A story of Indigenous resilience, reclamation, and pride as 17 year-old Ku Stevens runs the 50 mile escape route of his great grandfather, Frank Quinn, who fled from Indian boarding school at only 8 years old.
REMAINING NATIVE is a documentary that tells the story of seventeen-year-old Kutoven “Ku” Stevens, an extraordinary young athlete, who organizes a two-day journey to travel the 50 mile escape route of his great-grandfather, Frank Quinn, who fled from the Stewart Indian School when he was 8 years old. Ku’s run, an act of remembrance, reconciliation, and reclamation comes in the wake of the first federal investigation into the Indian boarding school era.
The film takes place as Ku enters a pivotal point of his life as he and his family organize the “Remembrance Run”a two-day, 50-mile journey from the Stewart Indian School to the Yerington Paiute reservation. The decision to organize the run came after the news broke of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children were found at a former Indian Residential school in Canada. Ku, an accomplished athlete and descendant of a boarding school survivor, had the realization that if it wasn't for his great grandfather’s tenacity and determination to escape back then, that he might not be alive today.
The film will follow Ku as he navigates both the Remembrance Run and his upcoming senior year of high school where he faces the challenge to get accepted into a D1 running program. Ku is the only runner on his high school cross country team and has had to fight to even compete. He is up against a lack of funding as well as minimal institutional support and coaching. These obstacles continuously make it a challenge for him to receive recognition from recruiters on the college level. However, Ku has excelled on his own, even winning gold at the 2021 Jr. Olympics in Florida. Ku’s motivation to make into a college program comes from the lack of opportunities he's had living in a small town and his awareness of issues that exists living on the reservation surrounding drugs and alcoholism.
Ku’s determination to seek a better path runs parallel with the great grandfather’s story, although the stakes are much different. The film will show how Ku and his great grandfather both relied on their legs to get them out of a place that held them back from realizing their full potential and identity.
For Indigenous people, Ku and his legacy as a descendant of a boarding school survivor is a familiar aspect of many Native American identities. The film will highlight the shared history that exists among all native peoples and feature voices from Native scholars, athletes, activists, survivors, descendants, politicians, musicians, and those we meet on the run to add historical context, personal anecdotes, and commentary on the current federal investigation into the Indian boarding school era.
Most importantly, the film will be a celebration of intergenerational resilience. Despite a federal attempt at cultural genocide, Indigenous people are still here, proud, and continue to maintain a strong culture and community-- remaining native.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
My connection to this story is deeply personal. Like Ku, I’m also a descendant of an Indian residential school survivor.
In the early 1900’s, my great-grandmother, Mary Mitchell, was 10 years old when she was forcibly taken from the Mohawk reservation on St. Regis Island and was placed into a Catholic boarding school for Indian children in Upstate, NY. There she endured physical, mental, and sexual abuse. She was deterred from speaking her native language Mohawk with the threat of a needle being stuck in her tongue if she did and was forced to give up her Mohawk name, Kahnonsahwi, for a Catholic one, Mary. At boarding school, she was taught the responsibilities of being a housewife and when she was old enough she was sent to live with her sister in Rochester, NY as a newly reformed “American”.
When I came across Ku’s story and his Remembrance Run, I thought about my great-grandmother and wondered about what her life would have been like if she was able to escape like his great-grandfather.
I felt an obligation as a storyteller, filmmaker, and descendant of a boarding school survivor to become a caretaker of her past and one to those who share a similar story; so much so that I reached out to Ku and his family as a complete
stranger. As we spoke, we talked about what it was like to see the world reacting to the discovery of the unmarked graves of children at the Kamloops Indian residential school and how the history of residential schools and the horrors of assimilation policy had been taught to both of us at a young age. Most importantly, we talked about the need for healing. For both of us, the goal of his run and my film is to bring awareness to what happened at Indian boarding schools and to shine a light on the resilience of Indigenous people as the country reckons with the brutal attack on native culture.
My work as a filmmaker has often been driven by stories that encourage introspection. I push myself behind the camera to represent my subjects honestly with the passion that my Mohawk grandmother and traditional storyteller had for stories. The strong visuals, music, and subjects that I am drawn to in my work have their roots in those magical tales my grandmother used to tell.
Your support of this project means we can continue to tell Ku's story and that of so many others. The film will employ Native American musicians and visual artists to create the score and graphic elements of the project to fully interweave Indigenous voices/perspectives through our entire process.
-Paige Bethmann, Director/Producer