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Native Growth: Film documents young Navajo leaders’ efforts to shape community

It’s been a long five years for Ramona Emerson.

During that time, Emerson was at the helm of the documentary “The Mayors of Shiprock.”

The film will have a free screening on June 23 at the KiMo Theatre.

“This film really gives people a chance to see a positive side of life on the reservation,” she says. “A lot of documentaries are so stereotypical and focused on the negative. I never wanted to make a film like that, so I thought in a different way.”

“The Mayors of Shiprock” follows a group of young Navajo leaders who meet each Monday in Shiprock to decide how they will help their community.

For over seven years, the Northern Dine Youth Committee has worked to give youths opportunities to make changes within their community. Although the committee works to make changes, many members also consider their own futures, commitments to family and the world outside Shiprock. While they love their community, they all must consider their options both on and off the reservation.

Emerson says filming for five years helped her see how important making a difference was to the group of young adults.

“I’m really so proud of them,” she says. “I’ve been watching them grow up through my lens. They are all family now, and I need to make sure that they stay on their course and continue to succeed at what they are doing. I really wanted to showcase the uniqueness of what they are doing.”

“The Mayors of Shiprock” is Emerson’s sixth film.

She likes to focus on stories with perseverance.

“There are always obstacles in life,” she says. “I want to tell the stories of how we overcome things. By telling these types of stories, it helps give people a sense of empowerment.”

Emerson says being able to show the film to Native American children is a point of inspiration for them.

“They can finally see people who look like them and are making a difference,” she says. “It’s important for me to help be that voice for the generation.”

Emerson is looking forward to screening the film to bigger audiences and wants to hear feedback.

“The most important thing for a film like this is to start the conversation,” she says.

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