Empowering the youth of the Native American nations

FIRST VOICES is a groundbreaking educational project serving students at Title I reservation schools within Native American communities across the USA.


The project goal is to inspire young adults from the First Nations to find and develop their own unique voice in the contemporary world through re-connection with the  ancient stories and the wisdom of the tribal elders.

The project is currently in partnership with Lame Deer Junior High School, situated on the Northern Cheyenne reservation east of Billings, Montana. Tribal elders from the Northern Cheyenne, as well as teaching artists drawn from neighboring tribes, are working with the students alongside project director Preeti Vasudevan (Founder and Artistic Director, Thresh). 


We're having a great time on this project—even if most of our collaboration is virtual due to Covid-19. Some recent photographs are below.

HOW IT WORKS: Students create & perform stories

FIRST VOICES is an all-digital project in which students create video performances inspired by the creation myths of their tribal tradition. This creative process is mentored and guided by professional artists from within and outside the community. In this way students are exposed to key twentieth-century communications skills including:


  • Script development and storytelling

  • Video production and editing

  • Performance and public speaking

  • Online / digital media expertise


Through the creation, performance and online publication of these stories, children and young adults from the First Nations develop life and leadership skills. These capabilities will help them throughout their lives—both within their communities and in the wider society.

"This project to me is a great way to promote our culture and show people that we are still here and our way is not lost."


Samuel Haugen, Senior, Lame Deer High School

EXAMPLE STORY: Tsèhésenèstsestotse ("The Big Dipper")

This sample story is used to demonstrate to students how the creation myths of their culture can be re-interpreted in a modern performance style.


The performance video features a number of the teaching artists of FIRST VOICES, including Ruthie Shoulderblade (storyteller, Northern Cheyenne nation); Chontay Standing Rock (musician, Chippewa Cree nation) and Sammy Jo Bird (artist, Blackfeet nation). The dancer/performer is Preeti Vasudevan (Artistic Director, Thresh).


In the video below key stakeholders of FIRST VOICES describe the objectives of the project—and the value they hope to bring to students and the communities they live in.


FIRST VOICES is a collaboration between Preeti Vasudevan (Artistic Director, Thresh) and artists from the communities of the Northern Cheyenne and other tribes. Select from the videos below to meet these artists and find out more about their involvement in the project.

In the short video clips below, the key collaborators and teaching artists from FIRST VOICES answer questions about the project, and why they feel it is needed at this time.

LAME DEER PARTNERSHIP: Semester Program 2021

The first school with which FIRST VOICES is partnering is Lame Deer School, in the Northern Cheyenne reservation about 100 miles east of Billings, Montana. 


Selected students participate in a three week immersion program to develop their personal stories inspired by the ancient legends.


Storytelling workshop led by Preeti Vasudevan at Lame Dear High School, Lame Deer, Montana; partnership with Silkroad 2019

Working closely with Lame Deer School’s arts educator Susan Wolfe, professional artists involved in the digital program serve as teaching artists delivering an innovative curriculum, facilitating student instruction, process, and leading the FIRST VOICES mentorship program.


The outcome of this immersion will be a student-led digital exhibition and website, featuring the student’s performance videos (and “behind-the-scenes” background information) for public viewing and sharing.


The metrics and techniques used to evaluate the impact of FIRST VOICES relate to four inter-dependent dimensions as follows:


  1. Reach: How many students are we able to reach, and how many lessons and workshops have been successfully delivered?

  2. Enjoyment: Is the creative approach to storytelling appealing and engaging for our audience?

  3. Attitudes: Do the students we interact with experience change in their attitudes? Do they commit to new behaviors that show evidence that the goals of the project are being met?

  4. Action: Do students follow-through on their commitment to action in a way that is likely to achieve long-term improvements in their lives and the wider community?


Tools for measuring success against targets will deploy mixed methods—from online engagement metrics (through blogs, social media and web presence) through to longer-term bias-free surveys to establish shifts in attitudes resulting from the project.


Measurements will be both quantitative and qualitative, as we evaluate the project's contribution to achieving both short-term and long-term impact goals. Interviews with broader stakeholders in the project (such as educators and teachers who use the stories in class) will also help to establish a realistic and practical assessment of impact on the ground.


FIRST VOICES is a partnership between Thresh and Lame Deer High School, Lame Deer MT. We are grateful to the following for their participation in the project advisory board:


Monica Grable (Arts Education Director, Montana Arts Council)

Alaina Buffalo Spirit (Northern Cheyenne Tribes Advisor)

Don Wetzel Jr., (Tribal Relations, Montana Office of Public Instruction; Blackfeet Tribe member)

Susan Wolfe (Art Educator, Lame Deer Schools, Montana)

Mary Serbe (Education Director, Yellowstone Art Museum)

Aaron Rosen (Director of the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts & Religion, Wesley Theological Seminary)

Adam Jahiel (Independent Photographer)


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