Celebrating Indigenous Resilience, Resistance, and Creativity

October 8, 2021

The Painted Lady from the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender
Fandom Forward's #StopLine3 toolkit draws inspiration from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Across the United States, an increasing number of cities, counties, and states recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The days we choose to commemorate and the monuments we erect send powerful messages about how we celebrate and honor — or erase — the past, present, and future of Native peoples in the United States.  

This shift away from celebrating Columbus Day is an important step in recognizing the legacy of colonialism, and as IllumiNative’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day Toolkit emphasizes, “moves beyond the narrative of oppression and honors the histories, cultures, contributions, and resilience of contemporary Native peoples.” An authentic reckoning with our nation’s history and culture of white supremacy requires both culture shift and systemic reforms that cannot be achieved one day a year.  

Art is a powerful tool in the work of both culture and policy change. Today, we’re highlighting a few Creative Change alumni who are leading the way in expanding Indigenous-led storytelling and organizing resistance to the United States’ continued failure to respect tribal lands and treaties.

20 Years of Nurturing Indigenous Filmmakers

Bird Runningwater arrives on the red carpet at the Peabody Awards
Peabody Awards/Flicker (CC BY 2.0)

In September, Bird Runningwater (Creative Change alum 2009) announced his departure from the Sundance Institute, where he led Indigenous Programs over the past 20 years. During his decorated tenure, 140 Indigenous filmmakers received mentorship and support through labs, grants, and fellowships. 

Runningwater also curated more than 110 films written, directed, and produced by Indigenous filmmakers that premiered at either Sundance or other film festivals worldwide. Films like Oscar-nominated live-action short Two Cars One Night (2005), an early project of now renowned writer and director Taika Waititi.  

Reflecting on his time at Sundance, Runningwater’s farewell letter noted:

“I’ve tried to imbue my work with inflections of my own Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache cultures. I saw the work of supporting Indigenous artists as a ceremony of transitioning storytellers into their full potential... I’ve always believed our artists needed a culturally grounded support model in order for their stories to become their strongest and to make the long journey to the screen.”

- Bird Runningwater via The Hollywood Reporter

Runningwater will rejoin the storytelling community to produce his own projects, working in partnership with Amazon Studios TV. On behalf of the Creative Change alumni community, we want to take this moment to congratulate and thank Bird Runningwater for all he accomplished during his time at Sundance. We can’t wait to watch the stories he touches next.

Fandom Inspires Action to #StopLine3 

On September 29, Canada-based company Enbridge announced the completion of a the new crude oil pipeline, Line 3, designed to transport oil from Alberta’s tar sands to Lake Superior on the tip of Wisconsin. The pipeline replaces an old one with a documented history of spills that threatens precious wetlands and wild rice (“manoomin”) harvested on the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabeg people. 

Throughout its construction, Winona LaDuke (Creative Change alum 2013), the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, has led opposition to expose Enbridge’s disregard for the environmental impacts of both the existing and newly constructed lines, which violate treaty rights and will worsen climate change. The new line doubles capacity, adding the equivalent of 50 coal-fired power plants in greenhouse gas emissions.

Fandom Forward, led by Katie Bowers (Creative Change alum 2016 - 2017), has partnered with Honor the Earth and A Tribe Called Geek, to leverage the power of pop culture to educate audiences and inspire action. Their social media and direct action toolkit pulls inspiration from the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and echoes grassroots demands for President Biden to intervene.  

“Avatar is huge right now, from classic rewatches to the new Netflix series to novels, podcasts and more. When so many fans are watching a series about balance with the natural world, that cultural energy presents a huge opportunity to bring more people together to protect our water and stop line 3.” 

- Katie Bowers via Fandom Forward press release 

The recent completion of the new pipeline adds urgency for President Biden and courts to intervene and stop oil from ever flowing through it. Learn more by visiting StopLine3, where you can watch the documentary LN3: 7 Teachings of the Anishinaabe Resistance, directed by Suez Taylor, and sign the #StopLine3 petition to President Biden. 

Winona LaDuke and Bird Runningwater’s work serves as a reminder of how representation builds power. To meaningfully ally with Indigenous-led storytelling and organizing, check out IllumiNative's toolkit and join us in lifting up the work of Runningwater, LaDuke, and other Indigenous artists and activists.