A new short documentary featuring the Quapaw Nation’s efforts at regenerative agriculture through the reintroduction of bison makes its Oklahoma premiere on the Quapaw Nation Reservation Monday. “Regeneration of Land and Culture” by documentary filmmaker Brooke Bierhaus, in collaboration with the Quapaw Nation, debuts at the historic Coleman Theater in Miami, Oklahoma, Monday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. A question and answer session with Bierhaus and Quapaw Nation Chairman Joseph Tali Byrd will immediately follow the screening.
“My top priorities will always be promoting our culture, revitalizing our language and preserving our heritage. But if we can’t feed our people, we will never be truly sovereign,” said Quapaw Nation Tribal Chairman Joseph Tali Byrd. “We were the first tribe in Oklahoma to reintroduce bison to tribal lands, the first and only tribe to have a USDA-certified processing plant and a farmer’s market. The foresight we’ve shown is paying off amid supply chain shortages and empty store shelves across the country. What we’ve created on the Quapaw Reservation has become a model for even non-tribal communities and governments. There’s never been a better time to show the world how the Quapaw Nation is feeding our people responsibly, sustainably and in a way that also addresses the climate crisis.”
Filmmaker Brooke Bierhaus is based in northwest Arkansas, just a short distance from the Quapaw Nation Reservation. She collaborated with the Quapaw Nation for months to document how the tribe has refocused its efforts on sustainable ancestral food practices, its focus on food as a primary component of tribal sovereignty and the agricultural impact of bison reintroduction to tribal lands.
“My film looks at regenerative agriculture and what that means to the Quapaw Nation,” Bierhaus said. “When I moved to northwest Arkansas two years ago, I began seeing the work the Quapaws were doing, specifically around the reintroduction of the buffalo. It’s a wonderful reminder that our Native brothers and sisters are the first caretakers and first protectors of this land, and their knowledge is something we all need to listen to.”
Regenerative agriculture emphasizes practices that manage the entire ecosystem rather than primarily focusing on high production yields crops. When executed well, regenerative agriculture can rebuild soil and organic matter and even help reverse climate change. The Quapaw Nation has engaged in regenerative agriculture for years. They were the first tribe in Oklahoma to reintroduce bison to their reservation more than ten years ago and have used that momentum to build one of the top food sovereignty and sustainability programs in Indian Country.
“Other tribes and even the state of Oklahoma have looked to the Quapaw Nation for guidance over the years because of our model of sustainability. We are building the foundation of a food economy that strengthens sovereignty beyond our treaties with the federal government and lessens our reliance on Congress. It’s an exciting time to be Quapaw, and we’re thrilled to share this story with our Quapaw people and the world.”
The Quapaw Nation has long led Indian Country in food sustainability and sovereignty programs, owning and operating food and agriculture ventures like the Quapaw Cattle Company. The Quapaw Cattle Company humanely raises high-quality, grass-fed and grain-finished hormone-free beef and bison. In 2017, the tribe opened the nation’s first tribally-owned and operated USDA-certified processing plant, which includes a test kitchen, food-safety laboratory and training classroom. The plant processes only Grade-A beef and bison from the tribe’s herd.
The O-Gah-Pah Coffee Company is an in-house coffee roaster that takes the finest coffee beans from as far away as Guatemala and Ethiopia to roast on-site and package under the “O-Gah-Pah” label, which is the traditional word for “Quapaw.” O-Gah-Pah Coffee is currently offered in six different varieties, ranging from light to dark flavors. The Quapaw Farmer’s Market and Food Hub located on Route 66 hosts local vendors selling produce, honey, crafts and the Quapaw Nation’s meats, coffee and other items.
Bierhaus says her filmmaking focuses on narrative-driven storytelling about sustainability, food security, climate change and how those issues intersect, so telling the Quapaw Nation’s dedication to sustainable food and agriculture fits her portfolio. In addition, Bierhaus is known for immersing herself in a subject as part of her filmmaking process. Her young career already includes filming in 22 countries and navigating nine languages to explore her topics. She said when she came to the Quapaw Reservation, onlookers were curious but welcoming.
“One of my first jobs out of college was at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. There, they spoke about how bison helped combat climate change. But I didn’t only want to hear from scientists and researchers. I wanted to hear from the first relatives of the buffalo,” Bierhaus said. “When I reached out to the Quapaw Nation, they were so welcoming and open to me to create something special, and I hope we did.”
Chairman Byrd said the tribe was happy to participate and provide context for the film.
“Our O-Gah-Pah people have always had a close connection to agriculture and especially the bison, through historical, cultural, and agricultural context. But our story is often told through the lens of anthropologists and archeologists, so people don’t always learn that,” Chairman Byrd said. “We hope this documentary will reveal the depth of our people and our tribe within regenerative agriculture. We’re very excited to let our Quapaw Nation citizens be some of the first people to view this documentary at the historic Coleman Theater.”
Bierhaus echoed Chairman Byrd’s sentiments about what it means for the Quapaw people to be among the first to view the film.
“If there is one thing I could say to the Quapaw people, it would be ‘thank you,’” Bierhaus said. “When I was filming the bison, tribal members would approach me and ask, ‘hey, what are you working on?’ I would explain what I was doing, and instead of feeling like I shouldn’t be here, I felt like they were saying ‘welcome to our land.’ They seemed grateful for the project. So I’m just very happy and grateful that Quapaw tribal members are going to be among the first to see this film.”
The historic Coleman Theater open to the public at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 6. Before “Regeneration of Land and Culture” filmgoers will be treated to a special screening of another short film, this one produced by the Quapaw Nation. It features Quapaw Nation citizens and Vietnam veterans Henry Ellick and Bill Griffin. Native Americans serve in the military at a higher rate per capita than any other ethnicity, and the short film allows Ellick and Griffin to share the story of their time in Vietnam in their own words.
“Regeneration of Land and Culture” by Brooke Bierhaus and in collaboration with the Quapaw Nation, begins at 7 p.m. A question and answer session with Chairman Byrd and Bierhaus will immediately follow. Upon conclusion of the films and public forum, a hosted reception will follow in the Coleman Ballroom with light appetizers and refreshments.
There is no admission fee to the event, but donations to the Quapaw Nation Blessing Tree are welcome and appreciated. This is the second year the Quapaw Nation has hosted a Blessing Tree to ensure every Quapaw child had a bright and happy holiday, regardless of their family’s financial status.
The Coleman Theater is at 103 N. Main Street in Miami, Oklahoma. To RSVP or for more information, please contact John Rodgers at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (918) 919-6054.