February 15, 2012

‘On the Ice’ Set to Premiere in Twelve Cities

In 2008, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, Inupiaq, showed a short film, “Sikumi (On the Ice)” at the Sundance Film Festival. Three years later, in January 2011, he screened the feature-length movie, On the Ice, that his short evolved into.

It’s been a long road for what is probably the most talked-about Native film in years, but On the Ice has reached an ending of sorts, which is also a beginning. On Friday, a film that has wowed judges on the film festival circuit will finally debut at theaters around the country. On February 17, On the Ice will be shown at two venues in New York City: Lincoln Center in midtown and at Village East Cinema in downtown. On the same day, it will also screen in MacLean’s home state of Alaska, at theaters in Fairbanks and Anchorage. In the weeks to come, On the Ice will open in Juneau, Alaska; Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; Seattle, Washington; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Scottsdale, Arizona; San Francisco, California; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

If awards are any guide, On the Ice is a film worth seeing—and then some. It won the Best First Feature prize at the 2011 Berlinale, the FIPRESCI Prize for Best New American Film at the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival, Best Narrative Film and Best Cinematography awards at the 2011 Woodstock Film Festival. Additionally, MacLean was recognized as Best Director at the 2011 American Indian Film Festival and On the Ice received Honorable Mention for Best Film at the 2011 Cine Las Americas.

In a highly informative interview with the blog of Filmmaker: The Magazine of Independent Film, MacLean talked at length about the the making of On the Ice.

On casting first-time Native actors: “There was no way I was going to cast non-Inuit actors for this film. … My producer Cara [Marcous] and I went on a trip to small communities in Canada and Alaska. We’d put up flyers at the supermarket and then go to the local radio station. We’d even get on the local CB network —because that’s how a lot of people communicate up there—and make announcements. ‘Hey, come be in a movie!’”

On the feature’s resemblance to the short: “['Sikumi'] is a period piece set in the early ’60s, a time when dog teams were still a dominant mode of transportation. … When I turned to the feature, I decided to make it contemporary. One of the stereotypes about indigenous filmmaking is that you see many idealized versions of the past, and I wanted to do a film about who we are now. … I find it fascinating what the youth are going through. And as I started to look at my characters in that setting, they started to become more complex, and it became a suspense film.”

On the film’s journey: “We could have sold the film at Sundance or after Berlin, and it would have gotten a fairly limited release in New York or Los Angeles, and then gone on to video. But we decided there was an audience in [Alaskan] communities that will come to the theater and make a film like this more successful. … It’s vital to us that we go to Alaska: there’s an audience there and a hunger for films that have a level of authenticity, that bring a deep sense of truth to stories from that place.”

Below is the film’s trailer. For more information on screenings, see the official site, ontheicemovie.com.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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March 24, 2012

Reading History in Regalia: Three Stories of History and Culture Through Pow Wows

Filed under: Navajo Nation,News Alerts,Pow Wows — Tags: , , , , , , — Donna Laurent Caruso @ 2:50 pm

You can see many different types of regalia when you go to New England pow wows. Indian Country Today Media Network recently interviewed three distinctive dancers, each with their own rich cultural history, to learn the background of their regalia: why, where and how did they acquire their patterns, colors and materials?

The Moccasin Flower and the Pine Tree

Jill with her baby Reading History in Regalia: Three Stories of History and Culture Through Pow Wows

Jill with her baby

Jill Cresey-Gross’s Abenaki ancestors lived in the present day states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and north central Massachusetts. Today, there is a resurgence of Abenaki culture and pride throughout New England.

“We were never a traditional pow wow people,” Jill told ICTMN, “and my parents were not involved in pow wows, but I got interested in the late 1980s.”

Some of that period clothing is seen in the pow wow regalia worn today by Jill and others in New England circles, including “trade cloth,” a woolen-like cloth cut in traditional rectangles for wrap skirts, side-tab leggings, hoods and pouches that are then decorated with “trade silver” and “trade beads.”

“I beaded a big spray of pine and a pine cone on the wrap skirt” (the pine tree being of highest importance to her people). “Further, although my beadwork is not exactly like what would be worn in the eighteenth century, I appliqued the Wabanaki double curve design, and in a much larger scale than what my ancestors would have done. I also use sparkling, contemporary beads rather than (simulated) trade beads.”

Jill, noting that her mother loved the moccasin flower (also called the pink lady slipper, an orchid unique to the northeast woodlands) appliqued the orchid to her accessories.

On the other hand, Jill enjoys competition pow wows but those have specific dress guidelines and tribal requirements to place and to earn winnings. Therefore, when she competes, she will often fancy dance. “I bought my first fancy dance shawl second-hand and then beaded all the accessories” to make it her own.

First Light, Water, and Cranberry

Actor, model, teacher and dancer Annawon Weedon also lives in Massachusetts, but south of Jill on Cape Cod, a place with an entirely different landscape and story.

When ICTMN caught up to him, he had just returned from Newcomb, New Mexico where he had been asked to dance for the Cheschilly family of the Dine/Navajo Nation. “Anyone, from kids on up, understand when they look at my regalia and watch me dance that I come from a land of fresh water ponds and rivers as well as land alongside the ocean.” (Annawon’s breechclout features a beaded canoe, and he will often wear a wampum sash; he also dances a canoe dance). “And this is what the Cheschilly family wanted me to bring to them. Four hundred square miles of their reservation had recently burned by wildfires.”

Annawon Weedon Reading History in Regalia: Three Stories of History and Culture Through Pow Wows

Annawon Weedon

Unlike Jill’s family, Annawon’s family has been dancing for generations. “I come from three tribes,” he explained, “Pequot and Narraganset from my Dad and Mashpee Wampanoag from my mother. In our culture, we follow the mother so I am considered Wampanoag.

“Rather than ribbons and fabric I prefer to use the old materials such as porcupine quill, shell, natural dyes, and hand woven fabrics. I watched my dad break the pattern of emulating western styles, a pow wow style that spoke of Native pride but didn’t show who we are as individual tribes.”

Annawon’s father’s generation may have at one time worn plains-style headdresses, and even today the Eastern War Dance and Massachusetts native dress style may not be an acceptable part of competition pow wows.  “I want to carry his intentions forward, no matter what, even though we are sometimes publicly ridiculed and asked to leave certain (western) pow wows.”

A 2010 Sacred Paddle canoe trip taken by Annawon and many others commemorated the particular “trail of tears” of Massachusetts’ natives by following the same course taken in the fall of 1675 by over 500 native people, most from the first reservations on this continent, who were removed from their homes, shackled, and ordered at gunpoint to Deer Island, a barren island in Boston Harbor. The people were left without food or shelter and were shot if they even built a fire. Over half died of exposure and starvation. Today, after a long struggle to preserve the death site, which now hosts an enormous waste water treatment facility, Massachusetts’ natives hold an annual ceremony.

One fact many were not aware of that happened during the 2010 Sacred Paddle continues to haunt the dancer: “The Coast Guard pointed machine guns at us and turned us further out into the harbor where we might all have died. They said we were too close to the airport runways in our dugout canoes.”  This occurred after the participants had done a Sacred Run of twelve miles from Natick, the former sight of the Indian Praying Town, to Watertown, paddled miles up the Charles River in traditional mishoons and a war canoe, and passed through the locks to Boston Harbor.

Some insults only enforce staying true to one’s commitments. A canoe figures prominently into Annawon’s design.

“The double curve design I put on either end of the canoe is attributed to the fiddlehead fern, a fern unique to my homeland. The triangles depict the ocean but also fresh water ponds. The wool’s cranberry color also tells our story since cranberries are unique to our homeland.  Actually, the cranberry could be considered the entire story. The yellow trim represents that we are People of the First Light, we are first on the continent to greet the sun. Yet, my regalia looks similar to the way we dressed in the seventeenth century.”

Migration and living culture

Lorena Novak Reading History in Regalia: Three Stories of History and Culture Through Pow Wows

Lorena Novak

A bittersweet story is behind the reason that Lorena Novak’s kuspik (the traditional dress of her Inupiaq/Alaska family) was fifteen years in the making. “When I went back to Alaska where I was born and where my mother was born and lived, I took note of the clothing that people like my aunties wore every day.”  

Lorena’s parents had met when her father was stationed at Elmondorf Air Force Base in Anchorage and her mother worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Their cultural differences were highlighted when the family moved to her father’s native Massachusetts for work. “One primary difference,” Lorena said, “was that my mother was used to having a huge extended family around, even in the city.” Lorena’s mother returned to Alaska after the divorce and then, sadly, passed away when the children were still young.

So, Lorena was in her twenties before she re-connected to her Inupiaq family. There was a grand homecoming. “A party of fifty people showed up at the airport when my sister and I first visited,” Lorena said.

Today, Lorena takes an annual migration of her own to Alaska from Massachusetts with her husband and daughter to stay connected to her mother’s people.

“I just didn’t want to go to Massachusetts pow wows in deer skin or ribbon dresses, even though people advised me to do that.” To learn about her ancestral clothing, as well as to dance in it in her home state, Lorena said, “There was a lot of my going to Alaska and observing and asking.”

Eventually, she made her own clothing. “My sister and I found a pattern for the traditional kuspuq and made it ourselves. The cotton and trim for it can fortunately be found around here. Then, little by little I added my own things, such as the fur rough and whale bone accessories. I did have to buy my mukluks, which are the bottoms of the traditional footwear, and kamik, which is the top of the mukluk and is of moose or caribou. My kuspik has a hood. There are different stories about that — it is a big hood to protect from mosquitoes while picking berries and it keeps the bugs off the neck and ears.”

Those who attend New England pow wows and notice Lorena can learn more about Alaskan culture. “I love that I can support contemporary Alaska Native artists,” Lorena says after explaining that the purchased accessories she wears include a story teller’s bracelet of ivory and baleen, a bone necklace, and a walrus vertebrae pendant.

The flexibility and freedom of the New England pow wow is an opportunity for these dancers to teach tribal history and identity — as well as to display their personal passions. Their stories are woven through their regalia.

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April 12, 2012

Inupiat Dictionary App Now Available

A new Iñupiat dictionary app provides a quick and easy to look up words in the North Slope Iñupiaq language, the language of the Iñupiat people of the North Slope Borough in northern Alaska.

App features include a searchable list of words in Iñupiat and English, as well as an Iñupiat word of the day. Users can also save words into a favorites list for future reference. Another feature allows users to share the word they just learned on Facebook, Twitter, or via e-mail.

Makers of this app hope it inspires people to learn the Iñupiaq language, but note that word-for-word translations aren’t always available because the structure of the Iñupiaq language is very different from English.

“It is my fervent hope that this effort will contribute to the maintenance of Iñupiaq as a living language in use by the people of the North Slope,” said Edna Ahgeak Maclean, an Iñupiaq language consultant who compiled a North Slope Iñupiaq dictionary in 2010. The app was adapted from this dictionary, which is available online. “The language evolved with the people. It is central to our culture and our identity,” she says in the beginning of the dictionary.

Maclean is Iñupiaq-Eskimo and is on the team that is trying to save Alaska Native languages. She is part of a project called Documenting Alaskan and Neighboring Languages through the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which collaborated on the Iñupiat dictionary app with the North Slope Borough Iñupiat Heritage Center.

The app was created by GuideOne, an app design company, which also created an app for the Alaska Native Heritage Center that provides the user with walking tours, scavenger hunts, quizzes and much more.

Find the free Iñupiat dictionary app in the iTunes store by searching “Iñupiat word finder.”

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