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White Earth featured in new documentary

Amy and Dawn, daughters of "Native Silence" documentary subjects Joyce and Paulette, have bonded over the impact their mothers' lives had on their childhoods and identities.

A new documentary film that chronicles the lives of four American Indian women — much of which was filmed within the boundaries of the White Earth Indian Reservation — could begin making the rounds on the international film festival circuit in the very near future.

“Native Silence,” produced by the non-profit organization 3 Generations, is nearing completion.

“The film is in post-production right now,” says Elizabeth Woller, head of production and marketing for 3 Generations.

What she and the film’s director, Jane Wells, are hoping is that the film will eventually find a home within the educational community —though they plan to market it on the film festival circuit as well.

Though the film is focused primarily on the lives of two native women, Joyce and Paulette, and their daughters Amy and Dawn, their stories touch on many of the larger issues that so many native communities face — drugs, alcohol, familial estrangement, sexual violence, and the “defective foster care and boarding school systems which functioned to isolate and erase Native American identity” for so many years.

Both Joyce and Paulette are products of those defective systems, Wells noted.

“One was put into foster care at a very young age (18 months), and the other was put into the boarding school system and then into foster care,” Wells said. “They were taken away from their mothers and their families and their culture.”

“A lot of these adoptees (who were interviewed for the film) talk about how the loss of their culture and inability to find other peers to identify with really, really affected them (from childhood) into their adult lives,” Woller said. “That’s where you see a lot of the teenage suicide and drug use coming from.”

And then, Woller said, there are the families, who are just as affected by the loss of their younger generation as the children are.

“Families that have kids taken away, in this film we talk about what a loss that is for the community and how a lot of the times the problems with alcohol are the reason these kids are taken away, but after they’re taken away there’s no hope left for the adults,” she added.

Ultimately, however, the message of “Native Silence” is about finding hope again, both women said.

“The daughters of Joyce and Paulette are working to reclaim their identity and teach that to their children,” said Woller. “One of the things that is very exciting and impressive about Joyce herself is that she’s using her talent as an artist to really reconnect with her culture … and her work as a nurse in the mental health field is another way of giving back to her community, as well as through her art and her advocacy,” said Wells. “We think she’s a pretty amazing, fantastic and impressive woman.”

All of the women documented in this film are pretty impressive role models, Woller said.

“These women are redefining themselves and their children, making an identity for themselves and their community and their kids,” she added.

Woller and Wells are in the midst of raising funds and awareness for the final phase of their project: to put the finishing touches on the film, find a distributor and bring “Native Silence” to the attention of schools and universities across the U.S.

Different incentives are available for donors at each level, from “virtual hugs” and personalized thank-yous for a $10 donation, to a traveling-expenses-paid trip to a Minnesota powwow for an $8,000 gift.

Some of the donor gifts include products from White Earth’s own Native Harvest, lending a local flavor to the campaign that can have a global impact.

“We’ve had donations from as far away as the United Kingdom and Sweden,” Wells said — which means those local products are finding a home overseas.

And speaking of local flavor, both Wells and Woller noted that they had enjoyed their visits to the region during the filming process.

“We love Detroit Lakes,” Wells said. “We came in midwinter and I thought it was incredibly beautiful. I drove on the frozen lake, which was very exciting for me — that was a first. Coming from England you don’t get a lot of opportunities to drive on a lake. We had a good time. Everybody was incredibly friendly, all the stories we heard were quite fascinating, and there’s just this incredible beauty to the landscape — such a sharp contrast between some of these tragic stories and the beauty of the physical landscape.”

For more information about “Native Silence,” please visit the website,

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454