Jade Begay, Impact Producer & SFF Guest Curator
Jade Begay, Diné, Tesuque Pueblo.
VR Creator, Video Journalist, Impact Producer, Filmmaker, Indigenous Rights Activist.
Metal work, spending time in the natural world, cooking, and skiing/rock climbing.
Tesuque Pueblo/Santa Fe.
Where are you from and how did you decide to live in Santa Fe as an adult?
Santa Fe, or this land, which is occupied/unceded Tewa land, is my ancestral home. I belong to Te-Tsu-Geh Owingeh and the Diné Nation and was born in Santa Fe. When I was 17 I moved away for college and to become a filmmaker. After finishing grad school in Boulder, CO, I decided to move back home. I felt that given all the lessons I was learning through my work, it was the most responsible and grounding thing I could do for my community and my myself, respectively. I was doing a bunch of storytelling work on how Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge is one of the most important solutions for slowing down global warming, and how language and cultural revitalization was healing historical trauma, and I realized while documenting and sharing these stories that I needed to return home to reconnect with my ways. I want to participate in restoring balance and bringing forth healing in myself and in my community.
What is your personal background, and what was your professional journey to get to where you are today?
I went to film school at Columbia College Chicago, worked with the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and then got sick of the city, so I did some seasonal work in Northern California, if you catch my drift. I built some character, realized I wanted to do more land-based work, so I got an internship at EarthShip in Taos, NM. There, I gained some great practical skills in carpentry and adobe making, but realized that building homes with tires is pretty damn stupid because of how toxic those things are. Then, naturally, I went to graduate school at Naropa University in the Environmental Leadership Program. I did my thesis with Resource Media, a non-profit PR firm, and got a job with them right after. From there I went on to work at 350.org as the Multi-Media Producer. Then, when the Standing Rock movement began to escalate, I created a role between 350.org and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) to be on the ground and produce content, provide communications and digital strategy support. After Standing Rock, I began working with IEN and became the Communications and Digital Director. My journey has been guided by listening to my intuition and learning how to trust myself by taking risks.
How would you describe your work and what does your day-to-day look like?
My work requires that I am on the road, or “out in the field”, and that can look like a few different things. I could be out doing rapid response/video journalism work, I could be on location for a film production, I could be doing a training with a community and sharing skills and best practices for developing communications and digital media strategies, or I could be at conferences or film festivals talking about various issues, from decolonization in media to climate justice work. In between the “exciting” stuff, I can be found in my home office typing away on my laptop, destroying my posture, and writing proposals, grants, articles, and press releases. Usually, my cat is laying close by and I’ve got a cup of earl grey handy.
What aspect of your work are you most proud of?
That the people I work with trust me.
What's a favorite project you've worked on recently?
This summer I co-produced a video with my colleagues Joey Montoya and Dylan McLaughlin for the storytelling platform I co-manage, @IndigenousRising. The video is simply titled, “Families Belong Together” and we created it while at the Protecting Mother Earth Conference when the Trump administration was separating families on the southern border of the U.S. and was detaining fathers, mothers, and children in cages. The purpose of the video was to send a message to the families being separated. That message was: "All of our ancestors are with you, our spirits are with you. We invoke the spirit of self-determination of the Indigenous People of Turtle Island (the U.S.) and we commit to the continued liberation of all our relatives, of yours and our families and our territories. When we are done with our work fulfilling the Eagle and Condor prophecy, our children will be free to roam this land safe from violence and exploitation. As Indigenous Peoples, we are not immigrants in this continent.”
When we completed this short film, I showed it to a few of my mentors for approval. Before one of these mentors was able to speak her gratitude, she grabbed me with tears of grief flowing down her face and hugged me while weeping. For me, creating something that makes someone feel deep emotion like that, is all I ever want to do.
What's your ultimate goal for your work?
To produce content that inspires engagement and that challenges and dismantles colonial narratives and white supremacy.
What's your favorite thing about what you do?
Challenging and dismantling colonial narratives and white supremacy. And being able to work with some of the most spiritually and ecologically grounded humans on the planet.
What's the most challenging thing about your work?
Working against lateral oppression, capitalism and greenwashing, white supremacy, patriarchy, and apathy.
What makes Santa Fe special to you? What are your favorite things about this place?
On the spiritual level: This place is my motherland. It’s the place that I feel most nourished, most grounded, most connected to my true nature and my ancestors. I have a reciprocal relationship to this place that is ancient and embedded in my body and spirit.
On the surface level: I love that the people I grew up with live down the street from me and I see them every other day. I love the adobe. I love that there are things that haven't changed since before I was born.
What would you change about Santa Fe if you could?
I’m currently writing these responses in Banff, Canada, and something I appreciate when I come up to Canada is that there’s a much stronger effort to recognize place, land, and Indigenous Peoples. So for instance, during this film festival I just took part in, most sessions/events opened up with someone (non-native and/or native) giving a land acknowledgment. Even the hotel room I’m staying in has a little note on the table that says, “We are located on Treaty 7 Territory. We acknowledge the past, present, and future generations of Stoney Nakoda, Blackfoot, and Tsuut’ina Nations”. Given Santa Fe’s and New Mexico’s history, I wish Santa Feans and the city were more accountable and more engaged when it comes to truth and reconciliation.
In your opinion, how can newcomers to Santa Fe be more responsible community members and neighbors to the Native population of New Mexico?
First, I have to say that being a “responsible neighbor” or “ally”, especially in terms of non-native and native dynamics, requires time, commitment, and some pretty deep self-work to understand one’s own ignorance and how colonization and/or white supremacy has shaped one’s assumptions, perceptions, and even racism towards Indigenous Peoples.
That said, I think there are some starting questions, one could ask their self to begin the learning process, such as: Do I know who the original peoples of this land are? The original names of the territory? Do I know what the Conquistadors, like Juan De Onate, did to those original peoples? Do I acknowledge that what happened in the 1600’s made way for further western expansion and settler colonialism and that I benefit from the genocide of Native/Indigenous peoples and their communities being forced into reservations?
From there, I think the next questions one could go on to ask are: Do I know the modern day issues of the Nations/communities that are near me? Do I know where my energy comes from? Is it extracted from Native lands, from sacred lands? Am I paying reparations for the fact that my comfort comes at the expense of Indigenous peoples health and safety? How can I use my privilege, my platform, my business to advocate for and uplift Indigenous rights and sovereignty?
And if one wants to do an exercise in some deeper decolonization work, they could ask themselves, again with humility and practicing non-defensiveness: Am I welcome here by the original peoples of this land? Am I invited, knowing that this land was stolen? Am I perpetuating settler-colonialism and manifest destiny?
Recently, the topic of cultural appropriation was brought up on the Santa Fe Found Platform. What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation in Santa Fe specifically, and how can people ensure they are not appropriating native culture in their work?
This is a big question that I hope this platform is open to having a long ongoing discussion about it with many people, because I am just one person with some humble opinions, and I could never speak for all Indigenous Peoples or all Tewa or all Diné people.
With that acknowledged, Santa Fe has a pretty shameful legacy of cultural appropriation. For decades, and maybe even hundreds of years, we’ve seen non-native people “replicating/re-creating” and commodifying sacred items such as stone fetishes, rugs, blankets, jewelry, medicine, and sacred designs that are used in traditional ceremony. And they do so without any consideration of protocol or that these types of items have cultural meanings that are rooted in tradition and ceremony. Because of colonization, because of settler culture, people think these things are just for the taking. But again, that’s a colonized mindset, and anyone who perpetuates this is absolutely participating in cultural appropriation. Not only that, but when non-native people feel entitled to take these traditional art forms and “create” their own to sell, they are also stealing a market that rightfully belongs to Native/Indigenous Peoples only. I grew up in an artistic family and community and know firsthand the impacts of when non-native people come in, and not only steal our designs and traditional art forms, but also steal our ways of making a living. So for me, if you are using a Native/Indigenous design in your art, or you are “replicating a style or aesthetic”, and have not apprenticed or have not gone through the appropriate protocols to use those designs, then there is no excuse. You are appropriating and you need to stop, stay humble, and own up to your mistake. Too often I see non-native people get defensive when they are being called out, which then requires the native community or person to do even more emotional labor in dealing with that person's insecurities and ignorance. So if you are a non-native artist and you have a question about if what you're doing is immoral, even for the slightest second, here's my advice: just don't do it. Learn about your own ancestors' traditional art forms and reconnect with that.
Also, I think another problem that Santa Fe has, especially this millennial/hipster generation, is this obsession with the old west and the romanization or fetishization of Native culture, or as a friend of mine said, “a western renaissance that never happened”. I think this desire to “evoke” lifestyle or this “dream” of the “wild west” or the “last frontier” is super dangerous and hold a lot of potential for harm, because this was a period in time where the U.S. government and settlers led massacres, not just on the Indigenous Peoples of this entire nation, but also on our non-human relatives, such as the buffalo, and the land. So much of this country was deforested to make way for ranching and towns. I don’t think people realize how the glamorization of this era could be triggering for the native people/community they are living with and/or next to. And I know for some it’s just about a style or aesthetic, but I think it does have an effect on how we perceive the land and our entitlement to come in and settle and take. That anyone from L.A. or Brooklyn can just come on in because it’s a “dreamy vast landscape in the middle of nowhere”, no mind to the fact that “nowhere” is actually most likely sacred Indigenous land, and maybe the OG stewards of that place don’t want more people there. Another thing we need to consider, especially this month and as we approach “Thanksgiving”, is that these narratives of Settlers and Natives, or Cowboys and Indians, getting along and working together aren’t true -- at least not for the most part. We need to stop living this myth that that’s something happening now, because I see very little solidarity between the non-native millennial community and my Pueblo and Diné People.
What advice do you have for Santa Fe Found as a platform in respect to representing and supporting Native artists and creators in Santa Fe?
I really do appreciate that SFF is listening and receptive to the feedback it’s received and is open to this process. Just for some background: Santa Fe Found contacted me after I did an Instagram story about how NMTrue perpetuates this romanticization bullshit and asked if I wanted to be featured. I responded with “Yes,” but only if we highlight 3-4 other Native/Indigenous creators this month and if there’s continued effort to highlight the people who are from here beyond Native American Heritage month as to not “tokenize” us.
So, beyond integrating that representation and including those voices, I think it’s important for SFF and all businesses/platforms in this community to not just highlight our voices on Indigenous Peoples Day or Native American Heritage month, but to be actively engaged in what’s happening to the surrounding Native communities. For example, get involved with the efforts to stop fracking in Greater Chaco Region and support the Greater Chaco Coalition.
At the end of the day, why do you do what you do?
As a Diné woman it is my responsibility to walk in beauty, to do what I can so that Hózhó (balance) prevails and I want to be the best future ancestor I possibly can be.