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2022 | Film 9 MIN. | English


(What They’ve Been Taught)

Brit Hensel with Keli Gonzales (Cherokee Nation)

Filmed on the Qualla Boundary and Cherokee Nation, ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) - pronounced "oo-day-yoh-nuh" - explores expressions of reciprocity within Cherokee communities, brought to life through a story told by an elder and first language speaker. ᎤᏕᏲᏅ is a reflection on tradition, language, land, and a commitment to maintaining balance. This film was created in collaboration with independent artists from both Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

See the making of video here.


Artists Statement

It is important to us that this film included the perspectives of western and eastern Giduwa (Cherokee) people. Although our communities are separated by distance, our collaboration on this film offers a balanced perspective of what reciprocity means to our people and how it’s actualized in our lives. This film was brought to life by a team of all Giduwa people, in front of and behind the camera, and was shot on lands that have shaped us.

Caring for the Land, Nurturing the Language

Today’s Cherokees are organized into three federally-recognized tribes: Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. As with most of the films in this series, language is conveyed as an integral part of how Indigenous peoples interact with the land through culture and their distinct worldviews to enact reciprocity. Tom Belt demonstrates how embedded in the Cherokee language are worldviews for which concepts often do not have easy translations into English. For instance, the fact that there is no word for art, and that the idea of creating something with its source in the natural world means that the artist is not creating something new, but simply remaking that material into something else. “Art” is thus both a medium for creative cultural expression and that which connects humans to the natural world through the transformation of natural materials into what we call art.

Tom also shares another key perspective, that the world does not belong to humans. He tells us the ownership of the world belongs to those who came before humans, making humans merely guests who have “to be as careful and responsible as we can be.”

This film further exposes how gratitude and gifting are intertwined as necessary ingredients of reciprocity. Did you notice in the beginning of the film the offering of tobacco as the tree was taken so the masks could be made? In American Indian cultures the offering of tobacco is an almost universal element of thanksgiving. Other things could be given as an offering as well. By assuming responsibility and respect for what is being taken, the offering constitutes an act of reciprocity and gratitude.

Discussion Questions

  • What did you learn about the Cherokee perspectives and values you saw in this film?
  • What do you think is the meaning of the following statements made by the film’s narrator?
    • You are making it into a thing, you are not making a thing
    • Real human beings don’t do that
    • We are here as guests
  • According to the film’s narrator, what do human beings need to be reminded of with every cycle of the moon?
  • What response did you have to the masks that appeared at the beginning and end of the film? What questions do you have about Cherokee masks?
  • What is the difference between the way tobacco is used in this film and the way tobacco is commonly used by non-Native people?

Additional Resources

Downloadable Learning Materials

Learning Materials & Poster

Press Kit & Transcript

News & Press Links

Behind the scenes

A child is filmed while they cover their face with a wooden mask

John Henry Gloyne and his son Elwood Gloyne sitting at desk holding a booger mask mid-carving.

A woman in red jacket films a man in a carved wooden mask on a bridge

Blake Brown filming a booger near waterfall on bridge.

A women leans forward in her seat next to a camera and tripod

Brit Hensel interviewing Tom Belt.

A women points in a group with a camera operator and a man in carved wooded mask

Brit Hensel giving direction to Blake Brown and Nick Buttram during filming of booger scene.

A child colors at his desk while being filmed by a camera operator.

Nick Buttram films Elwood Gloyne as he colors at his desk.

A man sits next to a fireplace being interviewed

Tom Belt as he sits in front of the camera during an interview.

hand drawn waves texture

News & Press

ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) in the News

December 6, 2022

FOX Carolina

Documentary filmed in NC receives international recognition

Read article

December 4, 2022

Tulsa World

Tulsans of the Year: Cherokee filmmaker Brit Hensel makes history at Sundance Film Festival

Read article

December 2, 2022

Los Angeles Times

LA Times Today: Behind the documentary short “ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught)”

Read article

Critical acclaim for this film

Official Sundance 2022 Film Festival Laurel
Offical Skabmagovat 2022 film festival laurel
Official Big Sky 2022 film festival laurel
Official Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2022 Laurel
Official Cartagena International Film Festival 2022 Laurel
Official 2022 Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital Laurel
Official Salem Film Festival 2022 Laurel
Athens International Film + Video Festival 2022
Official Selection Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2022 Laurel
Official Aspen Shortsfest 2022 Laurel
Official Selection Riverrun International Film Festival 2022 Laurel
Official Kansas City Film Fest International 2022 Laurel
Official Selection Hot Docs 2022 Laurel
Official Selection Independent Film Festival Boston 2022 Laurel
Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival 41 Official Selection 2022
Official Selection Mountainfilm 2022 Laurel
Official Selection Atlanta Docufest 2022
Official Selection 2022 NW Folklife Film Forum
Official Selection deadCenter film festival 2022
BFF Laurels 2022
2022 BAM Cinema Fest Official Selection
Māoriland Film Festival Official Selection 2022
2022 Official Selection Blackstar Film Festival
Official Selection Indy Shorts International Film Festival 2022
Official Selection Traverse City Film Festival 2022
Official Selection Woods Hole Film Festival 2022
Official Selection 2022 Regina International Film Festival & Awards
Official Selection Vancouver Queer Film Festival
Official Selection Sidewalk Film Festival
Official Selection, Edmonton International Film Festival 2022
Official Selection Local Sightings Film Festival 2022
Official Selection San Diego International Film Festival
Woodstock Film Festival 2022
Indie Cork Film Festival
Official Selection Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival 2022
Green Film Festival of San Francisco 2022
2022 image NATIVE Official Selection
Wo FIF Glasgow 2022
Official Selection Cucalorus Film Festival 2022
Official Selection Boone Docs 2023
Official Selection Birrarangga Film Festival 2023
2023 Official Selection Capital City Film Festival

"Brit’s film is a beautiful meditation of sound and space, expressing her people’s reciprocal relationship to the natural worlds that they exist in."

- Sterlin Harjo