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PROJECTS

First Voices is a social impact project producing video-based interpretations of Indigenous stories. Alongside the stories themselves, the project delivers a range of related assets, ranging from on-site workshops to educator resources (lesson plans) and supporting research videos.

 

On this page we present the process through which we create a First Voices project, and the deliverables relating to each phase. 

FORT PECK

Initiated in late 2022, First Voices: Fort Peck is a partnership between Thresh and Fort Peck Community College (FPCC) in Poplar, Montana. The program also works closely with four high schools on the Fort Peck Reservation (Brockton, Poplar, Wolf Point and Frazer) as well as the Thundering Buffalo Wellness Center in Poplar.

Over the two-year duration of the project three digital stories will be produced with in partnership with the three principal tribes of the reservation: Nakóda (Assiniboine), Dakóta (Sioux) and Chippewa Cree.

 

The first story was delivered in late 2023. See below for details / deliverables relating to the project so far.

THE FIRST STORY: NAKÓDA (Assiniboine)

"THEY PERISHED AT THE ROCK POINT"

Our first story was narrated by Nakóda (Assiniboine) educator and language specialist Michael Turcotte. Michael chose to tell a story from colonial history—how smallpox was spread to the Nakóda population by European colonizers, but a wider epidemic was prevented by the choice of the infected tribal members to isolate themselves in a cave system, today called Rocky Point.

 

Many died, but they protected others in the community from suffering a similar fate. Michael selected the story as it raised important issues of resilience, generosity and community solidarity. The story has particular resonance because of recent experiences of loss experienced by the community as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Image of Rocky Point by created by First Voices participants

Step 1: Story narration by tribal knowledge-carrier

Our first step was to capture Michael's narration to camera. This gives us the foundation on which we build both workshops and supporting assets. 

As you'll see below, Michael related the story in the Nakóda language. It is called "Bahá Ipá Owánija" ("They Perished at the Rock Point"). The video was filmed in the library of Fort Peck Community College.

From this narration we're able to generate both a transcript (writing out what's being said in Nakóda) and a translation into English. Using the "CC" button on the video, viewers can switch between these versions—a very useful tool for anyone seeking to get familiar with the Nakóda language!

For educators who want to use the story in the classroom, we provide different ways of accessing the story—either through video (as above) but also through an audio-only version as below:

Nakóda narration
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The transcription (in Nakóda) is provided as a PDF, alongside a translation into English.

Click the icon above for a printable PDF of the transcript/translation.

The film shoot gave Michael the opportunity to share some of his additional reflections on the story, as below.

Step 2: On-site workshops with participants

The next step is for the First Voices team of teaching artists (Native and non-Native) to come together to design a series of workshops based around the story. Workshops are held in five disciplines:

  • Choreography and movement

  • Music and sound design

  • Film-making and videography

  • Indigenous language and cultural history

  • Visual art and animation

 

Now the teaching artists are ready to meet with participants on-site (in this case on the premises of Fort Peck Community College). Teaching artists work with participants to develop a contemporary—and personal—interpretation of the story. This is achieved through a series of intensive workshops, conducted over a five day period. Each day a portion of each workshop is filmed and documented—the footage generated will be used in the final performance video (Step 6) and other educator resources (Step 7) and testimonials (Step 8).

 

The end product (as you'll see further down the page) is a digital video performance created as a collaboration between the teaching artists and the participants.

A brief video explaining the process, and showing video from some of the workshops, is below.

Making Of Video

Here are some still photographs taken during the workshops.

Choreography and movement: An energetic workshop at the Thundering Buffalo Wellness Center 

Visual Art: Participant Jordis Ferguson discusses her emerging artwork with teaching artist Mary Serbe

Videography: Participants practise interviewing each other as part of the digital media workshop

Music and storytelling (language): Composer Chontay Standing Rock (seated, left) and knowledge-carrier Michael Turcotte (standing) work with students (not pictured) on developing words and music to accompany the story.

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End-of-Day Circles: At the end of each day participants and teaching artists form a "safe space" circle to discuss and reflect on the day's activities

For more of a glimpse into what goes on in our worskshops and how the participants respond to their involvement in First Voices, see the short video below.

Step 3: Developing the music and soundtrack

One of the intensive workshops relates to music and sound creation—for this story, the teaching artist and composer is Chontay Standing Rock, a member of the Chippewa Cree tribe.

Working with Chontay, the participants came up with an original song that combined elements of Chontays's music tradition with Nakóda language fragments, developed in collaboration with Michael Turcotte. This was an example of two of First Voices key goals: inter-tribal and inter-generational collaboration. Click the player below to hear the song.

They Perished at the Rock Point
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Step 4: Further research with scholars and specialists

As part of our ongoing research into the project, we reach out to noted scholars and specialists who provide further context for the project, and the value of storytelling in general. Here's Dr. Sweeney Windchief, professor of education at Montana State University (Bozeman). Dr. Windchief explains why stories and storytelling can present a more authentic, multidimensional, picture of Indigenous culture.

And we're particularly honoured that eminent historian and scholar Professor Walter Fleming, Director of Native American Studies at MSU Bozeman, consented to give us an interview. Here Professor Fleming discusses the value of inter-tribal collaboration.

Step 5: Participants' artwork

As described above, during the workshop phase of the project (Step 2) participants produce artwork inspired by the story. These works are incorporated into the performance video to illustrate and support the final interpretation of the story (Step 6, below).

Some selected examples of participant artwork for "They Perished at the Rock Point" are below.

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"River"

"Trading Post"

"Cave"

Step 6: The performance video

Now we have the raw materials to assemble the performance video, using clips from the various workshops.

This video is carefully edited, with music (see Step 3) and artwork (see Step 5) integrated into the sequence. In addition graphical treatments or animation can be added.

Step 7: Lesson plans and educator resources

As with all First Voices stories, a key element of the project is to produce lesson plans that can be used by educators across Montana and beyond—enabling educators to integrate knowledge and awareness of Indigenous culture into compelling lessons. Full details of the lesson plan relating to "They Perished at the Rock Point" can be found here.

 

Alternatively download the PDF by clicking the image below. 

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In addition to the lesson plan, we provide video tips and suggestions for educators. An example is below, in which Mary Serbe (First Voices Education Lead) explains what is meant by "Inquiry-based learning" and how it can help students develop their own responses to the story.

Step 8: Gathering testimonials and feedback

As part of our on-going efforts to make First Voices relevant and compelling for both participants and teaching artists, we gather feedback both during and after the workshop phase. Some examples are below: first participant Jordis Ferguson shares her perspective on the value of the project.

Below, teaching artist Scott Smoker (also the videographer for the project) shares his perspective on the value of the project. Specifically, Scott answers the question: "What are three things you take away from your experience with First Voices?"

Toni Lakota

Language is a key aspect to First Voices project. At the Fort Peck on-site sessions, participant Toni Peterson was inspired by the language workshops to tell her family's story in her own Indigenous language, Lakóta.

Here Toni translates the words into English, and talks more about the importance of language to her sense of personal identity.

In the video below, Tressa Welch (an educator from Wolf Point High School) talks about why she chose to bring her students to the project, and what she herself has learned. Of note—the video interview with Tressa was shot by Toni Peterson (who features in the previous videos) as part of the videography workshop.

Chantell Rene Buckles is a member of the Fort Peck community who participated in First Voices. In the video below Chantell discusses why she chose to participate in the project and what she got out of it.

Step 9: Design and build mobile website for delivery

The final step is to build...this very website that you're looking at, which is the "home" for all First Voices stories.

 

Designed to be accessed on desktop, laptop or mobile device, the website is the vehicle by which educators and other stakeholders access our content and resources.

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Step 10: The future: New language learning tools

First Voices is a living, dynamic project and we are always looking for ways to improve. In particular we believe language and culture are inseparable.

 

To this end, we are focused on developing tools to help students gain exposure to the Indigenous languages of our knowledge-carriers. A video describing these efforts is below, including a description of a prototype "interactive transcript" tool that is still in development, based on Michael Turcotte's storytelling in the Nakóda language.

 

To see the prototype please click here—note that it is for desktop / laptop only, not mobile at this stage.

First Voices: Fort Peck team

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Michael Turcotte

Knowledge-carrier/ Language Specialist

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Cal Christian

Project Manager /

First Voices (FPCC)

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Preeti Vasudevan

Artistic Director (Thresh) / Teaching artist

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Scott Smoker

Graphic Artist / Documentary Film-maker

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Thomas Christian

Elder / Tribal Liaison / Consultant

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Chontay Standing Rock

Composer / Teaching artist

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Linda Henson

Cultural & Educational Adviser (FPCC)

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Mary Serbe

Education Lead / Teaching artist

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Roxann Smith

Cultural Adviser / Native Studies instructor (FPCC)

LAME DEER

 

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 loss 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.

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Lame Deer stories

The Great Race (A Northern Cheyenne story)

The Great Race is the students’ interpretation of the ancient Tsitsistas / Suhtai (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

At Lame Deer High School, students were immersed in a  year-long semester-based mentoring program. Workshops reconnected high-school students with Tsitsistas/Suhtai (Northern Cheyenne) culture by documenting and re-creating two ancestral stories, using contemporary online media production techniques. Students created an interpretation of the Great Race story as told and interpreted by their elders, working with professional artists (from both inside and outside their communities) to develop artwork, music, and choreography. The final product is a short performance video with behind the scenes footage.

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." 

 

Juanita, 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 Mentoring 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 Tsitsistas / Suhtai (Northern Cheyenne) story. 

Storytelling workshops with Lame Deer High School students (2021-2022)

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.