Sharing Stories of Connectivity
During her first year at the University of Idaho, Sacha Wells realized she could use storytelling to bring ecology to life.
Wells, a recent graduate of conservation biology, came to U of I intent on studying ecology. As she pursued her degree, however, she was enamored with storytelling through filmmaking.
“Storytelling is such a powerful tool,” Wells said. “Combining image and sound into a film allows stories to be shared with anyone from anywhere.”
Wells started making films during her spare time and slowly developed her skills as an extracurricular activity.
“As I started looking for a job, the Discover Your Northwest position was exactly what I wanted,” she said.
Discover Your Northwest is a nonprofit, based in Seattle, Washington, focused on providing people with access to public lands and environmental stewardship education. They do work in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Northern California.
Colleen Mathisen, Discover Your Northwest Lolo Pass branch manager, worked with Wells and a team of artists to tell the story of the Nez Perce Tribe’s artistic traditions and connection with their land.
Talking to the Nez Perce people was empowering. The best way we can learn how to care for the earth is through listening to them. Sacha Wells ’21
“This is a story about sharing the connectivity the Nez Perce have with their art and the land they live on,” said Mathisen.
Sharing stories like this supports local artists and Nez Perce tourism. The film Wells helped create is used to draw in visitors to Idaho. It is shared locally and throughout the world.
Through interviews with Tribal members, Wells heard first-hand the importance of sharing Native American stories.
“Talking to the Nez Perce people was empowering,” Wells said. “The best way we can learn how to care for the earth is through listening to them.”
The film focused on the ways creative pieces such as beadwork made by the Nez Perce people show their culture and stories. It highlights the ways in which creativity communicates information about the creator. Creative works guide the way the Tribe cares for the environment around them. The skills and messages behind each creative process is passed down through each generation.
“Our goal of the film was to lift up the voices of Native American tribe members,” said Wells. “My role was facilitating their ability to tell stories about the Nez Perce cultural and artistic expression.”
Through the project, Wells met Stacia, a dancer and historian.
“As I spoke with her, she became emotional while she shared what it was like to connect to her heritage,” Wells said.
Stacia shared her struggle of feeling conflicted in her identity of being half Native American and half white. She shared her experience learning more about her Native heritage and participating in traditional activities to reclaim her identity.
“Throughout this process, we learned the value of listening to others,” Mathisen said. “Listening to both the Nez Perce and the students involved in the project led to the most organic story.”
Wells continues to make films in connection with the natural world and plans to work as an interpretive park ranger this summer.
“I want to continue teaching people about ecology and biology through a medium that I am passionate about,” she said, “Working with the Parks Service will allow me to share stories of the natural world with the public.”
By Katy Wicks for University Communications and Marketing.
Published in May 2021.