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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today

A multi-purpose media and entertainment organization founded by Indigenous actress Joanelle Romero has received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the annual Red Nation International Film Festival and other programs.

The grant to the Red Nation Celebration Institute was among more than $57 million in American Rescue Plan grants to 567 American arts organizations, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Indigenous actress Joanelle Romero founded the Red Nation Celebration Institute to promote Indigenous filmmakers and their works. The institute received a $150,000 American Rescue Plan grant in January 2022 from the National Endowment for the Arts, part of $57 million in NEA grants to help arts organizations recover from the pandemic. Romero is MescaleroChiricahua/Apache. (Photo by Michael Stahlberg, courtesy of Joanelle Romero)

“The funding will be used for personnel and marketing of promotional efforts,” Romero, MescaleroChiricahua/Apache, told Indian Country Today recently by phone. “RNCI is grateful for the support of our work in uplifting the Native and Indigenous creators that have always been present in the media landscape, whether acknowledged by Hollywood or not, and deserve to shape our narrative.”

Programs that will receive a boost also include the upcoming Native Women in Film & Television set to run March 20-24, where films including the short documentary, "The Lakota Daughters," and "Monkey Beach" will be featured. 

The grants are aimed at helping the arts and cultural sectors recover from the losses incurred during the pandemic.

“Our nation’s arts sector has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson said in a statement. “The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Rescue Plan funding will help arts organizations, such as Red Nation Celebration Institute, rebuild and reopen.

“The arts are crucial in helping America’s communities heal, unite, and inspire, as well as essential to our nation’s economic recovery.”


Romero said the Red Nation Celebration Institute’s program have support more than 5,000 works by Native and Indigenous filmmakers through its streaming company, Red Nation Television Network, and has put a spotlight on more than 800 Indigenous filmmakers through the international film festival.

“Our Institute is the Creative Enterprise by Natives delivering to all people the stories that shape our world,” Romero said. “RNCI is the longest standing Native women-led, Indigenous media arts and cultural nonprofit in the city of Los Angeles, empowering Indigenous storytellers. This award will support and keep the doors open in serving our communities and in amplifying the Native and Indigenous narrative."

RNCI pioneered the first streaming media organization, putting Indigenous filmmakers at the forefront of the entertainment industry, in front of and behind the camera. Its vision for the future of cinema is one in which Indigenous perspectives are authentically pictured, recognized, and valued to promote strong Native identities, economic outcomes, equity, and wellness.

A featured film at the upcoming Native Women in Film & Television Festival, set for March 20-24, 2022, is the short documentary, "The Lakota Daughters." The festival is run by the Red Nation Celebration Institute, founded by Indigenous actress Joanelle Romero, MescaleroChiricahua/Apache. (Photo courtesy of Joanelle Romero)

Romero's career spans more than 40 years in the entertainment industry. She can currently be seen in the acclaimed film, “Wild Indian,” with Michael Greyeyes. She has also appeared in “A Girl Named Hatter Fox” and “Powwow Highway,” with Gary Farmer.

Born of Mescalero/Chiricahua Apache, Dinétah, Paiute and Spanish-Sephardic roots she is a mother and grandmother. Her mother appeared in movies with Elvis Presley, and Romero grew up on movie sets.

Romero said the 27-year-old institute is honored to be recognized by the NEA.

“Our foundation is all about partnerships,” she said. “It's about being inclusive and partnering, and one of the focuses is that we're really driving people to now is our Red Nation Film and Television network, the first online streaming company before Netflix.”

The Red Nation International Film Festival is set to run in the fall.

“During the pandemic, we really looked at how we were going to move forward,” she said. “What came out of that transition was that we designed everything out of our Institute, all of our programs, our year-round programs, everything to be online from now on. That was the mindset. And if we were able to go all in-person one day, that's icing on the cake.

“It opens it up to the world.”

For more info
For more information, visit the Red Nation Celebration Institute website.

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