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Colorado Springs film festival a window on lives of Native peoples

February 11, 2018 Updated: February 12, 2018 at 6:32 am
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The One Nation Film Festival film festival was held Sunday Feb. 11 at Stargazers Theatre.

Jessica Wohlrob sensed a wave of energy pulsing through the audience at the One Nation Film Festival Sunday as the narrator of one of the short films began speaking in Cherokee.

"I could feel everyone focused on the sounds of the native language," said Wohlrob, the festival's coordinator and intern with AmeriCorps Vista. "It was really powerful."

The nine-minute film illustrating an old Cherokee Nation story about a small starving snake was one of 15 films showcasing Native American, First Nation and indigenous peoples' stories at the Stargazer Theatre.

"Film is a great way to tell raw, personal stories and give an insight into personal struggles of any individual or group," said Kelsey Comfort, one of the festival's committee members. "These films are examples of that and responding to the calls for underrepresented groups to stand up in the film industry."

Most capitalize on current events. "Water Warriors" - a 22-minute documentary - exhibits the community resistance by Mi'kmaq Elsipogtog First Nation, French-speaking Acadians and white famiilies in New Brunswick, Canada, against an energy company performing seismic testing to find natural gas in the area.

Others, like "Pouri," explore cultural traditions and familial relations.

"By showing these films, we help build inclusivity," One Nation Walking Together's Executive Director Kathy Turzi said. "We're giving people a chance to learn about the rich culture while also provide Natives with an avenue to showcase their work."

One Nation Walking Together, which puts on the festival, is a Colorado Springs nonprofit that collects and delivers nearly $2 million worth of donated goods to 30,000 to 40,000 Native Americans on 11 reservations and other communities in Colorado, Arizona, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and North and South Dakota.

One Nation also partners with Colorado Springs-based nonprofit Red Wind Consulting. Together, the two organizations run a group called Haseya, which helps female Native American surivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Underlying much of One Nation's work is education.

Their main event of the year is One Nation's 10th Annual Colorado Springs Intertribal Powwow in August, which, like the festival, serves as a space for Native people and as cultural education for non-Native people in Colorado Springs.

"We still sometimes hear from people, 'Indians are still around?" said Turzi. "There is an ignorance of the plight of Native Americans in this country but also of the beautiful Native American culture."

In the latest census, 2,454 people registered as American Indian and Alaska Native in Colorado Springs, a figure Turzi said few people in Colorado Springs are probably aware of.

Though Colorado is home to only two reservations - the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute reservations in the Four Corners area - there are 326 in the country and over 500 federally-recognized tribes living on and off reservations.

Census numbers are the tip of the iceberg, though, and hardly encompass the rich history of Native Americans in the West and across the country, Turzi said. Through the film festival, One Nation can expand their mission of education for both Natives and non-Natives.

"One Nation is a tiny organization with a huge reach," Wohlrob said. "And they're vital because they're doing simply human work."

For more information on One Nation Walking Together, go to www.onenationwt.org.

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