ART IS... Andrea Fairbanks

Andrea Fairbanks, Bagwajikwe, is Leech Lake Anishinaabe. She is a mother, above all else. She is also a multifaceted artist, Ojibwe language revitalizationalist & teacher. She began acting when Rhiana Yazzie found her in a coffee shop singing karaoke in 2006. The first play Andrea has ever written, titled “My Only Sunshine” was about the birth of her beautiful daughter Mizhakwad.

AIRED: June 13, 2019 | 0:05:31

(pow wow music)

- In the early 1900s there was some women,

they were traditional dancers,

and they took their shawls and they put them on

and they started dancing, like, more hopping

and then they started kicking their legs up higher

and everything and then they were moving around,

doing spins, and then people went and they spit at them.

They said you're a woman you're not supposed

to move like that, you're not allowed to move like that,

but they kept doing it, they kept dancing,

and they didn't care if people were mad at them

or if they spit at them or yelled at them.

They just kept dancing.

Pretty soon people had to accept it,

that they're gonna do this.

In a way it's like women's rights movement,

in Indian country, like that's the way I see it.

When I talked to all the kids that's what I tell them.

If you're gonna dance fancy shawl do it,

and you be proud and do it with pride

and don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do it.

(speaking in Ojibwe)

I am a mother, a teacher.

I teach culture and language.

I'm a dancer, an actor, artist, self-proclaimed comedian,

and karaoke rock star.

(pow wow music)

(gentle music)

We are in Anishinabe Academy,

which is the school that I work at.

It's one of the only schools in the Twin Cities

that's under something called the Memorandum of Agreement

between the Native community and Minneapolis public schools,

that says we have to teach Native culture and language.

Look at this, I did this.

We're trying to do a word of the week.

We're keeping it simple so like our staff,

our students, families,

everybody can learn Ojibwe and Dakota language.

And these are just like basic things

that they can use here at school

or that they could use at home,

and I send these home to parents too

so they could work on it.

My role here is culture specialist.

Specializing in Ojibwe language

and there's a whole bunch of us

that still speak our language

and we still have our culture and it's still here.

That's our strength and everything

and a lot of people, they don't realize that.

This area here's pretty cool

In the Memorandum of Agreements they talk about is

that we have to teach the seven grandfather teachings

so we have all the seven grandfather teachings around here.

And these are really old Anishinabe teachings

based on, out of the lodge.

They each have something really important about them,

that goes along with the way that our people taught

our kids back in the day.

I get to come in this school everyday

and I get to teach that stuff to these kids

who don't learn it from their mom and dad,

who's grandparents didn't get to keep it

because they were sent to boarding school

but I get to do this everyday.

I'm going over the skeleton script of my piece,

so the underlying tone,

the way I see it is indigenous people

are more resilient and have more strength

in our systems than historical trauma.

When I first got into theater

and I went into these auditions,

there was a lack of representation for native people

and nobody was telling our stories,

so when I got into the theater and got into acting,

then I was like this is my place

where I could tell my stories

and so I started writing,

writing about whatever I wanted to write about.

And so my story for this,

it's about my mom's childhood education and Ojibwe language.

(gentle music)

So my most recent project that I'm working on right now,

it's based on my mom's experience with school

versus my daughter's experiences with school

It's about how when my mom went to school

she used to only speak Ojibwe until she was six years old,

until she started school.

When she went to school she was told she wasn't allowed

to speak Ojibwe anymore, if she did she got punished.

Now-a-days here's my daughter coming home

and talking about her experience at school.

The bullying, the mean kids, their both facing something

that's hurtful but then we come home,

we all still know our culture.

We all still speak Ojibwe, we all still practice our ways,

and it wasn't broken.

It was not taken away from us.


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