Above photo: Mikayla filming at Quinault Nation with Tyson Johnston and Ryan Hendricks.
Facing The Storm.
My love of stories, and of storytelling brought me to a small community café to meet and talk to an amazing filmmaker. I wanted to know what inspired her to create these short films and what her hopes were in capturing the fight for water and land raging across Indian Country might be.
It is also my honor to introduce Mikayla Gingrey, a flourishing film maker, and her talented assistant, her mother Marya Gingrey both are descendants of the Apache nation. I have been invited to introduce and write accompanying articles about the upcoming docuseries, Facing the Storm: The Indigenous Response to Climate Change, an Aminata Multimedia Group docuseries. Mikayla is using her talent to highlight and document the important stories that often get overlooked, the struggles, the heartbreaking losses, along with the love, and sometimes overlooked triumphs of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
These films will highlight indigenous leaders, activist, and community members who are working towards our collective future here. This series is our chance to spotlight the achievements, not usually acknowledged in mainstream media. It is also an important chance to give voice to and shine a light on those who are working to combat climate crisis, and to those providing spaces for healing and growth in our indigenous communities. All with the hope of creating real and lasting change. I wanted to use this first article to introduce Last Real Indian readers to this beautiful and talented duo, Mikayla, and her amazing assistant, Marya.
Before diving into the articles that will accompany Facing the Storm film series, I wanted to get to know the creative team a little more. I wanted to understand and share with you what brought her to these issues and concerns unique to our indigenous communities. I asked Mikayla’s mom about her daughter’s artistic drive. I have to say, It is really beautiful how Marya’s eyes light up as she tells me the stories about a young Mikayla who was drawn to the worlds and characters found in plays and within the television. Surrounded by culture and artistic opportunities, plus Marya’s gentle guidance Mikayla’s creative abilities continued to grow and blossom. It is lovely, the pride that radiates from Marya when she speaks about her talented daughter.
Even though Mikayla grew up surrounded by family, love, and amazing experiences, the filmmaker before me today was equally shaped by tragedy. When Mikayla was about 11 years old doctors found a cyst on her spinal cord making it hard and painful for Mikayla to walk. To correct this, she had to have surgery on her spine. A traumatizing experience in itself for any child to endure. This surgery left the always active Mikayla paralyzed from the waist down. The surgery that was supposed to take the pain away and allow her more freedom instead condemned her to never feel her legs again. At least, that was the prognosis from doctors after the surgery, Mikayla would never walk again. Mikayla and Marya both agree, that even though this tragedy left lasting scars, it also helped to open new doors and inspire new views for the young Mikayla.
While searching for alternative healing ideas and to keep the active 11-year-old Mikalya’s spirits up and active, Marya immersed her daughter in stories. Mikayla wrote her first Screenplay as she fought to regain her ability to walk. Mikayla not only wrote the screenplay, but she also directed and cast her friends into their roles, finally filming her first official work. Marya said in those moments she saw Mikayla using her creative talent to heal. After filming Mikayla looked at her mother and said she was going to be a filmmaker. Since that summer Marya deemed it her honor and privilege to feed and ignite Mikayla’s creative flame as Mikayla defied medical opinion and reclaimed her ability to walk.
Fast forward to teenage Mikayla meeting the director of Meet the Robinson’s. As a child Mikayla really connected with the characters and the story he told. I think what a lot of people don’t know is that the director of meet the Robinson’s was a foster child himself. That is why the story in some respects reflected his own personal experience and his journey in defiance of personal obstacles. The hope of finding a family is a dream so many of us foster kids have. For Mikayla this was a connection that resonated with her and knowing his experience helped her understand the emotions attached to the characters within the animated film. More than ever, Mikayla found herself inspired to add those pieces and reflections of her own experience as she put together her own projects.
In high school, Mikayla battled with her dream of being a filmmaker and the worry of being able to make a real living. She also wanted to live up to the expectations she felt Marya and other adults had towards her. Marya wasn’t privy to Mikayla’s internal struggle, but she felt something was not sitting right. Even from the first meeting, just watching Mikayla work, it was easy to see that Mikayla is a very thoughtful young woman. She is not the type to take away from anyone or burden others for her personal convenience. So, it is easy for me to imagine the internal war Mikayla waged on herself when it came to deciding between what she thought she should do and what she really wanted to do. Mikayla was lucky to have two amazing mentors who recognized and encouraged her talent. Thank you to Mark Schwartz and Michelle Gilles for guiding and encouraging Mikayla to follow her dream.
For Mikayla, the most important person, Marya, gave her the final and most impactful nudge. Marya knew, as mothers often do, something was not right. Mikayla would make a great Entertainment Lawyer but was she really happy with this career choice. Mikayla admitted she wanted to make Marya proud, she felt like she should follow in Marya’s footsteps. Hearing this Marya told Mikayla the words she needed to hear, “What makes me proud is seeing you live your dreams.” There was magic in these words Mikayla needed to hear. They were simple, but heartfelt words that set Mikayla free from the expectations that had been holding her back.
Mikayla is a born storyteller, finding the inspiration for her stories in both the real world and the created worlds weaving them into the dreams and possibilities we all need to hear. It is so amazing watching Mikayla light up, seeing her stories take shape, evolving into the worlds and characters only she can create. Her Senior thesis project The Unexpected Hero won Mikayla awards and recognition and became an important stepping stone in her passion of telling stories that recognize inspirational heroes who inspire real change.
Through Marya’s work with HealthierHere she was introduced to and worked with Unkitawa an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for Native Americans in rural and urban settings. Kyle Schierbeck, knowing about Mikayla’s work, Kyle introduced an opportunity through the Equation Campaign to Marya. The Equation Campaign was looking for opportunities to highlight, inspire, and most of all honor the people who have and are doing the work to protect our futures against the fossil fuel giant’s destructive and deadly campaign.
Mikayla, from the very beginning was very intentional about her use of this project to provide opportunities for indigenous youth. Mikayla is determined to provide tomorrow’s leaders with real experience to gain the knowledge they can use on their resumes for opportunities not usually afforded our BIPOC children. Even though it is usually a requirement needed to enter the often exclusive film industry. Over the summer and into early fall Mikayla will be working with community members to highlight, the consequences of irresponsible practices. She will dive into not only the cost, but the loss associated with fossil fuel extraction, transportation, and use. Beyond the damage and loss, she also wants to lend light to the healing found in community and culture, the places where we are finding healing and the safe spaces we are not only flourishing in, but where we are now leading the way. The indigenous voice, our teachings, our way of community, are all important to set the example for a better future with water and land where life can flourish.
Mikayla’s ability to see beyond the veil, to give voice to and to highlight an important perspective often overlooked, all while furthering her love of stories, is an amazing ability that requires an insight not often found in someone so young and talented. The stories not told are usually the stories we should hear, even if they make you uncomfortable, in fact, I think especially if they make us uncomfortable. I find myself inspired by Mikayla’s passion, her drive, and the heart she brings to these storied landscapes. I find her spirit and ideals admirable in shaping the stories she tells to inspire, the opportunities she is able to offer, and the call to action she issues in this docuseries addressing indigenous action in the current climate crisis. It is my honor to introduce Mikayla Gingrey and her amazing mother/ assistant Marya and I for one can’t wait to meet the heroes and to help write the stories to accompany this very important and necessary docuseries.
Watch the trailer here