FIRST VOICES: FORT PECK (in progress)
First Voices: Fort Peck is a partnership between Thresh and Fort Peck Community College (FPCC) based in Poplar, Montana. The program’s mentorship component is tailored specifically to serve students from FPCC and Fort Peck’s Wolf Point, Brockton, Frazer and Poplar high schools.
The First Voices: Fort Peck project aims to honor, amplify, and preserve the cultures and values of the Assiniboine, Sioux, and Chippewa communities of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation through the sharing of three stories that have survived and helped each community retain their identities and values.
Hot off the press!
A short video of our Fort Peck workshops (summer 2023)
We're currently running workshops on the Fort Peck Reservation, with thanks to our partner Fort Peck Community College. The short video below shows some of our work, and you'll hear from students and participants as well.
The three project stories have been identified in collaboration with tribal elders, council members and educators.
Assiniboine: Rocky Point is a true story about resilience in the face of a deadly epidemic. This resonates with younger generations in the contemporary context of Covid-19. The story concerns the last smallpox epidemic that ravaged the upper Missouri River tribes from 1836-1840. The Assiniboine, who were eventually placed on the Fort Peck Reservation along with the Sioux, tell of how their people ran from the disease and the resulting struggle of their families and relatives. This story is ultimately one of survival and resilience, and demonstrates the need to preserve—and learn from—nearly forgotten Native histories.
Sioux: The White Buffalo Calf Woman is an ancestral story emphasizing the value of tradition and continuity. The story relates how, during a time of great famine, two scouts sent to hunt buffalo in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota saw something approaching in the distance. At first, they thought it was a white buffalo calf; but as it came closer, they saw it was a beautiful young Indian woman. She reminded the people to always walk in a sacred way upon the Earth, respecting the environment, and shared the significance of the sacred pipe. This story is the heart of the values of the Sioux people.
Chippewa: As yet untitled, this is a true story of change and accommodation, exploring the meaning of “home.” It offers a contemporary reflection of Chippewa history, and depicts how colonialism negatively impacted an already struggling and marginalized Native population. Many displaced Chippewa settled on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation when it was established in 1888. Some intermarried with the Assiniboine and Sioux in the four reservation communities that ran along the upper Missouri River—however they often lived as outcasts, with little to no political and economic power. Through this story, students will explore issues of discrimination, identity and integration.
Joseph R. McGeshick
Historian / Professor /
Graphic Artist / Documentary Film-maker
Artistic Director (Thresh) / Project Co-Leader
Cultural & Educational Adviser (FPCC)
Elder / Tribal Liaison / Consultant
Cultural Adviser / Native Studies instructor (FPCC)
Project Manager /
First Voices (FPCC)
First Voices: Fort Peck team
FIRST VOICES: LAME DEER (2020-2022)
First Voices was initiated as a response to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the Northern Cheyenne 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.
Thresh's connection with Lame Deer began in 2017 when Founder & Artistic Director Preeti Vasudevan visited the school system as a storyteller-educator for Yo-Yo Ma's Silkroad organization. While working with the students and elders of the community, she recognized fascinating parallels with her own South Asian (Indian) heritage: by tapping into the ancient wisdom of elders, the younger generation can connect to their heritage and find ways to apply this wisdom to their own lives in a contemporary context.
Lame Deer stories
The Great Race (A Northern Cheyenne story)
The Great Race is the students’ interpretation of the ancient Northern Cheyenne story told through art, narrative, and choreography. Premiered at Yellowstone Art Museum, the filming was accompanied by a panel discussion with students and artists, reinforcing the deep need for intertribal collaboration.
Tsèhésenèstsestotse (A Northern Cheyenne story)
Our first story (December 2020) was derived from a Northern Cheyenne origin story—how the Big Dipper was formed. The digital story performance involved Thresh and artists from three Montana tribes: Northern Cheyenne; Blackfeet and Chippewa Cree.
Lame Deer High School mentoring program
First Voices' year-long semester-based mentorship program serves young adults in Title I reservation schools. Workshops reconnect high-school students from the First Nations with their heritage by documenting and re-creating ancestral stories, using contemporary online media production techniques. Students create an interpretation of the stories they discover from their elders, working with professional artists (from both inside and outside their communities) to develop artwork, music, and choreography. The output of this process is a short performance video with behind the scene footage that is published to an online gallery.
The workshop process is both personal, as each student explores their individual voice, and also intensely collaborative in all aspects of storytelling including video and audio production.
"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."
—Jaunita, Lame Deer High School
March 2022 workshop
The second phase helped to scaffold and generate the students’ version of their ancestral story infused with personal approaches to creative expression. Activities included self-exploration through team-building exercises and personal reflections using movement, visual art, poetry, and more. Students documented the process of creation to share the impact of this collaborative journey at the project's conclusion.
September 2021 workshop
Thresh initiated a new collaboration with Montana State University, Billings alongside Lame Deer High School to host the inaugural First Voices Mentorship Program. Artists interacted with ten students from the Lame Deer school across multiple disciplines of storytelling. In this initial phase, students learned choreography, visual art expression, introductory filmmaking and camera presentation tips. These new skills were combined as students created their own interpretations of an ancient Northern Cheyenne story.
Storytelling workshops with Lame Deer High School students (2021-2022)
Mentoring program skills and outcomes
Throughout the program, students learn skills from professional artists to contemporary interpretations of ancient legends:
Narration and visual art techniques
Film performance and script adaptation
Storyboarding for film
Digital filming and post-production learning
Music composition, audio recording, and practical studio application
Dance and movement interpretation of stories
Virtual and in-person presentation skills
Behind the scenes
Meet some of the key individuals—artists, performers,media professionals and educators—who worked closely with the students during the First Voices: Lame Deer project.