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Must-See Documentary: LaDonna Harris, a Native Ambassador for 50 Years

A new documentary looks at the life of Comanche activist LaDonna Harris, who has sought to teach the general public about American Indians.
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On Wednesday, November 12, LaDonna Harris: Indian 101 will screen at the KiMo Theater in Albuquerque, NM. The film chronicles the life of LaDonna Harris, the Comanche activist who has dedicated her life to raising awareness of Native American people. "I’ve been discovering how uninformed the general public is about Native Americans," Harris. who is President of Americans for Indian Oppportunity, told Adrian Gomez of the Albuquerque Journal. "When I got to Washington, no one knew anything about our culture. But we did know about the cultures that arrived in America after Native Americans. This is where the 'Indian 101' part comes into play. It was a chance for me to educate them."

Director Julianna Brannum, Comanche, took some time to share her thoughts on LaDonna Harris: Indian 101 (official website) with ICTMN correspondent Jason Asenap.

'Triumph of the Will,' 1935.

How did you come to choose LaDonna Harris as your subject?

LaDonna is a relative of mine—my great aunt—so I have known of her my whole life. My family was very close with her and they admired and respected her very much. However, I wasn't close with her growing up as I would only ever see her at family gatherings or funerals. When I was working on a film about the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, SD, I came across quite a bit of archival material and found that the media loved her. The more I saw, the more inspired I became and I approached her about making a film.

How long did it take you to shoot and edit the film?

Too long! It took 6 years total... I guess that's about average for most independent documentaries, but it felt like a lifetime!

What challenges or surprises did you encounter completing the film?

The biggest challenge (besides fundraising) was finding the structure of the film. Originally, it was going to be a film about LaDonna's life, but also incorporating the stories of her "Ambassadors" as they went through a 2-year training program with her. Telling all those stories in one hour proved to be challenging, so finally my advisors and funders suggested it just be a straight biography. So when we changed gears, it then became "how are we ever going to fit all of her accomplishments into 56 minutes?" LaDonna really deserves a whole series about her!

LaDonna Harris was honored as "Indian of the Year" in 1965 for her work with Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity.

Did you learn anything new from completing this project?

I learned so much from LaDonna. I felt like I also went through the Ambassadors Program with the Class of 2010, with whom I was filming. I learned how to incorporate your traditional values into your contemporary work and how we must give back to our community and become an asset and to find our 'medicine' and use it for the empowerment of our people. I feel that my contribution to my tribe is my ability to tell our stories to the world.

What’s next on the horizon?

A baby is on the horizon! I'm 4 months along and am really excited about it! I will probably take a break from filmmaking unless it is working on other people's projects that already have funding in place. Fundraising really drains you and takes the fun out of filmmaking. It's definitely not for the faint-hearted!

LaDonna Harris was honored as "Indian of the Year" in 1965 for her work with Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity.