Thought leaders: Tell your story in your own words

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Little Phoebe Casarez sipped on some water Saturday afternoon during an event at the High Plains Cultural Center. There was plenty of water for the 3-year-old from Fort Berthold.

That’s what protesters are fighting for at Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance Camp on the shores of the Cannon Ball River, said a guest speaker at the “Native Americans & The Media: Bridging Cultures & Creative Journeys” event.

The resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline Project, said Dr. Twyla Baker-Demaray; is a water issue, an issue of life. Baker-Demaray was part of a panel of five nationally known Native American thought leaders that discussed issues related to Native Americans and how they are perceived in society.

“We are not fighting this fight to be obstructionists. We are fighting this fight because this little one needs clean water to drink,” Baker-Demaray said, as she pointed to Casarez but was referring to all people.

Baker-Demaray, the president of Fort Berthold Community College in New Town, was joined by documentarian Juan Carlos Peinado, award-winning author Susan Power and Pulitzer Prize Finalist Mark Trahan. Nearly 50 people listened intently and asked pertinent questions regarding the history and future of Native American culture.

The event, sponsored and organized by the non-profit Dunn County Writers, featured people sharing generations-old stories regarding the land and water, survival, and one’s right to be heard. There was lots of food, plenty to drink, music and time to reflect.

Panelists shared their own thoughts, dreams and goals about their work – past and future. It was an event to bridge differences and ignorances. More than 80 people from 15 different communities and three states attended the two-day affair, that also included a writing seminar on Sunday that was hosted by Power.

“The daylong program truly fulfilled the DCW mission of building community around the cultural arts,” said DCW Executive Director Jennifer Strange. “By the end of Saturday’s evening reading, the crowd felt like family, exchanging phone numbers, sharing hugs and making plans to meet again down the road.”

For Lisa Casarez, the event was an opportunity to share cultural identity and positive role models for her child.

“It’s great to hear their message,” Lisa Casarez said, as she watched her daughter play in the lobby of the Culture Center. “I’m sure she will pick up on the message.”

For Peinado, who produced and directed the critically acclaimed documentary file “Watershed” that chronicalled the WWII Garrison Dam project that forced the MHA Nation and others from their homeland, the message is about cultural preservation.

He said Native Americans have “an incredibly rich culture and history to draw from,” but it must be passed on “in our own words.”

After completing work on “Watershed,” Peinado said he was stymied by producers, saying people don’t want to read about Indian stories. So he produced it himself and did it his way, focusing on native media to native people.

While he was in college, Peinado said he used to draw on his personal experiences and shared them in his work. Peinado said instructors discouraged him from doing so, saying, “Your personal experiences don’t have a place in this paper.”

“We have the ability and the right create new stories,” he said.

Power agreed, noting that editors from a major magazine wanted make changes to a story she was commissioned to do because they didn’t agree with passages that included her cultural identity.

She noted that Native Americans are expected to share their stories using the words of non-Native Americans, which can lead to credibility issues.

“Are we credible? Yes. Our point of view matters,” she said.


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