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FIRST VOICES 

Digital storytelling creating next-level opportunities for Indigenous youth

First Voices is rooted in the power of storytelling to create and enhance cultural connectedness—between generations, between tribes and between Native and non-Native people.

Following the success of First Voices: Lame Deer (2020-2022) working with the Northern Cheyenne community, the project is expanding to five reservations across Montana: Fort Peck; Fort Belknap; Crow; Blackfeet and Flathead, between  

2023-2025. 

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Fostering Intertribal connections across generations 

New ABOUT

ABOUT FIRST VOICES

First Voices works with students at reservation high schools and tribal colleges to create digital (video-based) performances of ancestral stories which are published and distributed via a dedicated online portal. The narratives selected for performance range from ancient origin stories to recent colonial-era history.

 

The students work with professional artists (Native and non-Native), tribal elders and storytellers to produce the videos. Stories are presented in the original tribal language to create a rich archive for future generations.

First Voices is based on a core belief that learning through the arts is critical to young people's development of self-confidence, teamwork and leadership. Through First Voices, participants reconnect with indigenous ways of knowing, as they express ancestral stories within the context of their own lives.

 

Next-level opportunities open up for students as they build both interpersonal and technology-based skills. Through the online publication of their performance videos, First Voices participants build meaningful long-term connections with audiences within their own communities and beyond.


Importantly, completed story videos and related content are integrated into cross-curricular lesson plans for educators at high school and college level. We are currently in discussion with Indian Education for All, an initiative from the Office of Public Instruction in Montana, to ensure that tools and lesson plans follow guidelines mandated by the Montana Constitution.

Background & Goals

First Voices was initiated as a response to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. With the death of many elders, the younger generation was experiencing a critical loss—of ancestral connection, of hope and empowerment through the power of storytelling between the generations.

Thresh's connection with Lame Deer High School (situated at the heart of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation) began in 2017 when Founder & Artistic Director Preeti Vasudevan visited the school system as a storyteller-educator for Yo-Yo Ma's Silkroad organization. While working with the students and elders of the community, she recognized fascinating parallels with her own South Asian (Indian) heritage: by tapping into the ancient wisdom of elders, the younger generation can connect to their heritage and find ways to apply this wisdom to their own lives in a contemporary context.

FIRST VOICES MENTORING PROGRAM

First Voices is self-sustaining over a three-year cycle. In year 1, selected students are coached and mentored into the role of project leaders as they “shadow” professional artists and project managers. Over years 2 and 3 these student-leaders are able to take the project forward themselves, supported along the way by regular “check-ins” and coaching sessions with their professional mentors. 


The mentoring program provides course credits to both high-school and college-level participants, empowering them to excel in higher education—and helping them develop the interpersonal and media skills that are critical for success in today’s job market—for both in-person and remote career opportunities.

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Impact
  • For every Montanan, of every ethnicity, to understand and value the importance of the cultures and languages of the sovereign tribes of Montana

  • To increase well-being within and between tribal communities in Montana, and improve educational and personal outcomes for the Indigenous young people of the State

  • To build awareness and respect in the wider society—across the USA and beyond—for the cultures and languages of the Indigenous nations of Montana

IMPACT: What students are saying...