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Larissa FastHorse, a bona fide 'genius'

On today's show MacArthur 'Genius Grant' winner Larissa FastHorse talks about her craft and her new 5-year fellowship. Plus reporter-producer Aliyah Chavez sits down with Northern Arapaho TikTok star Nathan Apodaca, who went viral while running late for work.
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Each year the MacArthur Foundation selects individuals they recognize for outstanding work in arts education and other professional pursuits. We talk with Sicangu Lakota citizen Larissa FastHorse who is among this year's 'Genius Grant' winners. And we'll also hear from Nathan Apodaca also known on TikTok as @420doggface208. He tells us what it's like to go viral. Also in the newscast, Deputy Managing Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest information about COVID-19 in Indian Country.

Some comments from Larissa FastHorse: 

"It's really hard and they are serious about their secrecy. My assistant read one of my emails before I had a chance to move it somewhere where she couldn't see it and they freaked out. They were really worried about it. Secrecy is essential. So you're only allowed to tell one other human. So I told my husband and then my assistant knew so she was able to help me out with a lot of the things you had to do to prepare for the announcement."

"It was really shocking. I had absolutely no idea. People often said, oh you kind of knew it was happening. Because they interview people for up to a year before you get the word people in your field, people that you've worked with, et cetera. I had absolutely no idea. I was completely shocked. In fact, I thought they were calling to hire me to help them create maybe a new Indigenous program or something. I had no idea that this is what it was for."

"I've been so fortunate to be able to do work with a lot of different Indigenous communities and then also with different theater companies, connecting them to their local Indigenous communities. So I kind of have two tracks of work. One of them you're very familiar with, which was with Cornerstone Theater company. We've been working with Indigenous communities so far in Los Angeles, in the greater Phoenix Arizona area. Now we're working in South Dakota with my people, the Lakota, Dakota, Lakota people creating large pieces where people tell their own stories and represent themselves in those stories."

"Then on the other side, I've been working in traditional theater companies telling the stories that Indigenous people ask me to tell again. I consult with Indigenous folks and say, what do you want told? How do you want to be represented? I do a lot of work in these traditional theaters to connect them. I always say, you need to know who your local Indigenous people are. And we'd find a way to make sure that they're all connected. That they started to have a relationship and that they start to give back because theaters are living on stolen land. And it's really important to me that they understand that. I facilitate those connections to get them to see how they can start giving back to Native people."

"We’re just as incredible and that we're smart, intelligent, contemporary people. I had a woman at a theater gathering once say to me, I never would've guessed you're Native American you're so well-spoken you know, I mean, people still say things like that. This is an educated woman. We've all heard it, but I think it's really important that the rest of the world hasn't heard it also, for instance, in Los Angeles, when I was working with Indigenous people who are from this land, the Tongva Gabrielino people. They said, look, we want you to write to the white people. We need them to know we exist because they were declared extinct by the federal government, and they have not been able to get recognition back. So they said, look, we need you to tell them, cause we need all the allies we can get to help us. And they are still fighting for that recognition today. Whatever little bit I can do through theater to help more people understand those fights, I'm thrilled that people trust me and give me the ability to tell their stories and the ways that they want them to be told."

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"It's interesting because my theater work, I write forward. I try to write to the future and what we're going to be facing next. And to be honest, I don't know. Because things have been so crazy. I really don't know what's coming next. It's been hard for me to work on theater pieces. We were in the middle, right in the middle of working on our piece in South Dakota, which is a long term community engaged piece where we're spending time with people. We have all these wonderful community partners we're going to spend the whole summer there and then the pandemic hit. And so we really changed our focus right away. Obviously we're not traveling, we're based in California and we didn't want to be, we were in such a bad state as far as spreading COVID. So we did not want to risk that. So we're staying here in California, we're doing analog ways of connecting. We're getting masks from different theater communities. Having theater people make masks and send them to different indigenous communities. We've been working with the Hopi and the Dine up there and Apache land and Arizona and using our contacts in the theater world to get supplies, get things to people when they needed it. And so that's really where we switched our focus to while we've been waiting out to when we can gather again and start making theater."

"It's been interesting. I've been fortunate that I've had work during this time. I have some film and television work I've been doing. I wrote a movie for Disney and I have a TV project I'm developing at NBC and some other projects that I'm putting together. I've had work for hire, you know, my work that I've had to deliver during this time. So I've really been focused on that, which has been such a gift so that my family can continue to live and pay our rent and buy food during this time when the theaters are all closed. Because I lost a tremendous amount of work from theater when all the theaters closed. However I'm not sure yet how I'm going to write about this time. I do have a digital piece that's going to be coming out sometime either this winter or early next spring, that is when I felt like we needed right now. It's about joy and it's about trying to use this strange digital space that you and I are on right now and helping us mourn, helping us grieve. But then also helping us together, move on to joy because I feel like that's what we're missing right now. There's so much grief and so much mourning. And when you're in person, we support each other through that and then we get to a better, more cathartic place. And so I'm going to see if there's a way to do that online through theater and help us all have just a little bit of joy in the middle of all this difficulty."

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. She is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

Also on the show:

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the deputy managing editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb or email her at Bennett-Begaye’s Grey’s Anatomy obsession started while attending the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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

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