Lakota elders-based documentary focused on language preservation needs funding support

Lakota elders have completed production on the documentary film “Oyate Woyaka” and are now searching for support to edit and complete the film. They just launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $17,000 to cover post-production expenses.

The filmmakers contributed to this article in the majority, and Native Viewpoint editor Vincent Schilling added to the article.

Oyate Woyaka (The People Speak) is a film that follows fluent Lakota speakers as they embrace their language and spirituality to heal from historical trauma. It is currently raising money for post-production after completing preliminary filming.

The film is co-directed by Lakota elder and fluent speaker Bryant High Horse and veteran filmmaker George McAuliffe with support from The Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Bluebird Cultural Initiative, a Native American cultural preservation non-profit organization based in Omaha, NE.

Go Fund Me Page link

Indigenous languages are at risk — and Covid-19 is making a dire situation worse. “Oyate Woyaka” highlights how valuable indigenous language and culture are to the world. In addition to restoring the language within the community and using it to heal from historical trauma, Indigenous languages can help the world address biodiversity loss and climate change.

Indigenous culture has a long history of suppression due to racism and colonization. A year ago, the remains of 215 children were found in an unmarked grave outside of an Indian Residential School in Kamloops, BC. More are still being discovered. 

In July 2021, the “Oyate Woyaka” production team followed the Sicangu Oyate as they brought 9 of their children home from the Carlisle Boarding School cemetery for ceremony and burial in their ancestral land. As horrifying as this history is, it still lives in the present-day lives of indigenous people. Many of the elders in Oyate Woyaka survived boarding schools. The film will allow those elders to express the historical, cultural and spiritual significance of these events and how we can move forward together as a nation.

Filmmakers, elders and lakota youth during the filming process. (Courtesy image.)
Lakota elders are seeking funding support for their film. Filmmakers, elders and Lakota youth during the filming process. (Courtesy image)

The concept for Oyate Woyaka was spurred when Lakota elder Bryant High Horse connected with his nephew, filmmaker George McAuliffe. After discussing a myriad of topics from climate change to social justice, Bryant suggested they make a documentary with fluent Lakota speakers. Over the past 2 years, that conversation has grown to include a large circle of incredible elders, spiritual leaders, activists and artists, all collaborating to tell this story. They now how over 60 hours of footage that needs to be edited into a feature film.

This project is different from other documentaries about Native American culture because it doesn’t focus on poverty or other symptoms of neglect and abuse by those in power. “Oyate Woyaka” is a story about restoring balance with the natural world, but at its core,  it aims to connect to universal themes such as family, resilience, and the power of a community, creating an intimate and compelling story that will be appreciated by the general public.

The film is dedicated to all people in the world experiencing life through the lens of oppression, providing a platform, message, and an opportunity to help raise awareness to a larger audience that we are all connected.

About the Filmmakers

Bryant High Horse (Lakota) – Producer/Director

A Native American man wearing a black brimmed hat.
Oyate Woyaka filmmaker Bryant High Horse (Courtesy image)

Bryant High Horse Jr., “Oyate Tawanawuchapi tejupi” or “Defends People,” belongs to the Pute Oyate of the Lakota. High Horse Jr. identifies himself as a veteran and defender of American and Indian rights. He is also a relative of Crazy Horse. High Horse believes that racism comes from a lack of understanding about other cultures, stating, “If you do understand each other’s cultures, you can have a beautiful journey together.”

Urban travel and military service have provided him with a sense of the importance of journeys. Following his travels, he returned to South Dakota and began working in K-12 and higher education. High Horse has been described as a  teacher, guidance counselor, KILI radio host, veteran and Lakota culture bearer. He has received a Master’s degree and previously taught at Black Hills State University and in Rapid City, SD, for nineteen years. High Horse Jr. is currently an adjunct professor at Oglala Lakota College, and he has no plans to retire from teaching.

Steve Tamayo – Bluebird Cultural Initiative

Bluebird Cultural Initiative provides meaningful programming to the community to enrich their understanding of the history and cultural traditions of the Native American peoples of the Great Plains. They strive to revitalize the past through the arts and culture to energize their youth’s future.  Bluebird Cultural Initiative is the non-profit venture of  Steve Tamayo. 

After 30 years of study and practice as an artist and educator, Steve began consulting educational institutions and other organizations on the history, culture and traditions of the Plains Indians. Steve is a traditional Sicangu Lakota artist whose family originates from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota Tamayo currently leads study groups on his Reservation and travels to schools and museums throughout the country to study and teach historical methods of artifact construction and preservation. He is a regular consultant to the curatorial and conservation staff at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian; his most recent work there is the current exhibition, “As We Grow,” focused on traditional native games and toys. He has been an artist-in-residence and cultural consultant with OPS and teaches Native American Art History at Metropolitan Community College.

George McAuliffe – Producer/Director

George has a 20-year career writing, directing and performing in critically acclaimed and award-winning plays, films and television shows in Chicago and Los Angeles featured in The Sundance and South By Southwest Film Festivals as well as Hulu’s Pen15. While in Chicago, George taught at Fenger High School in the Roseland neighborhood. In Los Angeles, George became the youngest person to run the training center for world-renowned improv comedy theater, iO at the age of 30 and created their first diversity program and outreach. George is now working on documentary film projects to combine his expertise, empathy and craft to help amplify essential indigenous voices throughout the country.