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It’s not incorrect to say that Children of the Setting Sun Productions makes independent movies and videos, but that description leaves out the sheer number of projects, passions, and possibilities created by the organization. Executive Director Darrell Hillaire had me sit down with four young team members to find out what they do, and how they are affecting the world around them.

“The Children of the Setting Sun was originally a group of storytellers — in the form of a singing and dance group led by one of Darrell’s ancestors — that shared stories through song and dance,” says Cyrus James. They produced theatrical and stage performances, and from there it evolved to making videos. “That part began with the Salmon People movie, and evolved into using film- and video-making to share the stories of the indigenous people in our area, the Coast Salish area.”

While Hillaire created the organization, it quickly becomes clear why I am hearing from his assistant and members of the production team. “Darrell has had a lot of different leadership roles throughout his life. He used to be Chairman of the Lummi Tribe and founded the Lummi Youth Academy, and after that he wanted to start sharing stories,” James says. “A lot of what he does is paving the way to leadership for youth. He puts us in positions that set us up to learn how to make a change.”

From left to right: Isabella James, Santana Rabang, and Cyrus James. Executive Director Darrell Hillaire sent the talented young team to answer questions for this article as one way to help prepare them for future leadership roles. Photo courtesy Children of the Setting Sun Productions

The Salmon People Project is a multi-faceted endeavor that will bring several different versions of media to the public eye. “The original Salmon People movie began three or four years ago, and now we’re moving in the direction of a full-length feature,” says James. The film is centered around the lives of fishermen, and how the lives of salmon relate to the identity of indigenous people. “And acknowledging that the earth is suffering, and that we’re losing a lot of salmon,” says James. “A lot of it is based around the question that the late Lummi Chairman Larry Kinley asked: ‘Who are we without salmon, and how does that create an understanding of identity?’”

Along with the movie, there’s another Salmon People project they hope will eventually be on Netflix as a six-part series. “Our production capabilities have increased, and we have a new editor, so we’re redoing a lot of things and adding a lot of archival footage,” James says. “It’s much bigger than when it began, and it’s changed a lot.” The group is striving to wrap up the project within the next year.

Children of the Setting Sun Productions are contracted to make informative videos locally, and documentary features for a global audience. Photo courtesy Children of the Setting Sun Productions

The same foundation holds both productions together, allowing salmon to illustrate what ties Whatcom County to the rest of the world.

“We have to create a mindset shift, where we don’t own the salmon or the water. We’re wards, or custodians,” says Free Borsey. He then lays out the four statements that guide the entire project: “Who are we with salmon? Who are we without salmon? The salmon run is worldwide — across Asia, down past Japan, through the Polynesian Islands, to South America. So salmon people are worldwide.”

While the feature film is supported by Visionmaker Media, a branch of PBS, much of Setting Sun’s support comes from closer to home, including community members.

“We are sponsored through a bunch of foundations, like the Water Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Satterberg Foundation, and the Vadon Foundation,” says Santana Rabang. “There’s a long list of others that support us, and PeaceHealth and GroupHealth have been good partners. We partnered with them to do land acknowledgments at each hospital location, and they’ve been really supportive of our work.”

A large part of the group’s documentary work includes conducting interviews to learn diverse stories and perspectives. Photo courtesy Children of the Setting Sun Productions

When mentioning sponsors, Rabang is also talking about the mission that lies at the heart of her team’s work. “The money is not just about fundraising, but about relationships,” she says. “A home for many people to live together in unity is the goal. Salmon doesn’t only feed us and provide family incomes, it teaches us valuable life lessons. It teaches us respect and generosity and reconnects us to the land and water.”

In addition to the Salmon People Project, the Setting Sun crew is hard at work on projects that stay closer to home. “We’re contracted by organizations in the area to do Native-based filmmaking, to share issues relevant to those organizations,” says James. Currently, their biggest contract is with Accountable Communities of Health, whose work is to educate healthcare providers, create accountability, and strengthen relationships in healthcare. “We’re making a video with each of the eight Tribes in this region, to show what healthcare means to them.” ACH will then share that media with providers, to help educate them on the meaning of healthcare in these indigenous communities.

Children of the Setting Sun has evolved over the decades from telling stories through dance to telling stories onscreen. Photo courtesy Children of the Setting Sun Productions

To produce all of these projects, the production company itself has grown. And, in turn, that growth has allowed it to move into other forms of media.

“A few years ago, before all of us came on, it was just three people and the board members,” says Isabella James. “They started recruiting more people, and that’s when film production started. And then they brought me on to start the podcast.” The Young and Indigenous podcast is available on their website, as well as through the well-known Spotify and Apple platforms.

As Children of the Setting Sun continues to grow, it reaches out with new projects. It also produces online and in-person events, including plans for a Mother Earth Day celebration on April 22nd. The best way to stay current with the organization is to keep an eye on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

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