Vision Maker Media's Producers Workshop for Rising Voices: Hótȟaŋiŋpi

Vision Maker Media's Producers Workshop for Rising Voices: Hótȟaŋiŋpi

An independent producer for Rising Voices: Hótȟaŋiŋpi, Jennifer (Edwards) Weston is Hunkpapa Lakota and grew up on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on the North/South Dakota border.

Date Posted: 
2012-10-10 00:00

Blog Series:

Last month I joined Lakota Language Consortium (LLC) linguist and executive director Wil Meya and dozens of other Vision Maker Media-supported documentary producers in Minneapolis, MN for a lively series of workshops, and the chance to attend the incredible annual conference of the National Alliance for Media and Culture. As a former Vision Maker Media-sponsored production mentee from the We Shall Remain PBS Native American history documentary series, I was thrilled to have a chance to sit down to dinner with folks I’d last seen in Boston – Velma and Dustinn Craig and Vision Maker Media executive director Shirley Sneve. (Dustinn co-directed the Geronimo episode in the series, while Shirley helped fund and executive produce the entire series and web platform:

Back in 2006 I was a newcomer to production, and I learned so much from them, as well as from my day-to-day mentor, longtime independent filmmaker Anne Makepeace. After working together on the King Philip’s War episode in the series, Anne and I went on to produce We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân (Makepeace Productions, 2010) about the miraculous reawakening and return of the Wampanoag language to the descendants of the tribes who first met the Pilgrims in the ancient Native community of Patuxet (which quickly became Plymouth, Massachusetts in the 1620s). I was also fortunate to be able to apprentice with the American Experience series at WGBH in Boston to help develop the website themes and content for We Shall Remain—including providing research on the Native American language communities that were represented throughout the five-part series. One of my favorite experiences was collaborating with my mother, a first-language Lakota speaker to help translate archival footage from 1970s American Indian Movement meetings on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation for episode five. Through that painstaking process I learned a great deal about the nuances of intergenerational communication (and miscommunications) that shaped the story told in the closing film of the series, based primarily at Wounded Knee, where traditional elders on the reservation guided and nurtured the spiritual awakening of a largely urbanized Native youth movement who arrived to help traditionalists combat a corrupt and abusive tribal administration.

Through my work on all these projects, I gained a newfound appreciation for the simple fact that our languages are the foundation and key to our tribal cultures, and literally carry our philosophy and religion. I also learned with a newfound urgency that journalism and filmmaking uninformed by our languages’ perspectives (shaped by millennia on this continent, and literal emergence in relation to our homelands) yield virtually meaningless, superficial stories only purporting to represent Native American history and peoples. So last month’s gathering in Minneapolis was both an exciting production flashback and forward (all made possible by NAPT!), as Wil Meya and I sat down for the first time in person to strategize about how we’ll continue to develop and promote Rising Voices: Hótȟaŋiŋpi, a multi-platform documentary project featuring young Lakotas who are learning our ancient mother tongue as a second language.

The hour-long documentary, co-produced by the LLC’s sister organization, The Language Conservancy, and Florentine Films/Hott Productions, will incorporate short films by Lakota filmmakers, and a new website (currently in development at, as well as a robust social media presence thanks in part to Vision Maker Media’s expert staff guidance. As web co-producer and an associate producer for the film, I’ll also help to promote and integrate the film’s footage, stories, characters, and themes into the language revitalization websites I write for and host: (where I manage a five year-old endangered languages program that has raised over $1 million for language education initiatives); (the companion website to We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân); and (a networking, news, jobs, and events platform linking hundreds of tribal language education and radio programs internationally). Currently you can meet two second-language learners online at Our Mother Tongues on the Lakota page – and my mother and me! – and link to the Lakota Language Education Action Program, the Lakota Language Consortium, and a dozen other tribal language communities' teachers, students, and activists. You can also comment on our blog posts, add them to your Facebook page, and suggest new topics!

Now, as I dive into helping to design, write, launch and promote the film’s website and social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I’m thinking back daily to the workshops from NAPT’s experts in terms of how we should begin to set about framing the sweeping narrative of my people’s endurance through tremendous language and culture change into tiny, accessible web windows and snippets for as broad an audience as possible—but especially for generations of students (Lakota, Native and non-Native), who will learn about how a global language nest and revitalization movement from the 1980s swept through Polynesia, then through North America, inspiring thousands of second-language learners to finally “have their say” (the literal translation of Hótȟaŋiŋpi)— especially in an America where Lakota still counts toward "foreign" language requirements in the few colleges and universities where it is taught!

We have a lot to think through on our multicultural production team, as together we interview dozens of fluent speakers, dedicated Lakota linguists and instructors, and see tentative learners transform into empowered language instructors themselves. Our team is exploring—and will continue on these paths for more than a year—many themes including the following: Lakota sacred places, our language’s emergence from our once vast homelands now encapsulated on a few scattered reservations, our never-ending connections to ceremonial and gathering places, and lighter themes as well: language bowl competition, Lakota humor, time-keeping, kinship, playwrights, radio disk jockeys, tribal college campuses, and so many more unexpected sites where our language will continue to grow and thrive for generations to come.

Visit Rising Voices: Hótȟaŋiŋpi on Facebook to see albums from shoots to date, and from the Lakota Summer Institute, held for three weeks each summer at Sitting Bull College

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