Unlocking Silent Histories, or USH, is an up-and-coming
organization that youll want to know. We aim to combat the
legacy of genocide and colonialism by empowering Indigenous youth
to raise their voices and tell their stories through film. Our work
has captured the attention of the Smithsonian National Museum of
the American Indian (NMAI), which will feature these youth-produced
films between September 9 18, 2016.
USH began to emerge in 2012 when our founder Donna DeGennaro
left her academic job to focus on developing self-directed, technology-enabled
learning with youth in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala. The
stunning beauty of this region masks its troubled and violent history,
which still impacts the Indigenous people who make up approximately
75% of the population, 76.41% of whom continue to live in poverty
as a direct consequence of oppression brought about by both Spanish
colonization and the more recent armed conflict.
500 years of colonialism and discrimination have affected these
citizens senses of identity and trust. Despite the 1996 Guatemalan
Peace Accords, developed to equalize Indigenous voice, identity,
and rights, Indigenous customs, traditions, and language remain
threatened and individuals are constantly pressured to abandon their
cultural identities. Subsequently, Guatemalan Indigenous Maya have
implicitly learned to keep their histories hidden.
Yet Indigenous Maya strength and resolute became readily visible
as Donna began working with four enthusiastic and eager youth in
the rural highlands. Donna provided cameras and held educational
workshops, and these youth created extraordinary documentaries.
She knew that this was only the beginning of great things to come,
and established USH as a nonprofit. Continuing forward and in keeping
with a youth-led vision, she created a team which included her participants.
Three youth become Program Leaders accepting administrative and
teaching roles and making possible our growing archive of revelatory
When the NMAI team learned about USH, they invited us to be
part of their upcoming Maya Cultural event. On this world stage
our Program Leaders will have the opportunity to enthrall and educate
audiences and illustrate their profound resilience to rise above
the continued oppression that silences their voices.
During this event, we will announce an expansion strategy for
working with Indigenous communities around the world. We are particularly
interested in establishing U.S. chapters as we hear Native Americans
call to safeguard their languages and to reinvigorate their cultural
traditions to not only reunite their communities, but also to renew
the implicit connection with our earth. The urgency is compounded
by the staggering rates of suicide, drug abuse, and other diseases
that plague Indian country, effects like in Guatemala
arising from colonization and oppression.
Jennifer S. Baker is a senior associate at Fredericks Peebles
& Morgan LLP and a member of the board of directors for Unlocking