Harlem Students’ “Waking the Generations” Highlights Native American Culture

HARLEM — Some students at Harlem High School along the Hi-Line are raising awareness about Native American culture through film.

“Waking the Generations” is a film by current and former students that debuted at the high school on September 22 as part of Native American Week at the school.

The film touches on a number of culturally important topics, and the students involved say it was an emotional experience.

“At first, it was just kind of going to be about Native American Week,” said junior Mitchrena Begay. “As we interviewed more, it kind of got into darker subjects.”

“It kind of just started with our trauma and the boarding schools and all that,” said fellow junior Nellie King.

King and Begay are two of the students who had a hand in making “Waking the Generations.”

The discovery of unmarked graves at former indigenous boarding schools in Canada earlier this year has shed light on the painful history of the schools in both Canada and the U.S.

“I feel like people can see more into what we went through as people and how, in generations, it can hurt,” said Begay.

Craig Todd was the advisor and mentor for students working on the film and says the story it tells is one that needs to be told.

Craig Todd

“It’s something that impacts every one of our students’ lives. They all can probably talk to one of their family members that were involved in boarding schools, whether it be a grandparent great grandparent, or parent. All the damage that did has kind of followed them through their lives,” Todd explained. “This is kind of the kids’ solution; ‘Hey, this is one of the ways you can heal.'”

Before the movie was shown, a traditional smudging ceremony took place for a bison head mounted on the wall inside the high school and for the food that was prepared for people to eat while they watched the movie.

After the smudging, Ed “Buster” Moore talked about the importance of bison. The bison mounted in the school is the same one the students harvested in their film.

Ed “Buster” Moore

“The spiritual significance of that buffalo to us Northern Plains Indian tribes is, that’s our relative. That’s our brother. That’s a family member,” said Moore.

Todd said funding, a lack of experience, and COVID made putting the film together tough for the students.

“When we started, a lot of them had never touched a camera or knew anything about it. I think they had amazing success,” said Todd.

But perhaps the most important thing the film taught students is to be proud of who they are.

“That our culture’s so important, that we’re still here, that we have a voice and that we should keep living for the future,” said King.

The film was produced in partnership with the MAPS Media Institute, and is the fourth film the high school has created with MAPS, three of which were student produced.

“Waking The Generations” is not yet publicly available to watch, but will be on the MAPS Media Institute website in the near future and will air on Montana PBS on October 5.

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