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El Pueblo History Museum’s Indigenous Film Festival explores themes of borderlands 

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The divisions that have shaped this country and our individual communities are built on centuries of history. Exploring that history, El Pueblo History Museum will be opening a new exhibit in the spring, taking a look at the borderlands of Southern Colorado. Their second annual Indigenous Film Festival, in honor of Native American Heritage Month, builds on the theme of borderlands in anticipation of the exhibit, each film speaking to some kind of divide, be it cultural or physical.

Zach Werkowitch, the museum’s community relations coordinator, says: “These films play with that idea, [that] borderlands are much more than a physical place where a fence exists.”

This one-day festival will present five films: Luisa Torres, The Border Crossed Us, Papa Mau: The Wayfinder, The Mountain Ute of Southern Colorado: From an Outsider’s Point of View (a film created by CSU-Pueblo honors students) and This May Be the Last Time.

Some of these films address broad cultural truths such as The Border Crossed Us, which looks at the Tohono O’odham, whose lands overlap the U.S. and Mexico border and whose culture has changed since immigration policies have criminalized their way of life. Other films narrow the focus, telling personal tales. This May Be the Last Time follows filmmaker Sterlin Harjo’s look at the mysterious disappearance of his grandfather in 1962, while examining Muscogee Creek songs influenced by slave hymns and Appalachian music. “And [these songs] are sung in Oklahoma,” Werkowitch says, “which makes it a very interesting borderlands story in itself.”

Werkowitch expresses particular excitement for Papa Mau: The Wayfinder, which tells the story of Mau Piailug, once the last living person to practice traditional Micronesian navigation techniques. Werkowitch says the concept of passing down that kind of rich cultural heritage is significant to the museum’s mission.

“One thing that the community museums of History Colorado do,” he says, “is we try to help communities preserve their own memory and traditions.” El Pueblo History Museum not only preserves the memories of particular neighborhoods, but also organizes exhibits around themes in the local community.

Hence, the borderland. “Southern Colorado is a pretty broad borderland in itself,” Werkowitch says. “The border used to run on the river here through Pueblo, but it’s a much broader area. [A] physical borderland and a cultural borderland.”

The day’s films should provide a unique insight into what borderlands can be or represent, and into the divisions within our own cultures and communities, specifically indigenous communities locally and nationwide.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Mau Piailug practiced Polynesian navigation. We regret the error.

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