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  • Tubitsinakururu:Listen Closely
  • Dustin Tahmahkera (bio)

A response to Elle-Maija Apiniskim Tailfeathers, “A Conversation with Helen Haig- Brown, Lisa Jackson, and Elle-Maija Apiniskim Tailfeathers with Some Thoughts to Frame the Conversation.” Biography 39.3 (Summer 2016): 277—306

We learn the world and test it through interaction and dialogue with each other, beginning as we actively listen through the membrane of the womb wall to the drama of our families’ lives.

—Joy Harjo (Mvskoke) (Harjo and Bird 19, emphasis added)

. In the Nʉmʉ tekwapʉha, the Comanche language, it means listen carefully. means listen, but to practice is to listen closely and engage with the speakers and sounds, be they familiar or foreign, friendly or fierce, fictive or factual, or sometimes, in the eccentricities of humanity, all of the above. It is to perform possibilities of conversing not at, around, or away from each other but, as Lisa Jackson says during the conversation with Elle-Maija Tailfeathers and Helen Haig-Brown, “through each other.” What, then, does it mean not just to hear each other but to really listen to and through each other? That Haig-Brown, Jackson, and Tailfeathers, three highly skilled and self-reflexive filmmakers, converse their words aloud, before they are transcribed for this Indigenous-centric issue of Biography, allows space for thoughtful spontaneity into talking Indigeneity. They talk through each other on what it means to be Indigenous and familial filmmakers.

As cinematic kin, Jackson, Haig-Brown, and Tailfeathers cite, engage, and empower each other, a citational process similarly enacted by my academic kin in Indigenous studies who continue to construct and amplify volumes of [End Page 309] Indigenous intertextuality through each other’s work, experiences, and teachings. In building Indigenous filmographies, Tailfeathers, Jackson, and Haig- Brown express their shared aesthetic and critical relationships between filmmaking and/as story, courage, responsibility, healing, humor, trauma, fear, ethics, reception, and ceremony, all key terms spoken during their conversation. Several of their individual films, for example, share stories of family trauma at anti-Indigenous institutions, including Canada’s residential schools and Norway’s Sami Boarding System. For Suckerfish, Jackson’s voiceover actress and the environmental activist Cleo Reece knows her onscreen role as Jackson’s mother resonates deeply offscreen when she tells the filmmaker, “This is all our story” (282). Tailfeathers similarly observes of Haig-Brown’s familial documentary My Legacy, “Her story was my story” (278). During their phone conversation for Biography, Tailfeathers says, “What I was watching was my story. It was my experience and it just opened me up,” a testament to the power of filmmaking and film to engage in the “ongoing healing process” for Indigenous families enduring centuries of colonization (285, 291). As Haig-Brown states, “It’s like a ceremony. It’s like a prayer” (292).

In their conversation, Jackson explains her objective in making the film Suckerfish about her mother and their relationship: “I went in wanting people to understand people like my mother, and not just see them as a stereotype, or to see something more there, and illustrate it through our relationship, through each other” (295). In the deeply personal and familial contexts of these filmmakers’ works, listening through each other means, to borrow from Blaze Kwaymullina (Palyku and Nyamal), “listening through the heart,” as joyous and painful and as challenging and cathartic as that may be and become. Jackson’s affective intention of expressive enlightenment for her audience, which can effect change in thought and action, is part of what recently drove a group of Lakota high school students to respond to a mainstream TV special on Indigenous poverty by calmly talking back and representing that they are, as their video short is titled, More than that. It’s what drove the late Blackfeet actress Misty Upham to represent Native women as she said, too, “more than that,” that being the roles of “leathers and feathers or drunk on a reservation.” She proactively sought out roles of complexity and multidimensionality that she made her own, such as in Frozen River (2008) and Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian (2013). It’s what drives scholars like Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (Hopi) and Jill Doerfler (White Earth Anishinaabe...


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pp. 309-313
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