Tekona reflects on his family’s teachings while he braids his hair in the early morning and makes deeper connections to his Indigenous identity.
The film is a glimpse into the mental health of young indigenous men by way of treating emotional vulnerability with insight and compassion. Faced with feelings of isolation, toxic masculinity, and stereotypes of Native people, Tekona embraces the visceral connection to his mother and the matriarchs who inspire him to be strong.
Content heads up: cultural stigma, masculine mental health
I’m stranded like the braid that rolls down my back,
protecting the spine that formed inside her womb.
But I’m also stranded like sneakers hanging on a wire,
’cause I wouldn’t walk into the jokes that said my sisters are anything
less than our matriarchs.
If each vertebrae were a prayer,
how much have I nursed my back to carry myself as a warrior,
and not another destroyer of the sacred bond that gave me life?
The homies said I can’t take a joke,
that I’m in my feels.
They get mad at me saying that I’m acting like the very anatomy
they treat like another cold cut from the neighborhood deli.
Same shit at the nine to five.
Dudes making comments under their breath,
daydreaming of how they could get a coworker to undress for the weekend.
Come Monday, and they reject her like she’s out of season.
I try to be a real one,
but I’ve started to slip.
I’m broken hearted and my pride has taken a hit.
I know hurt people hurt people, but still can’t make sense of where to begin.
Some say original sin.
But my people were here before those concepts came in.
Then the dots start to connect,
when I think of the time my Uncle used to call collect,
and tell me we are now the results of the white man settlers complex.
He said, “how can we get ahead when they view us as a tribe
of bobbleheads? Mascots and figurines.
Stereotyped, controlled, way before they were memes.”
He said, “when they look into our eyes, they see slot machines.”
I want to soak my mind in a cedar bath,
remind myself that I come from a sweeter past,
blessed by sweeter grass.
Where I can hear my mom’s laugh.
But now, I almost crashed.
I almost took my life, then realized that my soul
And when I say I’m stranded I mean I’m braided,
built of something divine.
The strength of a woman, resilience is in memorial times.
Two wolves like to visit me; which should I feed?
One wolf shows me love, the other shows me his teeth.
Director: Tomás Karmelo Amaya & Shalene Joseph
Tomás Karmelo Amaya is Yoeme (Yaqui), A:shiwi (Zuni), and Rarámuri (Tarahumara). He is an award winning director, writer, and photographer born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. As a Native person, the traditional teachings and values of his people have heavily influenced how he internalizes and interacts with the world. His work has been known to empower communities by way of high-quality, striking images that show dignity, respect, and cultural sensitivity while celebrating resiliency. Tomás’ work has been published in The New York Times, Buzzfeed, The Sundance Institute, Northwestern University, The Guardian, Arizona State University, The Fader, Pacific Standard Magazine, BBC News, among several others. Raised by storytellers and healers, he continues to develop the concept of offering a poet's perspective to honor people, spaces, and items, describing his style as "moving my camera as I would my pen.”
Shalene Joseph, from the Gros-Ventre or A'aniih people of Fort Belknap, Montana and Athabascan people from Tanana, Alaska, graduated with her bachelor's degree in Native American and Indigenous Studies from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and a master's degree in American Indian Studies from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) where her master's thesis was on Historical Wisdom. Growing up, Shalene has been mentored and molded into a youth leader through the Native Wellness Institute (NWI) and currently works for NWI as a Project Coordinator.
Both Tomás and Shalene, along with many of their peers helped launch the movement from the Native Wellness Institute known as the Indigenous 20 Something Project (I20SP), where their generation is organizing and collaborating to heal from the lasting impacts of historical and intergenerational trauma.