Collective Voices

New documentary looks at New Mexican tribal women in a fresh light

"It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story."

This proverb from Native American folklore serves as the title source for A Thousand Voices, a new documentary about Native American women in New Mexico set to air on PBS tonight.

The film, produced by Wes Studi's nonprofit educational film company Silver Bullet Productions, explores the lives of pueblo women in New Mexico and how their traditional roles in tribal society are changing to adapt to the 21st century.

It depicts tribal women taking on such diverse jobs as owner of a construction company, artist, poet laureate, tribal liaison, a domestic violence shelter and historian.

"There are so many remarkable tribal women in New Mexico," says producer Pamela Pierce.

Pierce says that the inspiration for the film came from Native women asking why their stories weren't being told to the world.

"The story of Native American women from their point of power and strength seemed to be lacking. Native American women were always strong, from the beginning of time. It was the European invasion that removed that power and redefined their roles to mirror European women," she says.

The film draws inspiration from pueblos across the state, featuring women from the Navajo Nation, Pueblo de Cochiti, Ohkay Owingeh, Pojoaque, Santa Clara, Nambé, Taos and other places.

"We wanted a balance of voices. That meant not only a balance of tribes and pueblos, but also a mix of interests and careers," says Pierce.

One notable contributor is Taos Pueblo native Patricia Michaels of Project Runway fame. Michaels was the first Native American contestant on the show, making it all the way to the finale of season 11 in 2012. Over the course of her career her work has been displayed on runways and museums all over the United States.

Another face (and voice) that may be familiar to viewers is Christy Bird, who sang and acted in Coca-Cola's controversial multilingual "America the Beautiful" 2014 Super Bowl ad. Bird can be heard singing a portion of the song in Keres, as well as seen in a video snapshot of her blowing cornmeal into the air.

Pierce holds high hopes for the documentary and the impact it can have on Native viewers, as well as the general public.

"I believe that non-Natives will have newfound inspiration in the power of Native American women that was always there, from the beginning of times," she says, adding that she hopes, "Native viewers will be reminded of what was always there, the enduring power and wisdom of New Mexico's Native women."

The concept for the documentary is based on a treatment by Acoma Pueblo's Conroy Chino, which was adapted and written by Maura Dhu Studi. At the helm directing is David Aubrey.

A Thousand Voices
airs at 7 pm, Thursday on PBS.

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