Minnesota community college gives Indigenous students opportunities in media

Jeremy “JayGee” Gardner, Hunter Jaakola and Liz Jaakola present ODSA’s student produced content at the National Native Media Conference. (Photo by Caitlin Hunt)

By Caitlin Hunt

A Minnesota community college is providing Indigenous students with a creative outlet to display stories from their community. 

The Ojibwemowining Digital Arts Studio is a part of the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minnesota. Founded in 1987, the college is the first and only tribal and state college in the United States and offers students associate degrees. The Ojibewemowining Center, which houses the program, opened in 2011 with the studio’s new show, ODAS News, starting in January 2017. 

The studio uses their facilities, which includes an audio and film studio, to cover on-campus activities and produce their own shows, documentaries, advertisements and Facebook live streams. Each of these projects incorporates Indigenous language and students use these media projects to share stories from the Native community. Current and future projects were shown Tuesday during a panel at the National Native Media Conference, including the trailer for a documentary titled “Birthing Sovereignty,” a student film project focusing on Indigenous traditions surrounding childbirth. A second film shown was “Ricing Camp,” a video clip filmed with a drone and phones displaying an Indigenous rice camp focused on sharing traditional farming methods with children. 

To further share and practice American Indian cultures, ODAS also tries to incorporate Indigenous languages into their broadcast. Practice of different languages can be found in its weather broadcast and a “word of the day” segment of its news show. 

The goal of ODAS is to give students an opportunity to try different media formats, Hunter Jaakola, a Fond du Lac sophomore at ODAS, said Tuesday during the panel. Jaakola said that much of the experience includes the students finding out what they can and cannot do and have a chance to explore different media techniques. 

Students use various filming techniques and equipment ranging from traditional DSLR cameras and iPads to traditional microphones and earbud microphones. Fond du Lac Tribal Community College professor Liz Jaakola said the creative uses of filming equipment comes from the lack of Indigenous representation in the media. 

“We have been pretty invisible and we don’t have a lot of the same tools as the other cultures or other languages,” Liz Jaakola said. “We’re playing catch up.” 

ODAS members encouraged panel attendees to create their own visual art with their phones. Attendees were invited to film videos on their phone using iMovie and use Canvas to create their own posters. Panelists encouraged the audience to send their works to their email, so the panelists could create a video to present at the conference. 

While the school may be catching up technologically, alumni of ODAS have had success. Students have completed internships and found work at PBS and ABC affiliate stations. 

Liz Jaakola said she has high hopes for the studio and the students within the program. 

“I hope it creates a pathway for students to take classes and work in the industry,” she said. “The school could be a hub for Indigenous work.” 

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