Celebrating Afro-Indigenous voices

Joining us today are Chenae Bullock and Martha Redbone, two women who celebrate both their Black and Native American heritage. And Sundance's new Merata Mita fellow Marja Bål Nango joins the newscast to tell us about her upcoming project.
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February is Black history month. It's a time to honor African-Americans who have shaped history. Native Americans are a part of that history. As there are many Black Indians, they too play a part in the diversity that defines this country's legacy. Joining us today are two women who celebrated both their Black and Native American heritage. Chenae Bullock owns Moskehtu consulting. She's enrolled in the Shinnecock Indian nation and a descendant of the Montauk tribe in Long Island, New York. Chenae is also African-American. Martha Redbone is a Native and African-American musician and educator. She has the powerful vocal range of her gospel singing African-American father and the resilient spirit of her mother's Cherokee, Shawnee, and Choctaw culture.

The Sundance film festival like most other annual events is going online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. One announcement that is eagerly anticipated is the winner of the Merata Mita fellowship. Mita was a Maori and filmmaker. This year, the fellowship goes to Sámi woman Marja Bål Nango. The award is part of the Sundance institute's Indigenous program and Diversity Equity and Inclusion. Marja joins us today.

A slice of our Indigenous world

  • Good news for the non-profit, Migizi Communications, after a tough summer. 
  • The Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan reports the loss of its second tribal citizen and first reservation resident to COVID-19.
  • Reporter-producer Aliyah Chavez has more on a four-year-old Diné girl making a big impact after recovering from a months long battle with the coronavirus.
  • The Inuit language in northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland just got a little bit more accessible. 

You'll find more details on all of these stories at the top of today's newscast

Some quotes from today's show

Martha Redbone:

"Oh my goodness, it's funny that you mentioned that right away because I just finished writing an essay about that. As a child my parents divorced when I was three years old. So I was kind of sent to live with my grandparents at a very young age, kind of back and forth between New York and also Appalachia. And when I came back to New York, I was in middle school at 11 years old and walking around with my mom and I was kind of like the butt of a lot of racial jokes. Everyone was saying, who's the black kid with the Chinese mom."

"And I got all of these Asian jokes. And when I would correct them and say she's Cherokee or she's Indian. Back in those days, we used the word Indian, and so they would say Indians are dead, Indians are extinct. And so being around New York city, we were kind of always a part of our own urban, Native community. We all know who we were, all of our families, we all kind of know each other. We all gather for the winter socials and powwows and language groups and all of these kinds of things."

Chenea Bullock:

"I am a military brat as they say. My dad who is African-American was born and raised in Philadelphia. And my mother grew up on the Shinnecock reservation in Southampton, Long Island, New York. And so there are two different worlds, right? Because during the 60’s so to speak, even though it was the Hamptons, on the reservation there still wasn't fully running water, and that's during the sixties. So that was my mom's experience."

"But she still lived in a tribal community. My dad being an inner city kid, they both met at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York city. So deeply being rooted, each of them and who they were bringing me into the world. They wanted me to have literally the best of both worlds So as a military brat, no matter where we went, I lived in Khamis Mushait, Saudi Arabia for three years, I lived in Tennessee. I say that I've lived in almost every big city up and down the east coast. "

Marja Bål Nango:

"Well, it means actually quite a lot because I'm working on my first feature and I will get support for a one-year from the Sundance’s Indigenous institute. And so they will help me with kind of the things I am working on. Such as I want the ownership of our films to be within our Sámi community. And that was also something Merata Mita that was also very much concerned about, the ownership of the arts. So I'm quite inspired by her and like her determination for her work for her community, the Maori people, the Indigenous community because, going at new paths, you always have to like make new roads." 

"And she did that a lot. And in a way, what I want to do with my first feature is that the ownership is within the Sámi culture because as many people know the biggest producing companies in many of the areas where Indigenous people are, it's not Indigenous companies, but often like non-Indigenous. So the ownership goes to them and that's often kind of makes it a non-Indigenous production. And that of course impacts the art because as director and a script writer, I always want to make the art the best."

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com

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