nakóda Language Specialist (FPCC), Knowledge-Keeper
Joseph R. McGeshick
Historian, Poet, Professor (FPCC)
Art Educator, Lame Deer High School
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