First Voices is a unique arts partnership between the First Nations of America and Thresh. Initiated in Montana with plans to expand to other areas over the next three years, First Voices is a digital storytelling initiative focused on intergenerational collaboration between artists of different First Nations of America to link the wisdom of ancestral stories to contemporary life.
First Voices interweaves two areas—the artistic creation of ancestral stories through digital media and a mentorship program for youth in tribal reservation schools through an arts-based collaboration between the First Nations artists and Thresh.
Explore First Voices
First Voices uses the tools of storytelling (music, dance, theater, visual and sculptural arts), both ancient and modern, to foster new vocational opportunities through the creative use of digital technology, healing trauma and loss, and building resilience and leadership through community-based collaboration.
"This project 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
First Voices started 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 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.
Broadening the creative exploration between Native and non-Native groups (First Nations and Thresh collaborators) is a critical way in which the First Voices project expands cultural curiosity, mutual respect, and deeper understanding—towards healing and hope for the future.
Project Goals & Outcomes
Generate a series of digital stories based on First Nations ancestral stories through collaborative partnerships between Thresh and Native artists
Build a year-long mentorship program between the artists and high school students from Title I reservation schools
Develop a year-end touring digital public program installation of the students works expressing their unique voice through personal narratives inspired by their ancestral stories
Cultivate contemporary, intergenerational narratives through visual and performing arts presentations
Expand presentations within the community to make the program inclusive amongst everyone in the tribe
Mentor youth towards a vocation in digital technology
Use storytelling as a healing tool to address trauma and loss
Partner with both Native and non-Native artists to build better intercultural relationships
The metrics and techniques used to evaluate the impact of First Voices relate to four inter-dependent dimensions as follows:
Reach: How many students are we able to reach, and how many lessons and workshops have been successfully delivered?
Enjoyment: Is the creative approach to storytelling appealing and engaging for our audience?
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?
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.
We work with each reservation school for over a year while simultaneously creating inter-tribal digital stories. Over this period, the greatest needs towards support are:
Personnel: artist fees, artistic, educational, and program director fees, cultural and other research consultants
Media and Technology expenses: audio/video pre-production, filming and post-production media expenses, material costs for technology use for students
Website content creation and instructional design
Marketing and Impact Assessment (M&E)
Travel, boarding, and lodging
Community gathering events
First Voices is a partnership between Thresh and the local, Montana-based community including:
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
Art Educator, Lame Deer Schools, Montana
Art Educator and Fundraising Consultant
Director of the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts & Religion, Wesley Theological Seminary
First Voices is supported by:
Thresh is always seeking members of the communities and other institutional partners to join us on this project.