Through Video, Lakota Students Reject Stereotypes
Unhappy with portrayals of Native Americans in mainstream media, a group of students from South Dakota's Rosebud Sioux Reservation created a video to show that their community is about more than alcoholism, broken homes and crime.
The students are visiting Washington, D.C., on Monday to lobby Congress for increased funding for schools on reservations.
Filmed in black and white, the student-produced video More Than That takes viewers through the hallways, classrooms and gymnasium of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation's county high school.
Using their bodies as signposts, the students explain that they're more than stock images of poverty, alcoholism and violence. With words drawn on their hands, arms and faces, they share the traits that describe who they really are: humor, intelligence, creativity — and the list goes on.
The point the students are trying to make, says English teacher Heather Hanson, is that they're not victims.
The nonprofit National Association of Federally Impacted Schools invited the Lakota students to attend its winter conference Monday in Washington, D.C. While in town, the students will also lobby South Dakota's congressional representatives.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some people living on Native American reservations want to change the stereotype of their homes. Those reservations are known as some of the poorest places in America. Lakota high school students on South Dakota's Rosebud Sioux Reservation want you to see more than that. Jim Kent reports.
JIM KENT, BYLINE: A group of Lakota students reached the breaking point over stereotypes about life on the rez. It came after seeing a report on ABC's "20/20" news magazine they felt focused too much on the poverty, alcoholism and violence of the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. And it resulted in a class project they hope counters the image of what people think of them.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I know what you probably think of us...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: But we're here because we want you to know...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: We're more than that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We're more than that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We're more than that.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: We are so much more than poverty.
KENT: Filmed in black and white, the student-produced video "More Than That" takes the viewer through the hallways, classrooms and gymnasium of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation's county high school. Using their bodies as signposts, the students explain they're more than stock images of poverty, alcoholism and violence. With words drawn on their hands, arms and faces, they share the traits that describe who they really are. Humor, intelligence, creativity - the list goes on. The point the students are trying to make, says English teacher Heather Hanson, is that they're not victims.
HEATHER HANSON: Oh, poor Native American kids. In reality, it's just life here for some of them. And it's not life here like that for all of them.
KENT: And for those whose lives are like that, says Hanson, the last thing they want or need is sympathy.
HANSON: When that's what you know, I don't need your sympathy. I just need you to say, well, OK, so you came from that. Now what?
KENT: Hanson and video-production teacher Kim Bos helped their students produce "More Than That." Neither woman is Native American.
HANSON: What you're going to be doing is, at the end of this week you'll start making your own blog.
KENT: During a break from their classes, a few of the students in the video say their goal was to tell the world the truth about life on the rez - be it Rosebud or any of the other reservations in South Dakota.
BAILEY DENOYER: We're all trying to like go to high school, finish college and live our lives just like everyone else.
FEATHER RAE COLOMBE: Who are they to say what we are when they don't even know us? Everyone has problems, you know? That's why a lot of people are the way you are, because of your life situations. But, you know, you've got to see the better side, because everyone has a good side.
KENT: Bailey Denoyer and Feather Rae Colombe are among the Lakota students in the video. "More Than That" has received 46,000 views since it was posted on YouTube last December. Teacher Kim Bos says the kids are walking a bit taller as a result of the response their work is getting.
KIM BOS: I think they've started to realize that like their voice in this world will matter, it will, that people will listen to you, but you've got to be saying something worth listening to.
KENT: The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools feels the students have something to say. The nonprofit has invited the Lakota students to Washington, D.C. to attend the group's winter conference today. They'll also be lobbying South Dakota's congressional representatives to explain that as Lakota they are "More Than That."
For NPR News, I'm Jim Kent in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.