Alcoholics. Drug addicts. High school dropouts.
American youth are aware of the stereotypes that taint their heritage.
Ask a group of Native kids from the Swinomish tribe near La Conner,
Skagit County, about what it means to be an American Indian, and
you may be surprised by their candor and insight:
probably think I'm another stoned Indian. Well, you're wrong. I'm
going to become a lawyer."
probably think that I've already dropped out of school. Well, I've
kept my grades up and plan to go to the University of Washington."
probably think I'm a druggie or an alcoholic because I'm Native.
I plan to finish high school and go to college."
statements, from a public service announcement created by Swinomish
teens, drive home a central message: Native Americans have pride
and, as is stated at the outset of the PSA, are "More than
what you think."
PSA was created as part of Native Lens, a new program of Seattle's
911 Media Arts Center. The program's goal is to dismantle Native
American stereotypes and encourage youth to take on the role of
storytellers, whether through public service announcements or documentary
the next two years, 911 Media Arts Center will present a series
of programs that center on media literacy and digital filmmaking
for Native youth. The project, funded by a grant from the Time Warner
Foundation, launched earlier this month with two days of workshops
at the arts center. More than two dozen Swinomish youth traveled
by bus to Seattle to learn the nuts and bolts of digital movie-making,
from handling a camera to framing a shot and lighting.
teens and early twentysomethings also learned about collaboration
and how to work under the pressure of a deadline in this
case, they had four or five hours to make either a PSA, an interview-intensive
documentary, or an animation short. The goal was to create tangible,
lasting works that educate and enlighten people about their tribe.
top of developing a strong idea and executing it, the group learned
how to operate digital video equipment, from technical stuff, like
what buttons do what to composition, such as framing a person's
face and editing a few hours of footage down to a few minutes. The
young people were divided into groups and teamed with instructors
such as Roy Wilson, who oversaw the making of the public service
job is to make something small, say in 30 seconds," Wilson
said, "that will have an effect on people."
a concentrated brainstorming session in a large, cool back room
at 911 Media Arts Center, the kids decided to build the PSA around
the theme of "Native Pride," and one by one stepped in
front of the camera, operated by their peers, to state their accomplishments
tips from the pros
addition to learning how to make digital films, the group took a
field trip to the Experience Music Project and talked with rising
young Native American actors Eddie Spears ("Dreamkeeper,"
"Black Cloud") and Cody Lightning ("Smoke Signals,"
"Manic"), who answered questions and offered suggestions
to the aspiring filmmakers. The students' finished works were shown
to a rousing reception at a Saturday evening screening at 911.
decision to partner with the Swinomish was a logical one because
the tribe has an existing outlet in the form of tribal cable station
SWIN96 for the youth to take what they learn through Native Lens
and apply it in ways that benefit the whole community. The students'
PSA and other Native Lens short films will eventually be broadcast
on the cable station and be shopped to various youth film festivals.
was important to work with one tribe to create a model" for
the program, said Annie Silverstein, director of the Young Producers
Project and Native Lens. "We want to help them develop sustainable
media on the reservation." La Conner Middle School sixth grader
Anna Cladoosby, part of the PSA team, embraced the opportunity to
learn more about digital media.
want to learn the process and how hard you have to work to make
a movie," she said.
Native Lens, Cladoosby said, "People can learn more about our
Williams was one of only a few participants with prior experience
in shooting and editing videos.
what they've learned
tried sports, basketball and baseball, and it didn't work out,"
Williams said, "So I picked up a camera."
21, has a penchant for short documentaries, mostly of his buddies
playing basketball or hanging out, set to an underground hip-hop
soundtrack. He hopes to build on and pass along the experiences
gained through Native Lens, a program he said "gives us a chance
to go back to the tribe and tell them what we have learned and what
the youth to think critically and creatively, and to empower them
to share their stories with others, is ultimately what Native Lens
kids are really good storytellers... ," said Tracy Edwards,
Swinomish education director. "I hope that they continue with
what they learned here and bring it back to the tribe.
if they have a story to tell, they can get it out to the community."
this month, the short digital films created by Swinomish youth will
be available for viewing online at www.911media.org.
To learn more about Native Lens, or to bring a workshop to your
tribe, call 206-682-6552, ext. 18. For more information about classes
and other workshops at 911 Media Arts Center, visit