‘We the Peoples Before’
As COVID-19 case numbers rise and with the Omicron variant rapidly spreading across the nation and in the D.C. area, we have made the difficult decision to postpone this event. We The Peoples Before has been rescheduled for the summer and will take place in late June or early July.
At First Peoples Fund, we are committed to the health, safety, and well-being of our culture bearers, performers, staff, and tribal communities. We believe in the strength, resilience, and joy of Native communities — and for them to be strong, they must be healthy and safe. Thus, given the public health crisis, we simply cannot put our elders, community, and guests at risk with an in-person celebration at this time.
We commend the Kennedy Center and its leadership for the stringent protocols they have in place to ensure the safety of their performers and patrons. We are deeply appreciative of their partnership and ability to find new dates in the summertime when, hopefully, we will be in a better state of health across the country.
To all the artists, performers, host committee members, sponsors, staff, partners, and all of you who have been with us as part of We The Peoples Before, we thank you for the dedication, time, and heart you have poured into planning this historic event and performance.
We look forward to seeing you in a few months.
Until then, we ask that you continue to support the work of our WTPB artists and performers by following them on social media. You can check out the amazing lineup here and find links to their socials.
Storytelling the Indigenous Experience
Although We the Peoples Before is postponed, Filmmaker Charine Gonzales (San Ildefonso Pueblo) has high hopes for her short documentary Our Quiyo: Maria Martinez, which was scheduled to debut at the Kennedy Center. Instead, Gonzales’s documentary will have an advanced virtual screening in February 2022 that will be open to the public (visit www.wethepeoplesbefore.org for updates).
“Native representation is so important because we haven't had control of our narratives,” says Gonzales, who is one of six Native women filmmakers featured in the virtual film screening.
Our Quiyo: Maria Martinez is about Gonzales’s great-great-great grandmother Maria Martinez (1887-1980), a world-renowned San Ildefonso Pueblo pottery artist. “There are many documentaries [about Maria Martinez],” says Gonzales. “But they are told from a non-Native perspective.” Maria Martinez is known for reintroducing the black-on-black pottery process to San Ildefonso Pueblo, says Gonzales. “My short documentary is about her legacy told through her descendants who still make pottery today.”
Also debuting at the February 2022 virtual film screening is the short film The Feathered Girl written by and starring Madeline Easley (Wyandotte Nation).
Filmed by Outaline Productions, The Feathered Girl is a “rage-revenge story,” says Easely. The synopsis follows a brutal assault on a young woman, whose sister (played by Easley) gets lost in a manhunt. “My [character] symbolizes when prey are preyed upon so much that they become the predator,” says Easley. “[The film] is about the battle between anger and helplessness and how that manifests in Native women.”
Moreover, Easley hopes audiences learn how violence against women impacts the course of their lives. “The fictional predatory/prey adaption occurring in this film was directly inspired by the interim expiration of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2018,” says Easley.
Rewriting Indigenous History
In December 2021, First Peoples Fund announced an inaugural cohort of six education fellows who are centering stories and histories about Indigenous people, which is often distorted or missing in lesson plans.
“Across the United States, learning about the cultures and histories of Indigenous nations often leaves us in the past, portraying us as primitive beings,” says Lorna "Emmy" Her Many Horses (Sicangu/Oglala Lakota). Her Many Horses is Program Manager of Special Initiatives at First Peoples Fund and is leading curricula development for We the Peoples Before.
“We want to challenge educators and students to learn about Indigenous cultures, histories, art, and stories,” says Her Many Horses. The curricula will debut every month through virtual programming starting in March 2022 until the rescheduled We the Peoples Before in summer 2022.
In a 2015 study published by Theory and Research in Social Education, 87% of content taught about Native Americans is dated pre-1900s. And according to a 2019 Smithsonian Magazine article, 27 states did not have Native American histories included as part of their teaching standards.
“Conversations with the education fellows are incredible,” says Her Many Horses. “The knowledge, experience, and cultural traditions that span across the cohort are so meaningful and impactful in how we think about the diversity that exists across tribal nations and communities in the United States.”
“Each of the fellows brings important ideas and questions for us to think about in developing resources for students and educators.”
The 2021 We the Peoples Before Education Fellows include:
- Leona Antoine (Sicangu Lakota Oyate), Education Specialist at the American Indian College Fund
- Brigitte Russo (Kanaka 'Õiwi, Siciliana), 8th grade science teacher at Waiʻanae Intermediate
- Benjamin Grignon (Menominee), recipient of the 2020 National Education Association's Leo Reano Memorial Human and Civil Rights Award
- Sandy Packo (Inupiaq), a 10-year teaching veteran and College Readiness Program Administrator for the American Indian College Fund
- Lynette Stant (Diné), winner of the 2020 Arizona Teacher of the Year award
- Nicole Butler-Hooton (Confederate Tribes of Siletz Indians-Checto Band, San Carlos Apache), winner of the 2021 Oregon Teacher of the Year award
In addition to the virtual film screening in February 2022, First Peoples Fund is producing more virtual events that will lead up to the rescheduled We The Peoples Before in summer 2022.
“We are so thankful to all the artists and performers for their time and creative work,” says Lori Pourier, President at First Peoples Fund.
“While we are physically apart, art and cultural expression connect us to one another.”