The story of the Native American people of the US is marked by a legacy of destruction and decline.
For the last two centuries, the western tribes have been re-settled to isolated reservations with little opportunity to exercise their traditions or express their heritage.
Most Americans still think of the various tribes as the Hollywood caricatures wild west savages or modern casino owners. Stereotypes which present a huge barrier to tribal growth and stability.
But one tribe, the Arapaho of Wyoming, is determined to reclaim their heritage and restore their fast-disappearing language as a way to heal their nation.
In her film, Voices of the Heart, director Amy Williams follows Native American Tish Keahna as she returns to the Wind River reservation after 30 years to see the impact that a language immersion school is having and to reflect on how life has changed.
“I think for me the most touching part of telling this story was seeing the generations come together: the very young and the very old. I watched a Granpa wipe the nose of a little girl, speaking to her in Arapaho as she ran off to play on the swings, and later witnessed the entire community drumming and dancing during a Thanksgiving feast, encouraging the young ones to sing the Arapaho national anthem,” filmmaker Amy Williams says.
“So many stories about life on the rez involve poverty, neglect, abuse and desperation. Even at Wind River, they struggle with a 78 per cent unemployment rate, a 52 per cent high school drop-out rate. Crime has been rising, including a tragic recent incident where three teenage girls were found dead, presumably due to drugs and alcohol.
“It may be too soon to judge whether the Arapaho Language Lodge’s approach to education will be successful, but what I learned from the Arapaho is that it’s never too late to start over again.”
WATCH PART TWO:
Voices of the Heart first aired in July 2009.