Stories articles Kin Theory

Kin Theory team members at imagineNATIVE 2023

Kin Theory team members Jessica Ramirez, Victoria Cheyenne, Julie Keck, and Michelle Hurtubise at imagineNATIVE 2023. Photo Credit: Justin Deegan.

December 12, 2023

My Year of Kinship

By Victoria Cheyenne

When I was little, my days were filled with long hikes and outdoor adventures with my mama and my little brother Liam. On each trek, I’d fill my pockets: turned leaves, odd rocks, broken branches. Maybe, if I was fast enough, a handsome summer bullfrog.

However, when it was time to return home, my mama made sure my pockets were emptied. For a time, Liam and I would whine, but we’d soon understand that she was teaching us that these beautiful things were for us to hold and appreciate but not ours to take. We were visitors in their home. She was teaching us to prioritize kinship and connection over ownership and collection, a way of honoring our ancestors and respecting the Earth.

With my background in film and television production, I know well what it’s like to swim upriver in systems designed for people who aren’t me. It can be exhausting to exist in a way that feels perpetually questioned by outdated, thoughtless systems. But my work with Kin Theory, a global community for Indigenous creatives, has allowed me to put my mama’s kinship lessons into practice and deepen them in new ways.

Kin Theory: An Opportunity to Share and Learn from Other Indigenous Creatives

I joined Kin Theory as an Indigenous creator in 2022, after learning about it from my fellowship with NeXtDoc. A few months later, in January of 2023, as I prepared to screen my film Learning I’m Home at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, I was invited by Kin Theory to be a part of their DocShop panel “Caring For Story by Caring for Community.” This is how I found myself in February sitting alongside Kin Theory members Ramona Emerson, David Hernández Palmar, and Ivy MacDonald, guided by Tracy Rector (Managing Director, Storytelling, Nia Tero) in a discussion about our shared desire for systemic change toward reciprocity in storytelling.

At this event, I shared about my film, which followed Indigenous college students finding community on campus, and how I’d received criticism from non-Natives who had expected more trauma onscreen and wanted to tell me what an Indigenous movie should look like. In response, Tracy said, “We also need space for stories of Indigenous love and joy - not only pain.” I was reminded of why it’s so important to hear voices that sound like mine (and my mother’s) in industry spaces and elsewhere.

I knew I wasn’t alone in my desire for connection with other Indigenous creatives to learn from and share with. My heart filled with excitement at the prospect of joining the Kin Theory team in the spring as the Outreach Coordinator. In this role, I’ve focused on deepening our connections with Indigenous media makers and meeting new ones. It was a dream mission to be handed and one that allowed me to grow alongside the initiative.

Stories are how I’ve always cared for myself and others. Through this year of dialogues with creatives, I’ve had the privilege of feeding these stories that nourish all of us at once, because we are sitting at the table side by side.

Bringing people together has been at the core of Kin Theory’s initiatives this year. Monthly, I facilitate virtual Office Hours events. During each session, we invite our community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous creators, to celebrate a member of the community or a partner in our shared work of making the film and television industry a better, safer, more joyful space for Indigenous media makers. So far, I’ve gotten to be in conversation with partners like Molly Murphy from WorkingFilms and Ranell Shubert from IDA (International Documentary Association), as well as amazing 4th World Media Lab fellows.

In August, the Kin Theory team met in Philadelphia to celebrate diverse, global majority voices in storytelling at the BlackStar Film Festival. With our friends at BGDM (Brown Girls Doc Mafia,) we hosted a mixer for our overlapping communities. Over 100 people came through to meet new friends, catch up with old ones, and celebrate the powerful ways we work together to bring BIPOC stories into the world.

Most recently, we all came together in Toronto, ON, to produce an event for imagineNATIVE’s Industry Days. There I was honored to guide a discussion with the Indigenous filmmakers who are part of the second season of Reciprocity Project. As I talked with these creators from across Rotuma, Taiwan, Sierra Leone, Sápmi, and Turtle Island, I was struck once again by how important it is to have dedicated spaces to talk about how our Indigenous stories are so intimately connected to our individual and shared work of land stewardship.

I’ve been honored to support Kin Theory’s mission, which is rooted in the idea when we support narrative sovereignty, we increase awareness of Indigenous practices that heal our shared planet environment and all who call it home. As I continue to deepen my understanding of reciprocity, I’ve reflected on this question: “What does it mean to be in a better relationship to one another and all beings seen and unseen?” The lesson I learned most about kinship this year is to search for the “unseen” and to listen for the voices that may not always be the loudest - they often have the most to share.

A Journey of Kinship

As I enter a new year of change and growth, I take with me these kinship practices and feel honored for this opportunity to share my knowledge, skills, and energy with our community, but I’m also astonished at how that energy has flowed right back into my own creative work. This year I’ve made great headway on my first feature documentary, How To Be A Daughter. It’s a very personal piece, rooted in a trip with my mama back to her homelands in Bolivia to meet the family that had spent 50 years searching for her, expanding outward into a matrilineal exploration of how the women in my family are learning to heal our grief over loss of language, family, and culture.

Showing up and giving my all to the Kin Theory community has been a beautiful journey that feels circular to the values my mom demonstrated for me (and our ancestors demonstrated for us). As I breathe in all that must be to come in next year’s adventure, I hold kindness for myself and others that we are right on time for our journey of kinship.

About the Author

Victoria Cheyenne [She/her] | Tsétsêhéstâhese/Aymara | Montana (Turtle Island)] is an Indigenous Bolivian-American documentary filmmaker. She is driven by stories of female identity, family dynamics, and cultural heritage. Cheyenne is a 2022 NeXt Doc Fellow and a proud member of the Chicana Directors Initiative. Her activism focuses on sovereign issues such as #LandBack and MMIP. Her documentary short film Learning I’m Home premiered at the 2023 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, winning the bronze award in the Indigenous Documentary Film competition. Cheyenne is the Outreach Coordinator for Kin Theory, a storytelling initiative of Nia Tero connecting and uplifting Indigenous creators around the globe. She previously worked as a producer, director, and editor for digital original productions at Comedy Central.