But what might have been a negative became a unique opportunity in this specialized cultural niche I was in. The fact that I’m a cultural descendent was enough to get me in and allow me to talk with Head Bird singers to ask for their advice and their permissions to even undertake this project. The fact that I was not enrolled at a specific reservation allowed me to talk to singers and dancers from many different reservations, which had not been done before. As it turned out, through my interactions with different families of Singers, we found that I was related to people in Bird Culture that I had already been working with, which was unexpected and has made me feel even more “connected” to the songs, the history, the culture, and the project itself. It would turn out to be an arduous journey that would take years – a journey that I am still on, to be frank – but it allows me to get the story the right way: from MANY people and not just from one source!
Starting from the Top
Beginning with the Elders, we initially worked with Cahuilla Head Bird Singers Alvino Siva and Ernest Siva. They started me on my path of cultural preservation by sharing their stories and their languages with me so that we may share abroad, Telling the story the Right way.
As time went on, I had a chance to work with Wally Antone (Quechan), Walter Holmes Jr (Morongo), and Ernest Morreo (Torres-Martinez). Each of these elders, who were Head Bird Singers (“Hauniks” in the Cahuilla language), took the time to meet with me and shared their own perspectives on Bird born of history and experience.
Each gave their approval of this project – this was a necessity to me or I would not have proceeded – and essentially gave me “referrals” as to who to talk to next, where to go, and what to do in order to move forward and still live and work within the social protocols of Bird.
To this day, I still maintain relationships with the people and continue to work on a variety of projects with them, apart from my ongoing documentary work. When I began all of this, my aim was to find a way for people to share their OWN stories and this documentary gives them that platform.
With this promise in mind , we proudly present
“We Are Birds: A California Indian Story”
The We Are Birds Documentary Project
Bird Songs have been a part of Cahuilla and other Southern California Native cultures for thousands of years, and the migrations of these songs as they were shared over time have created a long history of cultural connectedness between tribes across the region. These songs have also become a linkage between generations, and are at the heart of a growing movement to sustain language and cultural practice.
We Are Birds is a documentary film project that focuses on this movement as experienced by a variety of Elders, Bird Singers and Dancers, and other Cultural Preservationists. Their stories delve into the heart of what birdsinging is, how it has changed, and why it is important that Bird Lives On.
We Are Birds documents this current social movement for the people’s own Native history, and also introduces the culture to a broader audience. Non-Native peoples are largely unaware of the Native cultures in their local area, and are unfamiliar with their song and dance traditions. This project aims to shed light on these traditions that are both ancient and modern, while also creating awareness in the public, in the education system, and in local communities.
Produced by Albert Chacon
NativeImages Production Group
Good News Tunes
The main reason why I did this project “We Are Birds” was to showcase these wonderful men and women of Bird Singing. I thought they were the best thing I have seen in my life… never to be topped!
My heart was captured at the moment when I saw my first example on a television show on PBS with elders Alvino Siva, Robert Levi, and Ernest Siva as well as others. I wanted to know more about Bird Singing but really couldn’t find out anything about it. There really weren’t any “sources” in the books, museums, and educational institutions and places we initially searched. It was the people themselves who sang and practiced the traditions – THEY were the “source”! I sought out opportunities to learn from the elders and began working with them on cultural preservation projects that they needed assistance on. Thus began my journey to gain as much knowledge about Bird Singing Culture as possible, a journey that led not only to singing, but to so much more.
Being from the outside of Bird, and a person who is not a Tribal member from one particular tribe, I faced certain challenges. I did not have an automatic “in” to go and talk to anyone. I did not have the right “credentials” to just go in and participate. I was in a difficult position.