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Dan Ninham
Special to Indian Country Today

An Indigenous-made documentary about three women fighting to honor their missing and murdered relatives will premiere Tuesday, Feb. 22, at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana.

The 57-minute film, “Bring Her Home,” follows artist Angela Two Stars, activist Mysti Babineau, and U.S. Rep. Ruth Buffalo as they work to find healing and hope for themselves and their Native communities.

The documentary film, "Bring Her Home," follows three women as they work to draw attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women. The film premieres at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on Feb. 22, 2022, in Missoula, Montana. (Photo courtesy of of Vision Maker Media)

The film is directed and produced by Leya Hale, of the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota and Diné nations, a producer for Twin Cities PBS whose first feature documentary, “The People’s Protectors,” won a 2019 Upper Midwest Emmy award for best cultural documentary.

“Native women make up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, yet face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average,” Hale said in a statement.

“I’ve made it my obligation to not only highlight the challenges my people face, but to offer stories of resilience, healing, and hope to empower Indigenous communities near and far,” she said. “It is my hope that this film will drive public awareness that will serve as a catalyst for conversation, cultural reclamation and ultimately, systemic change.”

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The film is co-produced by Twin Cities PBS and Vision Maker Media, an organization dedicated to empowering Native people to share their stories. It will be broadcast nationally on PBS stations and will be available for livestreaming starting March 21 at tpt.org.

Executive producers of the film are Shirley K. Sneve, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Indian Country Today’s vice president for broadcasting, and Francene Blythe-Lewis, Diné, Sisseton Wahpeton and Eastern Cherokee who is executive director of Vision Maker Media.

Joining forces

The film follows the three women as they participate in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Rally and March, an annual event in the Twin Cities area.

Artist Angela Two Stars, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is director of the All My Relations Art Gallery in Minneapolis, where she curated the first two installments of the “Bring Her Home” exhibit featuring Indigenous women artists addressing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Two Stars is one of three women featured in a new documentary, "Bring Her Home," that premieres at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on Feb. 22, 2022. (Photo by Michael Phillips courtesy of Vision Maker Media)

Two Stars, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is director of the All My Relations Art Gallery in Minneapolis, where she curated the first two installments of the “Bring Her Home” art exhibit. The exhibit featured Indigenous women artists addressing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Two Stars was just nine years old when her grandmother was kidnapped.

Babineau, Red Lake Nation, saw her grandmother killed in front of her when she was 12 years old, and she was later assaulted and kidnapped but managed to escape. She fights against sex traffickers and for stronger legislation to address the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Buffalo, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation and a Democratic state representative in Fargo, North Dakota, has worked with local communities and in the legislator to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and strengthen the way the cases are handled.

Ruth Buffalo, a state representative from North Dakota, speaks at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Rally in Minneapolis. Buffalo is one of three women featured in a new documentary, "Bring Her Home," that premieres at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on Feb. 22, 2022. (Photo by Michael Phillips courtesy of Vision Maker Media)

The film shows the three women working to bring attention to the growing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and how they are working within their communities.

“As the fight for social justice continues to accelerate in this country, it is important for Indigenous people and allies to encourage and support Indigenous women like Angela Two Stars, Mysti Babineau and Rep. Ruth Buffalo who are fighting to bring awareness to this ongoing epidemic while reclaiming Indigenous women's strength and status,” Hale said in the statement.

Bringing attention to MMIW

Hale, from St. Paul, Minnesota, was awarded the Sundance Institute’s Merata Mita Fellowship for Indigenous Artists in 2020 and attended the 2020 Berlinale European Film Market as a Native Fellow.

She also attended the Big Sky festival as a Native Filmmaker Fellow in 2018 and is still a member of the 4th World Indigenous Media Lab cohort, where, as a designated mentor, she will present a master class and spent time with artists during the Big Sky festival.

Leya Hale, of the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota and Diné nations, is a producer for Twin Cities PBS whose new documentary film, "Bring Her Home," will premiere Feb. 22, 2022 at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana. (Photo courtesy of Vision Maker Media)

She also works on short-form content to create social change within the Upper Midwest.

“Indigenous people continue to suffer from the effects of colonization, systemic oppression, and trauma,” Hale said in the statement. “Many of the issues we face today, such as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic, are a direct result of U.S. Federal Indian Policies.”

“As an Indigenous female producer with access to a trusted public media platform, I feel a responsibility to leverage this access to help bring further attention to this crisis,” she said. “Although telling stories of pain and loss can be traumatic, I have made it my obligation to not only highlight the challenges my people face, but to offer stories of hope, resilience, and healing.”

She said prayers and traditional practices were incorporated into the production of “Bring Her Home.”

“I have made it my top priority to incorporate traditional medicines into our overall production to protect the well-being of participants and to encourage our production team to remain committed to telling these stories with compassion and respect,” she said.

Strong Native women

Producer/editor Sergio Mata'u Rapu, is also Indigenous, of the Rapa Nui people of the Easter Islands. But he said he initially questioned his role in the film.

“From the onset, “Bring Her Home” was meant to center the Indigenous woman's experience in the face of colonization and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic,” he said in a statement. “As an Indigenous male, not native to North America, where was my place in bolstering this story?”

He said Hale’s strong vision about the impact that it could have on the community shaped the vision.

“As we began to edit the film, Leya and I spent months mapping out the story and the themes which the film would represent: healing through culture, resilience in the face of adversity, honoring women,” he said. “It was then that I found thematic connections with my own culture far away in the South Pacific. We too suffer from invisibility, conflict between Western ideals and cultural values, and the objectification of women thanks to colonial influences.”

Rapu has spent the past 15 years shooting and producing documentaries that have aired on the History Channel, National Geographic and Nova.

“There have always been and continue to be strong female leaders within our Native communities,” he said. “I am forever grateful to these powerful women for allowing me to take part in telling their story.”

For more info
-“Bring Her Home will premiere at 5:30 p.m. MST on Feb. 22 at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. To learn more about the film, “Bring Her Home,” visit the Twin Cities PBS website.
-A free virtual panel discussion about the film will be held on March 15, from 6-7:30 p.m. CT. A private link to the film will be made available to those who register for the event. The panelists will include the three women featured in the film – artist Angela Two Stars, activist Mysti Babineau and state Rep. Ruth Buffalo of North Dakota – and Minnesota Sen. Mary Kunesh. The panel will be moderated by Marisa Miakonda Cummings, president and chief executive of the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center.

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