Each year, when the organizers of the One Heart Native Arts and Film Festival choose the theme for the event, they consider “What are the things that are resonating in the country today?” said executive director Josephine Keefe.

This year, it was the coronavirus pandemic, which Keefe said has hit Indian Country particularly hard. Many Native Americans have been ill with COVID-19 – including Keefe herself – and restrictions on public gatherings meant that powwows were canceled. One Heart Virtual Sweetgrass Festival: Sovereignty, Storytelling and Spirituality will respond to that loss of connection in online programs this Friday, Oct. 23 and Oct. 30.

“We realized that we needed to host an event of healing and togetherness,” Keefe said. “Gathering is an important part of Native culture, so we want to still honor that component of Native culture by hopefully creating an event that can bring that feeling back into our lives.”

Sweetgrass is a ceremonial plant symbolic of healing and peace, she said. “Themes of sovereignty, storytelling and spirituality will play a leading role in each of the three Friday night events,” she said.

The fifth annual festival kicks off Friday with an acting workshop led by actress Lily Gladstone.

“We’re going to be exploring this concept of your own power,” said Gladstone, who was raised on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and spent her teen years in the Seattle area, where her family still lives. Her credits include the films “Certain Woman” and “First Cow,” as well as appearances on Showtime’s “Billions,” HBO’s “Room 104” and at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

She’s excited to be able to work with Native youth, especially as opportunities for Native actors are expanding.

“When I was starting out, it was really hard to find projects where I felt that Natives were represtented well,” she said. “Now there is so much more representation … there are going to be more parts for everybody.”

During the class , which is sponsored by Red Eagle Soaring Native Youth Theatre, Gladstone will work with students on the best way to approach a script. She’ll be sharing tips that she learned as a teen that still serve her today, she said. The class will be streamed on Facebook Live.

For Gladstone, being a part of workshops like this is important because she still remembers the teachers and mentors who helped her as a kid.

“I remember being a kid and having this desire to be bigger in the world and express myself,” she said. Theater helped her do that. But the lessons from the class won’t only apply to acting, they’ll apply to any path a kid wants to take.

What she wants is for the kids to learn that they have power. “If you’ve got a passion for it, there’s a way,” she said.

The festival continues Oct. 23 with a screening of short films by local and regional Native filmmakers.

And for the final day of the festival, Oct. 30, One Heart will showcase contemporary Native musicians including Tony Louie (Colville Confederated Tribes), Shanon Hale (Three Affiliated Tribes), Julia Keefe (Nez Perce – and Josephine Keefe’s sister), the Wanderers (Spokane Tribe) and Daisy Chain (Haida/Pacific Islander).

All of the events are free.

Keefe hopes that participants, particularly members of the Native American community, will find some healing and interconnectedness, even in the virtual format.

“We’re striving to make each event an opportunity to celebrate contemporary Native culture and art,” she said.

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