Documentary helps correct history with pride and grace

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‘In the origin stories of all the tribes of New Mexico, women are central to creation.’

So begins the narration of “A Thousand Voices,” a one-hour film that airs today (Feb. 19) at 7 p.m. on KNME-TV Channel 5, the PBS station out of Albuquerque.

The press release states that “A Thousand Voices” focuses on women who carry forth the collective memory, traditions, and beliefs of their tribal communities.

“A Thousand Voices” is produced by Silver Bullet Productions (in Santa Fe) with Pamela Pierce as the producer.

“We are so proud to be part of New Mexico PBS programming,” Pierce says.

This film is strongly recommended for any adult who thinks they know about American Indian history in New Mexico and for any student who seeks to learn more.

“You are going to get a different perspective of Indian history through the viewpoint of Native American women,” says Veronica Tiller, participant, author and historian, of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe.

More than 20 prestigious Native women appear in the film. But it is the interview with Patricia Michaels of Taos Pueblo that rings especially dear in the hearts of locals.

As a special treat, Michaels will personally premiere the New Mexico PBS broadcast of “A Thousand Voices” today (Feb. 19), 7 p.m., at the KTAOS Solar Center, 9 State Road 150, north of El Prado. Admission is free.

Most of America recognizes Michaels as a cast member on Season 11 of “Project Runway” (2012). But what looks like a meteoric rise to fame is actually the result of years of hard work.

In a phone interview, Michaels said producer Pierce asked her to participate in “A Thousand Voices” because “Pam saw how I went that far into the industry and I did it independently. I am still a traditional woman,” Michaels said.

She explains that in designing her clothing, she aims to put meaning behind it. “Pride and grace –– that’s what I try to bring into my garments, without commercializing or selling-out my culture,” Michaels said.

Michaels has received numerous awards and accolades, including the “Taos Citizen of the Year Award” in 2013 and the inaugural Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian “Arts & Design” Award in November 2014.

Michaels is in extremely good company in “A Thousand Voices.” As just an example, some of the other guests include: New Mexico State Legislator Georgene Louis (Pueblo of Acoma), artist Rose B. Simpson (Pueblo of Santa Clara), and University of New Mexico professor and Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Luci Tapahonso. But the interviews are not limited to women guests only.

Diné silversmith Paul Platero and Pueblo of Laguna Gov. Richard Luarkie are among the men who appear on film to celebrate the past and present role of women in tribal society.

In fact, Dr. Matthew Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh) not only appears on screen, but also is the co-producer of “A Thousand Voices.” Dr. Martinez is the grandson of educator Esther Martinez (d. 2006), recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“I was primarily engaged in the research of the project. My role included identifying locations for filming, assisting with drafting interview questions, researching appropriate images for the film, and editing the documentary,” said Martinez, who is also associate professor of Pueblo Indian Studies at Northern New Mexico University.

The 22 indigenous tribes in New Mexico are each a sovereign nation with its own government, language, tradition, and culture. Most tribes were matriarchal societies but that was squashed by the male-dominated Eurocentric mentality.

As a result, the roles of Native women went entirely absent from the history books; or conversely, the history became warped into caricature. For example, one would think that “Pocahontas” and “Sacagawea” are the only two Native women who ever did anything in history.

In a telling quote from the film, Michaels rhetorically asks: “How am I going to correct history?”

Martinez points out that no other community in America has historically placed women in such unparalleled roles, carrying out responsibilities essential to survival of culture, language, collective memory, and traditional lifestyle.

Silver Bullet Productions is actor Wes Studi’s educational film production company. It is a registered nonprofit that also provides teaching workshops for youth.

The film’s title is derived from an anonymous Native proverb: “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.” The film is based on a treatment by former Acoma Pueblo broadcast journalist Conroy Chino, written by Maura Dhu Studi, directed by David Aubrey, and narrated by Irene Bedard (Innupiag and Malenuit).

“This film is from a place of strength,” Pierce said. “We hope that those who watch the film will be able to counter the stereotypes that began hundreds of years ago. We are grateful for the Native American men and women who served as advisors on this film as well as those who participated.”

The participants in this film hail from the Diné (Navajo) Nation, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Tribe, Kiowa Tribe, Pueblo de Cochiti, Ohkay Owingeh, and Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, Jemez, Santo Domingo, Pojoaque, Santa Clara, Taos, Nambe, and San Ildefonso.

“There are so many remarkable tribal women in New Mexico, that deciding which men and women to interview was an important task in itself. In the end, it was clear that each participant was perfect, and honored us with her story,” Pierce said.

So many powerful thoughts and moments radiate from this film. And that’s because strength is inherent from people just being themselves.

In one example, a little girl (at a ceremony) says simply: “I dance for my people.” Native or non-Native, we thank her for that.

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