Indigenous storytelling is vital to a deeper understanding of our world as well as to addressing the climate crisis, but how do we best support those storytellers? The 4th World Media Lab does just that, supporting early and mid-career Indigenous filmmakers from around the globe. In this episode, members of the 2021 cohort - Brit Hensel, Ajuawak Kapashesit, Jared Lank, Erin Lau, Lucía Ortega Toledo, and Theola Ross - share how Indigenous-focused spaces make room for growth, why Native filmmaking is in an interesting moment, and what they envision next for themselves and those following in their footsteps. We're also joined by the founder of the lab, Tracy Rector (Managing Director, Storytelling, Nia Tero and Executive Producer for Seedcast), who shares about the generative partnerships that keep the 4th World fellowship going and what inspired the name. Hosted by Jessica Ramirez; Produced by Felipe Contreras and Michelle Hurtubise; Story edited by Julie Keck.
Learn more about the 4th World Media Lab.
Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.
4th World Transcript
Jessica Ramirez: [00:00:00] Hi Seedcast Listeners. For anyone who's been listening to the podcast for the past year, it's pretty clear that we at Seedcast are 100% dedicated to centering Indigenous stories. And in order for these stories to be told and heard, we need storytellers. For this episode, I'm going to introduce you to six amazing Indigenous storytellers whose voices and stories impact the future and the global wellbeing of the world.
[00:00:47] [Theme Music By Mia Kami]
[00:01:11] Lucía Ortega Toledo, Brit Hensel, Ajuawak Kapashesit, Jared Lank, Erin Lau and Theola Ross are all storytellers doing the work of uplifting their communities for their communities, and are all part of a fellowship called 4th World.
The 4th World Media Lab is a fellowship that supports early- and mid-career Indigenous filmmakers from around the globe.
[00:01:43] A fellowship founded by Tracy Rector, our Seedcast Executive Producer and Nia Tero’s managing director of storytelling. Before hearing from the fellows themselves, I got to talk to Tracy about the meaning behind the name, what the fellowship is and why a fellowship.
Tracy Rector: [00:02:09] Naming 4th World, I asked around and I talked to an elder and asked what he thought a good name would be for this program. And he got to thinking, and he explained to me that there's a story about a time when the world would be in need of healing, that the environment would be just feeling the impacts of humankind.
[00:02:34] And it would be Indigenous stories that would bring this healing forward into the world for the health of the planet. And so this space and time is called 4th World. And that's how we chose the name for 4th World filmmaking. And with the idea that Indigenous stories inherently are medicine, and that we're being called upon at this moment in time with the climate crisis to recognize that we need medicine [00:03:07] for future generations.
4th world, which is a yearlong cohort program, and so the filmmakers have a year to get to know each other, to build skills and to pitch to funders. I love fellowships and I love the community that comes together. The fellowship is in the seventh year. So we have just launched our seventh cohort of 4th world filmmakers.
[00:03:36] And it's really exciting.
Jessica Ramirez: But I'm so curious, how has the fellowship managed to take shape during a time when travel is difficult and we're all in the Zoom world? So what does it look like now and what do you see happening in the future?
Tracy Rector: It's been challenging, but it's [00:04:00] also really asked us to stretch in terms of how do we communicate, how do we make available new opportunities?
[00:04:08] How do we be in relationship in a new way? And again, it's a pretty beautiful and amazing that, that we have partners in doing this together. Because I think having all of those hearts, minds and you know, souls to support these filmmakers is critical at this moment when things have just been so uncertain and tough. And I think just having multiple people to do outreach has been essential.
[00:04:39] You know, and now we're thinking about kind of hybrid experiences for 4th World going into this next year. So it's been good, a lot of lessons uh, and I think our community has become stronger for it. Because the other thing is we've grown – within this fellowship, and I would say, in terms of BIPOC led movement-making – very aware and critical in understanding the need to build new avenues and pathways around and through the media industry that we've known for so long and to build our own spaces and our own approaches.
Jessica Ramirez: [00:05:27] This September, the seventh cohort of the 4th World fellows met at Camden International Film Festival – a week-long residency experience where they got to bond and participate in pitch and fundraising workshops. This was the first time a cohort has met in person in nearly two years. We were fortunate enough to have field producer Michelle Hurtubise at Camden with the fellows to sit down with each of them and ask questions about their work, the fellowship, and the future of Indigenous stories.
[00:06:01] First we'll hear from Lucía, Ajuawak and Erin, then Brit Hensel as they talk about the fellowship.
Lucía Ortega Toledo: Having the fellowship made something really good for me, because it made me stop trying to fit in. I think that since I moved into the States, it was sometimes, uh, hard to fit in. Or the feeling of not being – the feeling of not belonging.
[00:06:29] And with this fellowship, I feel that I am accepted from who I am, that I have an Indigenous background that I have Indigenous features and my work is valued. And I felt that my voice could be heard.
Ajuawak Kapashesit: Having people that you can really connect to in a, in a personal way like that, it's very comforting because there's a lot of times you can feel intimidated or you can feel out of place.
[00:06:59] And when you're around people like that, you get to connect with them and, and know that they've had the same experiences you have, or the things that you're thinking about they're totally thinking about in that same moment. And that's super, um, comforting to know that you have somebody who gets you in, in your corner.
[00:07:16] And yeah, part of me was anxious, you know, with travel and with meeting new people and taking a step in a new direction for my career has been a whole new journey for me. There was some apprehension around that. Anxiety around, what does this look like? What does this feel like? Am I ready for this? And you know, it's been great being here, having these conversations with people and realizing that [00:07:39] this is a place where I, I do feel I belong and I do feel, you know, supported and around good company. And so I'm very grateful for that.
Erin Lau: There's just something about being, sharing a physical space with people that's just irreplaceable. I don't think this experience would have been the same if it were over Zoom. It's been really inspiring, especially after this past year.
[00:08:07] It's just nice to be an environments that sort of remind you of why you're here and why you do what – the work you do. And so just being in this cohort, in this [language] as we'd say, is just really replenishing and rejuvenating and has felt like an opportunity to recenter.
Brit Hensel: I know that in doing work with people at 4th World and under the umbrella of 4th World, [00:08:33] my story is going to get out to the community that I want it to go to. I know that there's just a whole ton of care and trust in the way that I see things in the way that I approach things. And that really means a lot. I don't, I think it’s really rare in the industry and as I'm still learning and I'm still growing, [00:08:52] I've noticed that's really rare. And so to be amongst people at 4th World, where that is a, it's a different approach and it's a more Indigenous way of approaching storytelling. And indigenizing the way we do things is, it's pretty awesome.
Jessica Ramirez: Let’s hear from Jared, Theola and Ajuawak about why Indigenous representation matters in storytelling.
Jared Lank: Representation and having a seat at the table as a Native person is, like, [00:09:20] more important than ever right now, because there's so much that can be learned from our perspectives on life and our traditional knowledge and place-based knowledge. Especially in like climate change, because there's things that – ask the people that have been living here for like thousands of years about how abrupt change is, but for a long time science, discredited oral history and tradition as a real thing.
[00:09:43] It had to fit the science mold, this very, like, Western perception of it. And then now I was talking to Passamaquoddy knowledge keeper Roger Paul. And he was saying that someone he knew, an elder he knew would always say like, oh, those scientists are finally catching up to like what we've been saying, like, for thousands of years about this place, the origins of everything and how it all came to be.
Science in the west is so fixated on their lens [00:10:09] that, when you tell them yours, it's almost like it's not the same type of thing. It's like not a lens at all.
I think now more than ever, people are starting to realize their lens is failing them and they need to open up to the idea that they need to be kind of saved in a way. And that freaks me out. But I think that I have faith that this is one of those scenarios where on the Native side, I think it's safe to say, we see it as like, we're all here now.[00:10:34] So we all need to work together to make this work.
Theola Ross: What I hope is next is not having to educate people about those issues. And just be able to just tell a story that is beginning, middle, and end. As opposed to the beginning, and then you kind of have to explain a little bit about the issues, and then again, explaining, explaining, explaining that, for example, for our feature length, you have 90 minutes, but you want to be as creative as possible.
[00:11:06] But the education piece takes ahold of that creativity a little bit.
Ajuawak Kapashesit: You do get people who are interested in, in new perspectives and perspectives that historically they've not had access to, or have heard much about, one of those being Indigenous communities. So, yeah, it really is, obviously, a great time to be an Indigenous creator of content.
[00:11:28] And hopefully it just continues on this upswing going forward, where we get more and more opportunities, more and more shows. More and more content and perspectives out there, not just for us, but for all communities that are underrepresented.
Jessica Ramirez: [00:11:47] This year's cohort of fellows features Brit Hensel. You might remember Brit from a previous episode of Seedcast. She recently worked on the first season of FX’s television series Reservation Dogs. This Indigenous-centered TV series raises the bar for authentic Indigenous storytelling. Let's hear from Brit about what it was like to be on that set.
Brit Hensel: [00:12:11] It's been a really interesting experience because it's like this half where we're like, wow, this is a FX on Hulu, huge show. There's this like, we're in the industry, we're making these sorts of – this television show. But then you, like, look around and it's just like people from community. And you're like, whoa.
[00:12:33] Okay. I’ve worked with you before. Or, I know you really well. And it's like just people you see around town or from the local filmmaking, the Native community out here, who's making films. And it's every way that we've, I guess for me and for other Native filmmakers that I know who are approaching these stories, we're all community rooted storytellers.
[00:12:54] We just have the money and the platform now, but we're still applying all this sort of traditional values and Indigenous ways of doing things. It's really debunking this idea that we have to have this sort of mechanics to tell stories or to move at a certain pace. And it's – no, like we can feed our elders first [00:13:12] for example. When people get on set, we make sure they have a place to sit, just cause they're not main actors, we're going to feed them first. Make sure they eat. And they felt welcome and seen, and it's just bringing Indigenous protocol to that sort of arena of stuff is really impactful. The stories have been here all along, but nobody's listened.
[00:13:33] And so as a Native person sitting in the middle of all of this, seeing it unfold is pretty wild, but it's also like, oh, damn, we're right where we're supposed to be, because this has been a long time coming.
Jessica Ramirez: So, what does this mean for all the storytellers out there who are waiting for their story to be heard?
[00:13:53] Well, the one thing that I know for sure is that the fellows, they're not only thinking about their own careers, but they're thinking about the future, the people who all come after them. Listen to Erin, Theola and Jared as they expand more on what it means to be people who are a part of creating that pathway for generations to come.
Erin Lau: We have to start thinking about these crossovers and how the ways we connect. And this is not only speaking for the Indigenous community, this is for the Black community, [00:14:27] this is for the Latinx community. A lot of – there's so much crossover and we have to start thinking about how we unite and how we can rise together outside of just our own circles.
Theola Ross: You can't help but feel the – the urgency because everything's interconnected. Like you're talking about the environment, how our people have always been the keepers of the land and how important it is to preserve that.
[00:14:59] I think it's ingrained in us. And part of the keepers of the land is to make everything that's interconnected healthy. We're filmmakers, but I feel like we are those frontline workers too, that are – we're doing the damn thing. We're doing the damn thing. We’re, we're doing the work. So there's a lot of great filmmakers that came before us that had to break down those barriers. [00:15:24] So we have to give kudos to them for doing that work, that job, the door is open. Now we just go through the open door and then there's going to be other filmmakers behind us doing the same thing. So seven generations ahead.
Jared Lank: The first thing that my mind always kind of jumps to is like, how can I leverage the opportunities that I'm being presented with to help people in the future?
[00:15:46] Like more Native kids? My mind always goes to like, you think I'm cool? Wait until you meet like this kid like 10 years from now, the next group of people. If I made this much progress, think about what they can do if I help pave the way. I think about that in like everything I do with education or filmmaking or just anything, because that's kind of what it's all about.
[Theme Music By Mia Kami]
Jessica Ramirez: [00:16:11] Yes. That's what it's all about. Cheers to the future and cheers to the next generation of storytellers. I wholeheartedly believe that the way we move forward is through collaboration. Intentional collaboration and unity, across Black, Indigenous, and POC communities and the stories they fill the world with.
Lucía Ortega Toledo, Brit Hensel, Ajuawak Kapashesit, Jared Lank, Erin Lau and Theola Ross
[00:16:36] Thanks to all the 4th World fellows Brit Hensel, Ajuawak Kapashesit, Jared Lank, Erin Lau, Lucía Ortega Toledo, and Theola Ross.
To learn more about the 4th World Media Lab, visit niatero.org. And special thanks to Michelle Hurtubise. And thanks to Tracy Rector, founder of the 4th World Media Lab. And thank you all for listening.
[00:17:04] See you soon with more episodes of Seedcast.
[00:17:12] Nia Tero is a Seattle based foundation. We are both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples with a mission to secure Indigenous guardianship of all vital ecosystems. That means we provide support to Indigenous peoples globally who are protecting their homelands from colonization and destruction. Their practices are one of our best guides for making earth livable for humans and other species for generations to come.
To learn more about Seedcast and our work at Nia Tero, [00:17:48] please visit our website, niatero.org and follow Nia Tero on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Have thoughts to share with us, or you liked what you heard? Email us at email@example.com. We would really love to hear from you all.
This episode was mixed and produced by Felipe Contreras, edited by Julie Keck. Our senior producer is Jenny Asarnow. Our producer for this episode is Michelle Hurtubise. Our consulting producer is Rachel Lam.
[00:18:25] Our fact-checker is Romin Lee Johnson. Marketing and social media support from Hill Ossip and Tracy Rector. Theme song by Mia Kami. I'm your host, Jessica Ramirez. And we look forward to sharing more stories with you all very soon.
[Theme Music By Mia Kami]