“We’re Native Americans, that’s who we are. We don’t need to pretend to be something we’re not,” one subject in director Aimée Barry Broustra’s The Young Ancestors says. The documentary, which shadows a group of students out to learn their mother tongue, screens on Sunday as part of NM Women in Film’s Film Fiesta!
What prompted you to embark on this journey?
That is a good question, and if you don't mind, it's a little bit of a story. I'm not Native American myself at all, and when I first came out to Santa Fe in the early '80s, I realized that I knew nothing about Native American culture, but having grown up in a family of first-generation and second-generation Irish immigrants, I was really exposed to what it meant to lose your language, lose your land, assimilate to a new country. So when I read this article about these kids who decided to learn their language, because they wanted to keep their culture and tradition alive, I felt like, we're always talking about the immigration story in America—but this was the reverse immigration story. What happens if you're here and your family's been here for hundreds of years, but yet you're disassociated and disenfranchised both from your own Native culture and, in a way, mainstream culture?
Did you feel apprehensive at all as a non-Native to tell this story?
I did, but I believe so much in the power of storytelling in our lives, that I thought, this is a story that needs to be told and hopefully doors will open and help me to do that…There were a few times when doors were closed, and I get it, I'm a white chick that's from Philadelphia originally. For instance, I wasn't allowed to film any of the very private all-Tewa language lessons. Another Native American filmmaker did that, and I understand. I was allowed to sit in, which was great, but I wasn't allowed to film it.
There are some issues raised in the film, like the government's involvement in the systematic eradication of these tongues. Has there been any advancement since wrapping up the film?
I know that on the government level, they passed an act in 1990 saying that Native Americans have the right to preserve their languages, but as [producer] Laura Jagles says, it's great to say that, but where's the funding to help us do that? What you see is lots and lots of dedicated groups of people—the Indigenous Language Institute on Cerrillos Road, for instance. People like Laura, who at the time I made the film, she had nine students, and now she has 28 students locally that she's teaching Tewa to. They're small increments, but I think each increment makes a difference.