During these times amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the only certain thing we’ve had is uncertainty. Uncertainty of this virus and the endless influx of changing news reveals how much we rely on stability. From this uncertainty grows a need for something to remain constant and this need has been answered over the airwaves in the form of broadcasts through telecommunication platforms like Zoom or Skype.
Up until this pandemic, these platforms were mainly used for business meetings or webinars but during this time of isolation and quarantine, these platforms are being used as the main delivery method of entertainment and virtual community gatherings.
One such virtual gathering occurs at Haskell every Thursday evening from 9 to 11pm in the form of a talking circle that is providing much-needed consistency to our campus and its surrounding community. The Shining Elk Productions Virtual Talking Circle is the brainchild of Haskell Alumni Patricia Pena. Patricia says, “I came up with this idea to collaborate with artists mostly from the entertainment industry”.
The Virtual Talking Circle is a mixture of Native American artists stemming from coastal based entertainment industries made possible by Pena’s connections made during her years as a press credential holder at the Sundance Film Festival. Pena, along with DeLanna Studi (niece of actor Wes Studi) and Michelle Shining Elk bring together native entertainers such as Kalini Queypo, Princess Lucaj, and Sheri Foster Blake (who’s extensive film credentials must be looked up due to the brevity of this article) for weekly conversations that are known to reach well beyond film industry discussions.
Pena notes that “When people have good intentions, others can feel and see it and that makes everything come together. Each week I ask an interesting person via Facebook Messenger and they are always up for the idea of people helping people”.
Past guests have included Valente Rodriguez of the George Lopez show; Tiffany Smith, Anoa’I Executive Vice President of Global Inclusion at CBS; and many other contributors in Native film and entertainment. Another contributor is Theda Newbreast of the Blackfeet nation who leads the syndication in prayer before every discussion.
The final product is a collaboration made available to Haskell students via staff Tonia Salvini and Lori Hasselman as well as students Joseph Sing and myself.
However, this collaboration is not limited to people interested in the entertainment industry. As Pena puts it, “Thursday is a collaboration of Native people who make themselves available because we all care about our tribal communities”. For Native people, community has been a constant throughout history, leaving the doors open to all like-minded supporters of community-based projects. Bringing our community together through projects such as the Shining Elk Productions Virtual Talking Circle shows that during these times of uncertainty, some things will remain certain and one of them is the Native ability to consistently create ways to keep each other strong through communication.