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  • Writer's picturePaige Bethmann

Field Update: My Artistic Vision for the upcoming doc “Remaining Native”

Updated: Mar 27

Ku runs not only to honor his great grandfather but because he has the right to run. Through his legs he hopes to carry on this legacy and find success in his determination and ability as a runner.

My upcoming film “Remaining Native” is a coming-of-age documentary told from the perspective of Ku Stevens, a 17-year-old Native American runner, struggling to navigate his dream of becoming a collegiate athlete as the memory of his great grandfather's escape from an Indian boarding school begins to connect past, present, and future.

In 2021, 215 Indigenous children's remains were discovered in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, Canada. Indian boarding schools were a part of both the United States and Canadian federal policies for forced assimilation; the impacts of these schools resulted in loss of language, culture, and even death. For Kutoven Stevens, a 17-year old Native American high school senior and runner, this news resurfaces the memory of his great grandfather, Frank Quinn, who ran 50 miles, 3 times to escape from the Stewart Indian Boarding school, at only 8 years old. 


Frank’s memory becomes a part of Ku’s journey and Ku begins to understand that he can’t outrun his history but must learn how to run in parallel with it. In an act of reverence Ku and his family create an event called the Remembrance Run retracing the 50-mile escape route of his great-grandfather and inviting the community to run alongside him. As Ku draws power from Frank’s story, he begins garnering support and ultimately fulfills his dream of becoming the first Native American runner to be recruited by the University of Oregon. 

My grandmother once told me that the creator didn’t give us our stories in books. Stories are spoken. Words fall off the tongue and onto the land to seep into the dirt. These stories root down and grow back sprouting as living beings to be cared for and harvested as memories, always remembering to save the seeds to be planted again.

For me, telling a story is a continuous act of reciprocity. I think about this relationship in “Remaining Native”. 

The legacy of Indian boarding schools is ugly. It has thorns. Vines that are suffocating and often spread thick over the lives of many Native American families. Including my own. As I remember my grandmother’s teachings I now ask myself “what story do I want to be abundant?” “What story do I want the next caretaker to harvest and share?”

The story of Frank Quinn, escaping an Indian boarding school 3 times as an 8 year old boy is profound but the legacy he leaves behind spans generations through memories, love, and deep connection to culture. This is the story that flourishes and through time has synthesized into Ku, his great grandson, as he stretches towards the sun, preparing to bloom.

In “Remaining Native”, I hope to paint a picture of simultaneous complex narratives. Where time moves along but is broken in a traditional sense through memory. Our memories are always with us, Frank’s story and the survivors of boarding schools are ever present as Ku runs toward his dreams. 

Memories sparked in Ku, Delmar, and the community recall Frank’s escape, the experience of children at Stewart, and ancestral knowledge passed down through the Stevens family. 

“Remaining Native” interweaves verite footage capturing family dynamics, daily life on the reservation, and Ku’s high school racing season with a wide array of family archival and imagery from the Stewart boarding school, located in Carson City, Nevada, and was in operation from 1890-1980.

The film’s combination of verite footage and informal interviews builds an intimate relationship between the camera and Ku. As Ku experiences periods of loneliness and isolation, he confides in the camera - and us - like a close friend.

The cinematography captures sweeping vast landscapes, extreme close ups of the textures that define the desert and land which Frank navigated in order to get home, scenes that focus on the river where Delmar has been fishing since his own childhood and brought Ku to as a young boy, and the Paiute community, along with Delmar and Misty, coming together to forage native plants that have sustained people for thousands of years.

Both Ku and I feel deeply connected to the land and location of this story is just as much at the heart of it as anything else as sound is integral to the film. I want to fully capture the sound of running, feet striking the dirt road like a metronome. The quietness of the town. The beating of Native drumming and the rhythms of Native songs. The crowds at track meets.

We are working with Diné composer Kino Benally, from Shiprock, NM to create not just a score for the film but a soundscape. Kino joined us on the third Remembrance Run to capture audio, meet the Stevens, and gain direct insight into Ku’s world so we can develop a full audio narrative to accompany the film. 

Stay tuned for more information about the film and check out the teaser for the doc below.

Sincerely, Paige Bethmann, Director of "Remaining Native"

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