A Youth Renaissance for Native Americans | 40th Anniversary | Smithsonian
Reservations "are strongholds of community," says Chris Eyre. (Emily Schiffer)

A Youth Renaissance for Native Americans

Filmmaker Chris Eyre says Native pride will embolden the next generation of first Americans

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“Ooooh, look at that!” Shahela exclaims.

My daughter and I watch in fascination as an enormous grayish-purple cloud sweeps over the golden-brown rolling hills of the plains, cascades through the expansive sky and merges with the yellow horizon.

At that moment, I’m awe-struck by the power of the season changing from winter to spring, and I realize the spectacle would not be as beautiful without the dark gray cloud on the horizon.

I’m always inspired by the rebirth of the seasons. After I was born to my biological mother, Rose, of the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, I was reborn within days to my adopted parents, Barb and Earl, in a white middle-class home in Klamath Falls, Oregon. As a dark-skinned 5-year-old, I would ask my mom what I was going to be when I grew up.

“Anything you want!” she said.

“A fireman?”

“Yes!”

“What about president?”

“Yes!” she lied, lovingly. Or perhaps she had the foresight 30 years ago to think there would be a minority president.

As a Native American raised in a white environment, I have never seen things in black and white but always in many colors and shades of gray. I love singing country and western songs at karaoke, but I also love a good powwow and fry bread. Over the years, my work as an artist has always been about bridging the gap between the white world and the Native world. I then realized that it had already been done. There have been “Indian rednecks” for years.

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