Producer Profile: Mary Hager and Arlie Neskahi
by Ben Kreimer
The new documentary, For the Generations: Native Story & Performance, offers viewers a unique look at today’s most progressive Native American music and dance performers. The film is a joint production of Mary Hager (French-Canadian Cree/Metis) and Arlie Neskahi (Navajo) of Painted Sky, and Sean Hutchinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting. This month’s Producer Profile features Hager and Neskahi of Painted Sky, an organization dedicated to building public awareness of Native American culture, music and dance through performance and education. For the Generations features performers from around North America, chosen for their unique and progressive attitudes toward Native American music and dance in the 21st century.
Hager (French-Canadian Cree/Metis) is the founder and co-president of Painted Sky with a background in dance. As artistic director, Hager deliberately chose music and dance artists from different geographic regions of North America “based on how they represented their part of the country.” Hager created a lineup of artists consisting of today’s leaders in Native American music and dance, as well as up-and-coming individuals who possess similar strengths. “I really wanted to have dance represented as well because I think dance tells a lot of stories and has emotion,” Hager says. Classically trained ballet dancers include Michael Greyeyes (Cree) and Santee Smith (Mohawk). Painted Sky’s own Northstar dance group also appears in the film.
Music artists include pop-diva Jana Mashonee (Lumbee), Grammy winners Robert Mirabal (Taos Pueblo) and Bill Miller (Mohican), Martha Redbone (Choctaw/Shawnee/Cherokee) and a host of others. “It’s a very diverse production,” explains Neskahi (Navajo), who also appears in the film. “It features some artists that to me as professionals are highly skilled but may not have gotten some of the exposure that others may have.” Neskahi is co-president of Painted Sky, and is an accomplished musician, recognized for his knowledge of traditional Native American music, culture and spirituality. All the artists in For the Generations are alike in that they remove stereotypes while pushing the boundaries of music and dance as Native Americans, while still retaining the traditional and core values of their culture. “Having our culture, taking these thoughts, beliefs and values, and helping them breathe and live out in today’s world is a great honor,” says Neskahi.
For the Generations: Native Story & Performance will be airing on public TV stations in June. Be sure to check your local listings.
Next month I will be speaking with producer Sean Hutchinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting about his work on the project.