by August Linton
A great, warm sense of community filled the Eureka Theater during the Da’Luk Native Film Showcase on Saturday. Native American youth, their families and community members gathered to watch short films on Indigenous life in Humboldt, produced by participants in the Voices From the Center and Weaving Culture into Wellness short film projects. These set out to document Native American people’s experiences and ways they found meaning and health by giving them the tools and assistance to set them to video.
The critically-acclaimed 2022 short documentary “Long Line of Ladies” was also shown. It follows one Humboldt County family’s revitalization of the Karuk Ihuk ceremony, a traditional rite of passage for young women that had not been practiced in generations.
Da’Luk Youth Program Coordinator Vincent Feliz opened the event with information about how the program serves Indigenous youth. This division of the Northern California Indian Development Council (NCIDC) focuses on engaging youth with culturally rooted lessons and activities in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
Da’Luk means ‘words and talking’ in Wiyot, a meaning that Feliz feels speaks to the ultimate purpose of the program: to connect youth to each other and ready them to participate in their community.
The NCIDC offers mental health, anti-discrimination, and educational support to Indigenous youth, and has recently completed several mural projects in Eureka and Arcata.
At the film showcase, community member Julian Lang also spoke about how language can build community.
“Look for your language, that’s really important to understanding who you are as a human being; who you are as a tribe, a group, a village,” Lang said. “Not to heal but to reconnect your brain…your soul to where it’s supposed to be connected.”
Lang then performed an opening song/prayer for the event, which he encouraged others to sing along to if they knew the words. The final descending note rang off the high ceilings with many voices.
The Voices from the Center film project focused on native youth and elders as the subjects, consisting of many short films ranging from one minute to around five.
One film documented the experience of building a Yurok plank house, including the healing experience of residing in a traditional Indigenous space. A brief film taught viewers to count to ten in Karuck, using acorns as visuals, while another film explored one woman’s passion for making and wearing regalia, such as bark skirts and deer-skin dresses.
COVID-19 isolation gave one of the filmmakers, Celinda Gonzales, more time to engage in traditional practices such as beadwork. Her film compares the strength and resilience of her community with how new plants grow out of the burn scar of wildfires.
“You see these flowers, the trees coming back, the grasses coming back, you see beauty in the midst of that,” said Gonzales. “With COVID, even though we were all separated out, there was still beauty in that…I had more time at home, I was weaving more, talking to family more.”
Robbie Lara’s film was about her connection with the plants in the garden she cultivates, and her realization that plants have souls like any other creature. She spoke of her gratitude to the plants for nourishing her and encouraged the audience to keep gardens.
“It came to me that while I’m passing by all these trees and all this greenery, why can’t I give that my attention,” Lara said. “What I hope that the video does is help you have a relationship with the plant world.”
A second collection of short films was shown, produced by the United Indian Health Services’ Weaving Culture into Wellness project. Facilitator Jude Marshall said he started the project after traditional cultural practices improved his health. It was made possible with funding from UIHS and from the Rural Indian Health Board’s program to reduce chronic diseases in Native communities.
Ernie Albers Jr. starred in a film about the gym that he runs, Lifted Arcata. He described his ‘human-specific’ approach to working out. This means incorporating postures and motions which he said mirror those used in traditional lifestyles.
Another film in this collection focused on food sovereignty. Liz Lewis shows the process of making salmon head soup, and speaks on the role of food in reclaiming one’s culture. She uses salmon fished locally by Native people and peppers from the UIHS’ Potawot Community Garden.
“Not everyone may be able to do all the practices that we used to do, but cooking is a great way to be connected [to your culture,]” Lewis said.
In Willard Carlson’s film, he recounts his experiences fighting for river access and fishing rights in the 70s.
“We never ever want to give up our cultural identity and where we came from,” Carlson said. “I feel good, optimistic about our future…coming into this inheritance is very special.”
These documentaries eloquently showed how deeply supportive and connected the community around their production was through food, song, and stories.
Daniel Aipa, the Native Hawaiian producer of the Weaving Culture into Wellness films, believes in the power of spreading Indigenous stories.
“When you tell one story …it becomes 50 or 100 different stories, depending on what you take from it,” Aipa said. “And that’s Native culture. Our oral history is everything to us.”
“Long Line of Ladies” was shown next, following the Allen family, their spiritual family, and their preparations for Ahtyirahm “Ahty” Allen’s Ihuk coming of age ceremony. The Ihuk is performed for Karuk young women once they have their first period, and was revived in 1995 after a long dormancy.
“There’s points [in life] where we all come together, and that’s something that Native people have lost,” said Pimm Tripp-Allen. “This is the kind of thing that we’re supposed to be doing for our young people.”
The family lives in McKinleyville, and many scenes are set in familiar Humboldt locations, such as the walking path across the Mad River trestle bridge. The documentary has been shown at Sundance, SXSW, and other film festivals. It is available to stream through the end of November on New York Times Op Docs, a platform for independent short films.
The family felt at ease among the home crowd attendees, and opened up about funny and personal experiences they’d had during production.
“We’re talking to you guys a little different than we talk to other communities,” said Alme Allen. “Because we’re back home, and you’re our people.”