One month ago, I flew to Chicago to attend the Third Coast International Audio Festival . As the recipient of AIR’s New Voices scholarship, I met amazing sound artists from around the country… building community by doing their thing. I spent the most amount of time with other New Voices recipients learning about the narratives they build using multi-media formats.
Below is an interview I did with one of my New Voices compatriots, Rose High Bear, Executive Producer of Wisdom of the Elders.
Selina Musuta: You have spent five years away from producing radio, and now you are planning a fourth series of American Indian radio programs called Wisdom of the Elders. What is calling you back to radio and this series specifically?
Rose High Bear: Yes, this is a good question!
We all know that unprecedented climate change is severely impacting Native American communities. I have been reflecting on that plus the fact that the First Peoples of America have survived thousands of years of natural disasters. More recently, we have faced numerous man made disasters that have created changes in our environment, some of them permanent.
Yet we realize that we, the original inhabitants of this North American continent, are still here. That is because of the adaptability and resilience and other qualities that are in our DNA. Our elders and scientists are overcoming the historical trauma of the past, sharing traditional ecological knowledge and astute environmental observations with one another, and developing lasting sustainability responses to today’s climate change issues.
Many of today’s increasingly diverse public radio listeners are unaware that earth based peoples hold the key to the sustainability of our planet and can lead others to resolution of climate change issues. Exemplary Native elders and scientists have important answers to today’s pressing problems and are developing sustainability models that others can learn from.
This is why Wisdom of the Elders Radio is coming out of our five year sabbatical to develop this fourth series of radio programs. Wisdom of the Elders Radio will share the messages of our elders, environmental scientists and spiritual leaders with other tribal communities and the world.
Our prophesy states that exemplary Native Americans will become role models to the world in the way that we take care of one another and the earth. And we believe it is important that their wisdom serve as a leading influence in national and international global discussions around climate change.
SM: I saw you at the pitching panel at Third Coast. What are some tips that you would give people who are pitching their idea to public media outlets?
RHB: When we truly understand the importance of our messages to our people and the world, it is easy to get up and speak about it. So I don’t get nervous when I speak to audiences or pitch panels. I believe so strongly in WISDOM’s mission of Native American sustainability, education and race reconciliation, and I realized that this would open a door of opportunity to share the messages of Native elders, storytellers and environmental scientists with the world through the media.
This is how I would encourage others with opportunities to pitch their stories and ideas: Believe so strongly in the vital necessity of what you are sharing that you will forget yourself in the process.
The quality of selflessness is an important virtue. When we focus on our vision, instead of being confined to ourselves and our personal issues, the compelling issues and engaging stories will flow and the media will want to broadcast them.
SM: What is your definition of public media? Is public media receptive to the kind of narratives that you want to tell?
RHB: Today’s public media has grown to include multi media and new media. This is allowing the voice of the “common man” to be expressed along with our world leaders. As a Deg Hit’an Dine, whose ancestors lived for thousands of years along the Yukon and Kuskoquim Rivers of Alaska, I want our elders to be able to share their wisdom and knowledge and be heard by the peoples of the world. Their messages need to be heard.
I want the world to hear the tenor of their voice as they share rich stories revealing jeopardized cultural arts, spiritual philosophy and ways of respect and honor; to laugh at the telling of raven stories that we tell in our Athabascan language during the winter; to feel their empathy as they express concern about the life their descendants will have; to hear the ambient sounds of Potlatch songs, caribou moccasin feet shuffling as they dance, the sound of the wind sweeping across the frozen river, the call of the raven, all these and so much more.
I am most excited these days about the 2008 discovery of the ancient relationship with some of the ethnic minority of Northern China, Mongolia and Siberia. Recent linguistic and genetic research has shown that we are related. The Chinese are no longer a foreign country, an enemy or a “them.” They are relatives that I am looking forward to meeting someday. I think the public would want to participate in this reunion between our peoples of the east and the northwest.
The perspectives of Chinese ethnic minorities – their rich spiritual and cultural philosophy, cross-cultural experiences, and indigenous ways of knowing about their environment – are significantly under-reported in the media. Our local Native peoples, as well as national and international communities of all cultures can learn lessons of deep wisdom from ancient Chinese storytelling traditions and cultural values; ceremonial practices and their essential artistic expression; and cross-cultural philosophy still being practiced today.
From my window, I cannot see Russia. But I can feel a relationship growing between my people of the Pacific Northwest and our ancient relatives to the east. I’m excited about it.
SM: If you could dj the soundtrack to your life at a party, what would be on your set list?
RHB: Oh gosh, I can hear songs in my ear. But I’m not at a party and I don’t use alcohol. Mostly I hear segue songs on NPR; spirit calling song or doctoring songs or thank you songs at a sweatlodge or healing or Sundance ceremony; the songs of the world of nature. But it isn’t my set list. It isn’t about me. It’s about relationship with everything in creation – with family, extended family, the world family and the animals, birds, trees, herbs of our natural environment. Many blessings to you in this holy day season, Selina Musuta!
From the Wisdom of the Elders:
Rose High Bear (Deg Hit’an Dine or Alaskan Athabaskan), Executive Producer of the national public radio program series, Wisdom of the Elders, has developed the concepts for the project and its six features. She has raised funds for the current Native American cultural magazine radio series, recorded most of the archival audio material, and expanded Wisdom of the Elders’ radio production and website team. She is coordinating upcoming field recordings for the proposed series and facilitating consultations with scholars, research and production team.She is co-founder of the Native American 501(c)(3) non profit corporation, Wisdom of the Elders, Inc., and Project Director of WISDOM’s 2001 and 2002-3 Oral History Projects in collaboration with National Parks Service. She produced five Native American oral history video collections featuring 50 Native American elders between 1998-2000. She is Executive Producer of The Respect and Honor Documentary Project, the educational documentary,”A Gift to Takoja” featuring Lakota elders’ oral histories, traditional cultural values, currently in the development phase.
She is Editor of The Seven Commandments of the White Buffalo Calf Maiden: Martin High Bear, the biography of the late Lakota medicine man, Martin High Bear. She was Project Director for An Afternoon with Wisdom of the Elders and Native American Day, several annual series of multicultural celebrations held in Portland, Oregon between 1997-2000.