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Carina Dominguez
Indian Country Today

The 2022 SXSW conference and festivals have a strong Indigenous presence this year.

Most notably, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, was a featured speaker discussing equity and inclusion. 

The Indigenous film ‘Long Line of Ladies’ won the documentary short competition at the SXSW Film festival.

A Native company that produces extended reality experiences won a SXSW EDU competition. It’s the first time a Native owned company won the SXSW EDU Launch competition

OurWorlds also hosted panels featuring Native leaders, educators and technologists. 

But other Indigenous films, exhibits, panels and programs have been sprinkled throughout the more than week-long event in Austin, Texas. The event ends March 20.

Indigenous stories were told by Indigenous filmmakers at the SXSW Film Festival this year.

Two Diné directors had virtual and in-person film screenings.

“Long Line of Ladies” follows a young Karuk girl’s journey into womanhood. It was an official selection at the SXSW Film Festival and it was also screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Diné director Shaandiin Tome and Karuk consultant Pimm Tripp Allen talked about the cultural significance of the film.

WATCH:

“The Trails Before Us,” by filmmaker Fritz Bitsoie, follows a young Diné mountain biker named Nigel James as he prepares to host a race on the Navajo Nation.

Indigenous people were on tech panels and even merged storytelling with tech during extended reality programming, where virtual reality headsets offer the most immersive experiences.

SXSW was held online and in-person.

‘Auntie Deb’ advocates for diversity

Haaland hosted an event at the Austin Convention Center called “Auntie Deb’s Guide to Equity and Inclusion.”

At Wednesday’s event, Haaland talked about why representation matters and how to take it to the next level. This week marked a year since Haaland was confirmed by the Senate and sworn-in as Interior secretary.

Related: Deb Haaland says historic first year ‘memorable'

She urged the audience to “make room for diverse voices that can take the lead” and argued diverse voices, like hers, should be the norm.

2022 SXSW Film Festival

“Long Line of Ladies” won the Documentary Short Competition.

The film follows the return of the once-dormant coming of age ceremony for young women from the Karuk Tribe in northern California.

The flower dance ceremony is a celebratory journey a young girl starts preparing for after her first menstruation.

A young Karuk girl wears regalia in preparation for her Flower Dance ceremony in the film Long Line of Ladies. (Courtesy of Long Line of Ladies)

The film mainly focuses on the young girls, their families and the community as they prepare for the ceremony, which starts with four days of being blind folded. Most of the culturally significant aspects were not filmed.

“I wish I would've had a film like this growing up, cause it would've shaped a lot of like how I thought about myself,” Tome said.

“Long Line of Ladies” captures how young Karuk girls maintain a connection to their culture by envisioning their future community roles and responsibilities – all while participating in other, more contemporary, activities like basketball and dance.

Academy award-winning director Rayka Zehtabchi worked alongside Tome to help tell the story.

“Rayka was really listening to me. I think being an Indigenous filmmaker, it's always like a lonely battle. Like you're fighting for yourself, you're fighting for the subjects and that sort of thing,” Tome said.

Zehtabchi was the first Iranian woman to win an Oscar. Her work is noted for striving for intimacy and honesty on screen.

For two directors from different cultures than the one they were portraying on screen, accurately reflecting the Karuk was crucial. That’s where Pimm Tripp Allen, Karuk and Yurok, came in.

She was the Karuk cultural consultant for the production and she was also featured in the film talking about the importance of cultural revitalization.

“Just like everybody else that went dormant because, you know, our ceremonies had to be hidden away because they were illegal,” Allen said.

She says during the Civil Rights Era local and national people’s movements encouraged community engagement and cultural revitalization.

A Flower Dance ceremony is practiced the in Karuk community again after they went dormant. The coming of age ceremony involves the entire community, as depicted in the film Long Line of Ladies, directed by Shaandiin Tome. (Courtesy of Long Line of Ladies)

When the flower dance ceremony came back it brought the Karuk community together in ways other ceremonies hadn’t before.

Allen was particularly impressed with the way the girls envisioned themselves.

“They often talk about what roles they'll have in ceremony… So I like that they've already imagined themselves kind of growing into these positions,” Allen said. “What makes tribal people tribal I think is just our connection to one another and to place and to responsibility.”

Tome and Allen hope ”Long Line of Ladies” are has a robust film festival life and are excited to share it with Natives and non-Natives for educational purposes.

“The Trails Before Us” was also an official selection for the Documentary Shorts category.

Filmmaker Fritz Bitsoie went back to his tribe to follow the story of a young Diné mountain biker named Nigel James as he prepares to host the Navajo Nation’s first enduro race.

The 12-minute short starts with his grandmother Lorraine Herder speaking Diné, explaining the long history of the dirt trails surrounding her on the Navajo Nation.

James is respecting the trails blazed before him while also blazing new ones - ever so carefully.

“Even a little bush you run over, it has some sort of effect,” James says in the film.

His family is traditional, maintaining deep connections with the land which influences his community involvement.

Extended reality experience

Virtual reality has been the newest tool for visual storytelling and two immersive experiences centered Indigenous narratives.

They were accessible online, or on an app, but best received when using a VR headset.

“On The Morning You Wake” won the XR Experience Competition at the SXSW Film Festival.

'On The Morning You Wake' won the 2022 SXSW Film Festival's XR Experience Competition. (Courtesy of 'On The Morning You Wake')
A still shot shows details from the virtual documentary, "On the Morning You Wake (to the End of the World)," by Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Arnaud Colinart and Pierre Zandrowicz. The film is an official selection of the New Frontier section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

I takes viewers straight into a Hawaiian Saturday morning in 2018 when people receive an emergency text alerting them to a ballistic missile threat.

1.4 million people were urged to seek shelter immediately during the false alarm. The extended reality experience seeks to shed light on the fundamental injustice of a world held hostage by nuclear weapons.

“Choctaw Code Talkers 1918” is up for an Audience Choice Award.

It's about the history of cryptic messages being used by the U.S. military to strategize against war enemies. Native languages helped end two world wars.

The experience tells the incredible story of 19 code talkers stationed in France in 1918.

Soldiers from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma communicated tactical messages in their Native language across battlefield phone lines, helping to turn the tides of the war.

The piece immerses viewers in the presence of Choctaw soldiers fighting in France. The use of the Choctaw language was outlawed in the United States at the time of the war.

It was produced by OurWorlds, which is based out of the Pala Indian Reservation in California.

The company focuses on building an extended reality platform that fosters a communal approach to storytelling. 

As the city was hosting SXSW, there was a shooting in Austin that wounded four. 

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