I sat in the hogaan looking around the room at the colorful and amazingly varied group sitting along its walls. Navajo, Hopi, Sioux, Chippewa, Algonquian, Mohawk, Cherokee, and Osage Indians lined the octagonal room, some sitting on chairs, others on elaborate woven rugs laid out on the dirt floor. Two medicine men, one, the host of this meeting of the tribes, was Navajo, the other, Algonquian visiting from New York, sat at the head of the hogaan (the western wall – furthest from the rising sun.)
I had been invited onto a film set, here at a distant Navajo farm outside of Shiprock, New Mexico where Kody Dayish Productions was filming a scene for an upcoming documentary being made by the Intertribal Agriculture Council. The film, whose crew was caravaning across the country, was going to focus on Native American Agriculture, specifically, the farming of Native Corn. Many of the people present had been farming the sacred crop for as many as four and five generations.
It was the final weekend of September, Fall was upon us, my book, Spirits of Jerome, had just had a successful release party at The Spirit Room in Jerome, Arizona on Friday afternoon, and I had leathered up for the drive north to Shiprock the next morning. It was a whirlwind of a weekend, and now, it was Sunday afternoon. I was sitting among one of the most amazing, diverse groups of people I had ever witnessed. I was listening to them go around the room introducing themselves, their clan, and their purpose for being at the gathering – a lot of which was offered in their native tribal languages. My turn to speak was approaching…..
What on earth was I doing here?
“Dude, I brought the Red Carpet to the Rez!”
Kody was on cloud nine. His second film festival, held at Shiprock High School Auditorium “The Phil”, had just released and after waiting through pictures and meet and greets, Kody and I finally had a chance to meet. The festival, nearly selling out, was a major success, and the young man was basking in radiance, flash photography, and selfie requests as a reward for his efforts.
I can remember thinking, long ago and not so long ago, that the path to success was a convoluted passage littered with pit traps, land mines, and delusions of grandeur. It seemed like the road to success in the arts was only possible if you knew somebody, were related to somebody, or were simply one of the luckiest people in the world. Some people made it through, but most did not. One thing that I am learning, the further I go on this crazy ride, and the more people I meet on my way, is that it really has very little to do with luck. It has to do with dedication, motivation, and focused willpower. Most create something, or they do something, and wait for fame to discover them. And like me, with my first book, they act surprised when nothing happens to answer the nothing of their actions. Kody Dayish learned this from an early age, and after a brush with death that left him recovering from a broken neck unsure he would ever walk again, he was determined to punch through the Indigenous Hollywood Barrier. Just under three years later, Kody has launched Kody Dayish Productions, and with a slew of projects under his belt, and a list of awards and accolades, there doesn’t seem to be much that can stop him!
The emphasis of the Kody Dayish Production Film Festival 2017 was bullying, domestic violence, and illegal dumping: three deep seeded problems that have plagued not only the Navajo Nation but the entire Nation. The Dine’ are a People who “walk in beauty” – this is their motto, their creed, and their sorrow in a world where so many of the People have lost their way. These are deep-seeded, societal problems, and this year Kody, Kolin, and Kolette have made it their mission to tackle these concerns head on.
The first event of the Film Festival was VIP access to a discussion with Adam Beach via satellite. Mr. Beach and his wife were in Japan, in the middle of a sleet storm no less, but they were in high spirits, huddled up in their car to take time out to talk to as many people who had questions.
I sat towards the back of the gathering, watching a line of children talking to Mr. Beach like he was their uncle: asking him his favorite movies, how to get noticed in the entertainment industry, and of course, what his advice would be to help with being bullied in school. I had come with some of my own questions for the famous Smoke Signals, Code Talkers, and Suicide Squad star, but it didn’t take much willpower to set them aside. This night was not for me to have my Adam Beach moment. This night… was for the children. Their eyes were lit up and their imaginations were on fire. For this night, Kody had provided them a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to talk to a famous actor, a roll model, like he was just another regular person, and Mr. Beach was perfectly up to the task!
Kolin Dayish, Assistant and Second Unit Director of Kody Dayish Productions, launched a new original clothing line this year called Threads. As with most of what the siblings take interest in, Threads is all about the youth. For the Film Festival, Kolin provided a small runway experience for his young models to entertain the crowd with his new Fall clothing line.
It certainly did not hurt to also have the great Jon Riggs on site, to offer a coaching lesson and some words of guidance to the young models!
A powerful film dedicated to the memory of the Dayish siblings’ grandfather, Silent Medicine, starring James Junes and Kolette Dayish tells the story of a fragmented family whose saving grace is their deaf daughter. Comedian James Junes was at the festival to promote the film.
A Lakota Sioux, Ella Bearsheart has danced at Standing Rock, and won awards for her amazing hoop dancing. This performance at the Film Festival was the first time I had ever seen hoop dancing live. The dancer lays out several stacks of hoops, and throughout the dance picks them up, sometimes with her hands other times her feet, and out of this tangled looking dervish, suddenly she is able to create wings, and flowers, horses, and bow and arrows. I was completely fascinated!
The highlight of this years Kody Dayish Productions Film Festival was a three part film that focuses on each of the three systemic problems mentioned at the beginning as the theme of this years production.
Kody masterfully weaves together a story of a mother who is able to get her child, who is suffering from bullying at school, away from an abusive husband and go to her parents. One of the family’s favorite places to go sit, think, contemplate, has been completely defiled with illegal dumping, and as the family unites to clean up the mess, we as viewers are able to see the small acts that are possible to spare Dine’ life from these pitfalls that keep them from walking in beauty.
In a word, the film was compellingly powerful. Okay, so I cheated. Adverbs.
OUR LAST CHANTS
The final entertainment for the evening was a performance by Our Last Chants, a trio made up of Kolin Dayish/ Hand Drum; Kody Dayish/ Guitar & Vocals; and Alex Holiday/ Vocals. Kody has his fingers in lots of pies, but perhaps it is more fair to say that he is a young man of passion. He has a passion for life. He has a passion for art. He has a passion for telling stories.
Really… at root, this is the basis of our friendship. Kody and I are both story tellers, weaving words and visions together to tell the stories of our lives, our loves, our hopes… our fears. I am proud to have Kody and his amazing siblings as contemporaries, sharing with, and inspiring, each other with our unique journeys. Keep the greasy side down on your travels my friend!
My turn to speak was coming…
My name is Ryan Clark, and I am not Native. I come from the broken world, south of here, in Arizona, where I have nothing like this. Where I am clanless. Where I have never seen anything like this. Where I don’t really have any idea how I deserve to be in a room with this gathering. I was invited here by my friend Kody Dayish, and I am working on a book of Native myths and superstitious stories. I am doing it to show, as many people who will read, how much we can learn from the magic and color and passion of your world.
Or something like that….
And there were tears. There were smiles. There were handshakes, and looks that went somehow straight through the eyes and into the soul. I saw love in that room. I heard power in that room. I felt deeply in that room. I witnessed a purity, an honesty, a trust, among people who had never met, not before that day, but they were bound by a common chord that I can never truly understand. A chord of pure tuning, that vibrates along an unbroken string, though this land, these Americas…. all the way to the beginning of time.
Truly, it was one of the most profoundly mystical events of my life. I seek daily to try to keep a piece of that peace with me…. back home… in the broken world.
Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends…..