As human beings, we are continually surrounded and sustained by the stories that remind us of who we are and where we come from. Our stories root us in our own identities, while strengthening our connections to others. Serving as bridges between and across cultures, storytelling reminds us that we are not so different from one another after all. It is in the spirit of sharing the stories of the past that this Mother Tongue playlist was developed. Fittingly, the films here were all featured in past editions of the Mother Tongue Film Festival.
Inspired by the theme of this year’s festival, i ka wā ma mua, i ka wā ma hope (“through the past is the future” in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi), this offering of films explores how the legacies of the past inform the future. We are reminded that the notion of time is malleable within the lens of narrative, offering the unique ability to travel back in time through the present moment, all while inspiring our steps forward. Highlighting themes such as historical trauma and survivance, familial disruption and reconnection, environmental protection, and more, this multilingual playlist asks us to reflect upon the universe of stories that form the foundations of our understanding.
The works presented here hail from around the globe and feature several ancestral tales in Indigenous and other languages: Bodewadmimwen (Potawatami), Zuni, Spanish, Nuu-chah-nulth, English, American Sign Language, Tok Pisin, Nahuatl, and Mohiks (Mohgehan). The regions represented include the United States, Guatemala, Chile, Canada, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Papua New Guinea, Mexico, and Panama.
When we take the time to listen to the ancestral legacies of those around us, we intrinsically open our hearts and minds to the emotion and knowledge that exist in the act of sharing stories. The result is a widening of our awareness, leading to a recognition of the opportunity that lies before us to build our own legacy in alignment with the highest ideals of our understanding.
Please enjoy these Mother Tongue films. May you be inspired to explore the stories and legacies that most deeply resonate with you.
1. Smoke That Travels
Directed by Kayla Briët | 2016 | U.S.
In an intimate exploration of director Kayla Briët’s (Potawatami) own family history and the knowledges transmitted by her father, Smoke That Travels inspires us to listen to the stories that exist all around us—to ask questions and seek understanding. As is revealed in the film, understanding the stories that shape our own experience can ultimately set us free.
2. Zuni in the Grand Canyon
Directed by Daniel Byers | 2017 | U.S.
The Ashiwi (Zuni) people have long carried out pilgrimages to sacred sites in the Grand Canyon. These spiritually guided voyages are a means of connecting the people to the land, to their history, and to their own identity. However, in 1906, the U.S. government declared the Grand Canyon a national park. As a result, Ashiwi pilgrimages were brought to a screeching halt. Today, the resurgence of these ancient practices breathes renewed life into Ashiwi connection and knowledge, fortifying the foundation of ancestral heritage for generations to come.
3. Kat at Kat’ex / Where Are They Now?
Directed by Eduardo Mutzumá Say (Ixil Maya) | 2017 | Guatemala
The legacies of the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996) echo loudly in the lives of Guatemala’s Indigenous communities. The gruesome actions of war have left Maya communities dispersed, removed from their families and ways of being. Kat at Kat’ex / Where Are They Now? illuminates the suffering brought about by genocide through the stories of Pedro and Caterina, offering a zoomed in perspective on the result of genocide with a personal lens.
4. The Gringo Mapuche
Directed by Anthony Rauld | 2012 | Chile/U.S.
In middle school, Carlos Catrileo began to wonder why he did not resemble his parents, only to discover they were not his biological kin. This information ignited a swarm of emotions within him, from hatred to curiosity, fear to love. A great journey of self-discovery awaited him. The Gringo Mapuche tells his story of uncovering his Mapuche identity and the experience of being welcomed into his community of origin. This film is a part of the Encoded Textiles Project.
Directed by Chad Charlie | 2019 | Canada
There are times in life when no other option remains but to rise to the challenge that lies ahead. Uu?uu-tah shares a powerful example of this sentiment. A young Ahousaht chief, Uu?uu-tah, must prove himself to his community, becoming an expert whaler and providing for those he loves. It is through the ancestral wisdom of his Elders that he develops the confidence, understanding, and ability to step into his role as chief and build for himself a legacy rooted in tradition.
Directed by Jared Flitcroft and Jack O’Donnell | 2017 | New Zealand
Tama, a deaf Māori boy, yearns to connect to his cultural roots. Yet his hostile living situation prevents him from leaning into the knowledge that he seeks. This all changes after a near-miss car accident forces him to act to protect himself and his younger brother from their alcoholic father. Informed by the power of what makes him who he is, Tama draws upon his ancestry to represent his strength and his connection to something bigger than himself.
Directed by Euralia Paine | 2017 | Papua New Guinea
Koriva is visiting her family in the village and has fallen in love with the customary earrings she sees her family members wearing. All she can think about is how to get her hands on these earrings, though her father disapproves of her fascination. Koriva reminds us of the power that lies in carrying a tangible reminder of who we are and where we come from—that it is our traditions from the past that inform our identity and our connection to ourselves.
8. First Contact
Directed by Stephen Paul Judd | 2016 | U.S.
What would the Americas look like today had European settlers never invaded the continents? The effects of colonization ripple fervently through the collective consciousness of Native communities in the United States and beyond to this day. Legacies of disease, forced removal, and assimilation haunt the successors of those who first inhabited this land. First Contact playfully puts this grim reality into question in a conversation between two Mohgehan men as they witness the arrival of European ships onto their shores.
9. Source of the Wound
Directed by Adrian Baker | 2019 | U.S.
The trauma faced by Native communities in America and around the world does not die when those who directly experienced it pass on. Trauma is collective and carried on through generations, impacting the livelihood of Indigenous peoples today. It is through the amplification of Indigenous voices and stories that the healing process begins. Source of the Wound beautifully explains the nature of generational trauma on Native communities and powerfully expresses the agency Indigenous peoples have in correcting narratives that have stunted their ability to flourish in their homelands since the arrival of Europeans.
Directed by Iván Jaripio (Embera) | 2017 | Panama
The current moment is one of continuous movement, growth, and technological progression. However, the modern human is unsatisfied, left to constantly want more. This insatiable desire for progress has influenced wide-scale extractivism, leaving horrifying marks on the Earth and ultimately altering and destroying Indigenous territories and lands. With the destruction of land comes the loss of ways of being, the loss of communication with the land, and a loss of identity. Identidad artfully compares notions of modern progress with the loss of Indigenous identity and expression.
Maddie Van Oostenburg is a research assistant for the Mother Tongue Film Festival at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She is a graduate of Purdue University where she studied anthropology and sociology and researched global Indigenous media.