Consider this when creating media with Native communities.
Writer: Tiffani Lopez
How do we act at grandma’s house? How do we act appropriately in church?
Before flinging out the camera, these are questions I ask myself before filming in Native communities. I wasn't raised going to ceremony, so my grounding point is to treat everything like a ceremony. I imagine that if there is prayer in song, dance and spoken word, then this is what I knew of as “church”
Redbud filming an interview with the Tex family in Mariposa, California, 2022
As a brown Indigenous woman, I am usually not filming in my traditional territory. So I tread lightly. I try to take note that there’s an apparent history of mistrust, misuse, and frankly, abuse concerning Native media sovereignty. For example, I’ve known traditional Native dancers whose photos were taken at an event without consent. These photos were published in public media and sold for profit.
This specific event was a ceremony and a space for religious reverence. Would you randomly go up to a Priest in a mass, take a photo of them and blast their face on publications and prints? This only feeds the inherent mistrust of unknown media people in these spaces.
Tiffani and Julie Tex
Our responsibility as content creators is to make sure our co-storytellers are comfortable with the ENTIRE process, feel empowered and informed of how the media will be used. When filming in Native communities, consider full transparency and some simple tender love and most of all, respect.
My simple strategy is always to be small, maintain reverence, reciprocity and relationship. However, as any filmmaker knows, there are always mishaps, tech delays, and uncontrollable circumstances in all productions. However, none of that is as important to me as the space I'm entering into and the relationships I'm nurturing, first and foremost.
Matthew Williford Gramps, during Redbud's shoot with the Konkow Valley Band of
We’ve all been in a space where you see that person, not maintaining reverence or the circle of reciprocity. Let’s help each other out.
Here is a list of some tips to keep in mind when entering into a Native space as a content creator:
1. Support tribal sovereignty: get leadership consent for all imagery, song, and photographs of the community featured.
EXAMPLE: Before going to film on Konkow Valley land, we were in collaboration with their Vice Chairman on the content purpose and uses. The Vice Chair provided final approval for everything in the film.
2. Support data sovereignty: consider co-ownership of content,
get consent to all on camera people. Prepare with details of what the content will be used for.
*Data sovereignty: gives Native tribes ownership, (or co-ownership) over any media, or information that features them.
EXAMPLE: Our Konkow Valley Maidu partners have co-ownership over all media we film together so that they can use their film for educational purposes, and more.
Tiffani and Justin Acuña, tribal monitor for the Konkow Valley Band of Maidu Indians
3. Maintain reverence: Act as you if you are in a sacred space. Consider what can and cannot be filmed. Always ask what is off limits for filming and recording i.e. regalia, dances and songs can be off limits
EXAMPLE: Touching or disturbing dancers while in regalia is usually not permitted. Prearrange on-camera consent for cultural items and events.
4. Compensate appropriately: you are in the presence of traditional doctors, scientists and botanists, pay them appropriately. Too often Native people are asked to work for free.
EXAMPLE: Everyone who participated in Redbud's film project in Konkow Valley received
a gift card. When we have a larger budget, we provide a participation check to our interviewees.
5. Take participants along the editing process with you so that you know your information is represented appropriately.
EXAMPLE: While editing with Konkow Valley’s Vice Chair, we collaborated on the placement of particular Konkow songs with appropriate imagery.
6. Maintain the relationship with your tribal collaborators. Now that you're acquainted with this process, nurture the relationship you have developed.
EXAMPLE: Showing up and supporting tribal events and gathering is a great way to maintain familiarity with your new community relationship.
7. If you don’t know, ask, don't assume. Native communities are not a monolith. Consider the many different governments and politics.
EXAMPLE: Not all tribal individuals and governments are cool with being on-camera.