FARMINGTON — Two young Navajo women hope to inspire youth with an upcoming art and media festival. The Survival of the First Voices Festival will take place over three days starting July 30 at San Juan College. It features artists from between 20 and 30 tribes.
The idea for the festival originated in March as Allie Young's friend, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, helped her move back to the Four Corners from Los Angeles, the two Navajo women began discussing what Young might want to do once she got back to Farmington.
Eventually, the idea of a Native American arts symposium came up.
The two were inspired by the Indigenous New Media Symposium in New York.
They watched recorded videos from the symposium and, eventually, saw a tweet online saying that somebody in the West Coast area should do something similar.
They decided to do a symposium in Indian Country, but then decided to change to a festival after receiving suggestions from mentors.
Young said they were told "if you want the youth to come, maybe you should do a festival."
The two women are planning on hosting the festival in Farmington for the first few years before moving further into the Navajo Nation and eventually moving the festival to different reservations throughout the United States in order to provide positive role models for young Native Americans.
Through the organizing, the two women have learned how to market the event and get it organized in less than five months, despite people telling them they would need at least 10 months.
"At first we were very hesitant," Bennett-Begaye said.
Once they overcame their initial fears, the women found people very receptive to the idea, however many were hesitant because of the time frame.
They approached hip-hop artist Nataanii Means, who agreed to attend.
Young said hip-hop is one of the ways that Native Artists have found to express their culture. She said some rap in their native language, while others incorporate traditional drumming fused with hip-hop beats.
"They talk about their struggles or accomplishments," Bennett-Begaye said.
Means — who has Oglala Lakota, Navajo, and Omaha ancestry — uses his music to talk about some of the struggles Native Americans have experienced, including the fight for freedom and identity, and genocide.
While the festival will feature hip-hop artists, the women are also bringing traditional artists to perform in an attempt to fuse the traditional and contemporary art worlds.
Young and Bennett-Begaye said art is part of the Native American culture and history.
"As indigenous people, we have proven that we're visual learners," Young said.
Bennett-Begaye said she hopes the festival will give them the connections they need to succeed in the arts.
"This industry is about who you know," Bennett-Begaye said.
Another challenge for Native Americans who want to be involved in art is finding a voice.
"Our youth are very introverted," Young said. "They're very shy."
She said oftentimes the youth don't speak in class and don't raise their hands to ask questions.
"We're taught to be humble about what we do," Bennett-Begaye said.
In the art industry, people need to talk about their work.
Some of the artists coming to the festival
Sydney Freeland: Sydney Freeland, the screenwriter and director for "Drunkland's Finest" is one of the presenters that will be at the festival."Drunkland's Finest" premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival and tells the story of three Navajos with different backgrounds in Gallup.
Justin Rain: Justin Rain, who is Plains-Cree, will also be at the festival. Rain plays Quentin McCawley in SyFy's futuristic television show, "Defiance."
Roj Rodriguez: Roj Rodriguez, the creator of the "Proud To Be" commercial, will also speak. The commercial aired during the NBA finals in seven major cities and spoke out against the Washington Redskins name. Rodriguez, who is a Mexican-American, will discuss his work and why he decided to get involved in the campaign for Native American rights. He is also planning on taking more portraits of Navajo people and shooting more footage for upcoming projects.
More info: survivalofthefirstvoices.org
"This will hopefully teach them that it's okay to have a voice," Bennett-Begaye said.
Young said she used to be shy and didn't talk in class before she attended Dartmouth College.
Dartmouth's mascot used to be the Indian and, even though it was changed, people would still attend Dartmouth events in Native American regalia.
"They're running around with that and they don't know what it means," Young said.
She said the portrayals, with Native American headdresses and whooping "war calls," are a blow to young Native American's self-esteem and make them ashamed of who they are.
"You kind of feel yourself curling up," she said.
By encouraging more youth to get involved in the arts, Young said she hopes to increase their presence in the mainstream culture and help to get rid of the stereotypes.
She graduated in 2013 with a major in film and media studies. One of her topics of research in college was Native Americans in film history.
"It's been a passion of mine for a while," she said. "It's something I've thought about."
When she got into the film studies, she said she wasn't familiar with the silent movies, such as Buffalo Bill films. As she watched them, she noticed the Native Americans doing traditional dances and it sparked her curiosity.
"It just struck me that there was kind of not a discussion," she said.
The other students would comment on aspects of the film, but no one brought up the portrayal of Native Americans, until one day Young raised her hand. She said the dances in the film were traditional and she wondered if the filmmakers had gotten permission before filming because some ceremonies are not supposed to be recorded. Her professor told her he had never thought about that before.
"I brought that conversation to the table in the classroom," Young said.