Youth traverse media journey by following MAPS as a guide | News

MAPS students and instructors embark on a journey of learning about all types of media with the aim of completing a short project. Front row left to right: Emmalyn Pierre, Alika Wall, Bobbi Gardipe; Back Row: Left to right: Clare Ann Harff, Colter Olmstead, Vicente LaRoche, Jobo Cahoon, and Lina Sturman.

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Since 2004, Media Arts in the Public Schools (MAPS) Media Institute has provided professional media arts education to Montana students who have an interest, talent, or skill in the field of media art.

MAPS, a non-profit organization, offers programs in Ravalli County, Lewis and Clark County, Flathead Reservation/Lake County, and the Fort Peck, Blackfeet, Rocky Boy’s, Fort Belknap, Little Shell, Northern Cheyenne, and Crow reservations.

Design, film, music, and technology are just a few of the topics covered in these programs. MAPS encourages young people to tell their stories and gives them the tools, expertise, and support they need.

MAPS recently welcomed Craig Falcon as the new director of the MAPS Media Lab, the organization’s statewide outreach education program. Falcon will be building on an existing established partnership between the Tribal Nations and MAPS.

Falcon does a lot of outreach for MAPS, and because of his participation, doors to Native people and their creative work will be opening up more and more.

MAPS has been working with the Flathead in various roles since 2014, and families have requested more MAPS programs because of the previous workshops.

“We’ve always been welcomed by the community,” said MAPS Media Institute Executive Director Clare Ann Harff.

“We were able to bring in Craig’s perspective and receive his assistance in working with community partners, particularly tribal partners,” Harff said. “MAPS is getting stronger, and it benefits all students when we all get stronger.”

Opportunities with MAPS are quite unique, a lot of it is about communication, how an idea is collaborated with others to bring it to reality, Harff said. “The majority of our projects are collaborative in nature, and each student discovers their niche.”

“We find that students become very comfortable very quickly,” Harff said. They feel safe to share their story or skill because of MAPS and staff’s efforts. It can be tough for an artist to get started on their creative work, but with MAPS’ assistance, they can figure out where to start.”

Falcon is Blackfeet (Amp Ska Pi Pikunii) and Aaniiih, Indian name Cii Bii Na Maka (Nightgun). He grew up to be a traditionalist, storyteller, teacher, activist, and script revisionist to capture Indigenous authenticity in modern film projects.

Falcon was born in Redwood City, California, in 1964 during the Relocation Act.

“My family was removed from a perfectly stable ranch and farm on the Hi-Line and placed in a ghetto environment in California,” Falcon said. “It was the worst-case scenario in some respects and the best-case scenario in others.”

“It opened our eyes to the entire world and what was going on at that time,” Falcon said of the best-case scenario. “You had Vietnam War protests, Civil Rights protests, and I saw the start of the Black Panther Party.”

Falcon’s father, an air force veteran, made it a point to take them everywhere and show them all he could. “He knew we’d never see history unfold like that ever again in that part of the world,” Falcon said.

Falcon and his family returned to Montana in 1973 after a few years in California and Washington. Falcon absorbed both his mother’s and father’s cultures as a child. “Both sides of my family are strong traditionalists and good people,” Falcon said.

In college, Falcon began working in mental health agencies, mainly with Native children. He later worked as a child and adult drug court probation officer before becoming the Blackfeet tribe’s court administrator.

“I didn’t feel like that was my calling,” Falcon said. “I founded my own consulting firm, Nightgun Consulting, specializing in cultural education.” Falcon was able to go throughout North America as a result of this. “I was able to share multiple tribal cultures with a variety of tribes and industries around North America.”

Falcon would focus on giving presentations for various groups. He taught cultural sensitivity, awareness, traditional horse and dog day games, traditional ways of teaching, and more to those who were working in and with tribal communities.

“I do a lot of research with elders, rather than with books,” Falcon said. His grandfather advised him to be cautious while delivering information and to be authentic.

“And to make certain that in everything you do, you never make your tribe or other tribes appear bad,” said Falcon.

“I’ll go sweat with people, attend their ceremonies, and provide them tobacco, food, and other items in exchange for an opportunity to speak with Native people and learn the true story,” said Falcon.

When pre-production for the Leo DiCaprio film “The Revenant” began, Falcon was living in Canada. Falcon decided to inquire about the necessity for a cultural advisor. They employed him on the spot as a technical advisor since they appreciated and trusted his advice.

Falcon worked on the screenplay for a year, making revisions to ensure cultural authenticity. “That director was very open to getting it right, and he wanted to make sure it was perfect,” Falcon said.

Many awards were given to “The Revenant,” including Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Achievement in Directing, and Best Achievement in Cinematography. The film was well-received for its effort, and Falcon was happy to help ensure that the Native components of the picture were as true as possible.

Falcon points out that it is one of the few films, along with Dances with Wolves, that does a decent job portraying Native American culture.

Falcon has encountered disputes or arguments while assisting with films. “They would say, well, this is my artistic vision,” Falcon would respond, “this is my cultural accuracy vision.” With inexperienced filmmakers their visions collided at times but ultimately, in some cases, they would strive to meet in the middle.

He has experienced situations where people refused to follow his advice because they believed they were ‘correct,’ and Falcon had no choice but to walk away. He couldn’t be a part of anything that was based on lies or misrepresented Native people.

“I couldn’t throw my people under the bus, or any tribe for that matter,” Falcon said.


Right now, there are four MAPS projects underground: a music video class in Ronan; a language and sign language film in Browning; a blood quantum documentary at Fort Belknap; the CHANTÉ project at Fort Peck Community College; and the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony on the Fort Peck Reservation.

All the projects are initiated by students. “None of these ideas came from an adult; they’re all student-driven,” Falcon said. “I’m happy for the kids in Fort Belknap because they’re taking on a tough topic but hearing it from a young person’s perspective will be interesting.”

MAPS Media Institute seeks out people with ties to the tribe and hires them to work on the projects, such as Shadow Devereaux, who Falcon describes as “an exceptional film maker who is bright and youthful.”

Shadow Devereaux and Colter Olmstead, professional media artists, are teaching the MAPS Media Institute Music Video Class in Ronan. It’s a six-week course that runs Mondays and Tuesdays from April 4 through May 10.

“This will be an opportunity for up-and-coming native filmmakers to work in the industry as a stepping stone to bigger film projects,” Falcon added, noting that 10 of the 11 students in the class are tribal members.

Many of the students see the class as an opportunity to delve further into their film and music interests.

“It’s a good opportunity since there’s nothing like this on the rez,” Two Eagle River School student Vicente LaRoche said. “I feel like music is becoming a really big thing on this rez, and a lot more people are trying it out.

“It’s a chance to learn about two areas I’m interested in: music and film,” said Emmalyn Pierre of Ronan Middle School.

“It’s an opportunity to test things out without having to buy the equipment,” home school student Lina Strurman added.

MAPS provides gear worth $25,000 for the students to utilize and learn from.

Students will have developed a music video by the end of the course, which will be shared on the MAPS website and social media accounts.

How Falcon does his Research:

Falcon’s approach is to include the Tribes and incorporate native culture within the projects by connecting with tribal people, working with Tribal Historic Preservation officers, receiving the Tribal Council’s blessing, and reaching out to the elders.

Falcon recalls reaching out to his elders when he was younger and asking about their life stories. “Out of their life stories, you gain so much deep cultural information that you don’t receive in books or universities,” Falcon said.

Natives and Hollywood:

Falcon believes that much more effort needs to be done in the film industry, particularly in terms of cinematic (or Native) accuracy and the utilization of Native actors.

“There are so many Natives with so much cultural knowledge that the film industries aren’t tapping into,” Falcon said.

“We have so much talent on each reservation, you go to a powwow and every tribe has really beautiful people,” Falcon said. “And these casting directors are ignoring that demographic.”

One of Falcon’s goals as a director is to foster this in young people, as MAPS projects create greater access for young people to pursue careers in the film industry. “As a result, there can be a strong link between Hollywood and tribes,” Falcon said.

When it comes to developing native films, Hollywood just needs to tap into the tribes and should do it while they still can.

“Hollywood needs to tap into each tribe’s full blood population before they’re all gone; some tribes have no full bloods, and in some tribes, they will be all gone in 10 years or maybe 20,” Falcon said. “They’ll never be able to get that authentic look.”


“In the old days, growing up, you would hear statements like ‘Oh those are our enemy,'” Falcon says. It is a personal goal of Falcons to invite tribal relations.

“I want to establish tribal bonds so that we no longer think in those terms and instead think of ourselves as one large indigenous nation that assists one another,” Falcon said. He feels that Natives are capable of much more when they come together as one.

When many people work together, opportunities arise. The state, private agencies, tribes, and others have all contributed to Montana’s youngsters and their future as artists through MAPS.

The National Endowment of Arts and the Greater Montana Foundation are jointly funding MAPS Music Video Class “All of our programming across the state is always free to students, thanks to the combined assistance of state federal agencies, private foundations, and local community support,” Harff said.

Flathead Nation Tribal Council and Chairman Tom McDonald, and Michelle Mitchell, Tribal Education Department director, both backed the initiative.


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