First Person Productions Goes Entrepreneurial


By Lee Egerstrom

A multimedia training program for Native American youth in the Twin Cities is taking a large step forward and becoming a competitive media production company serving a variety of clients in the metro area.

Since the beginning of this year, First Person Productions is attempting to be a self-sustaining and competitive multimedia production company, said Binesikwe Means, the program and company’s media team leader.

First Person Productions, 1516 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, and its parent nonprofit organization, MIGIZI Communications, works with about 50 high school and middle school students each year.

Now, some of these students are becoming employees and work and learn by producing promotional videos, various training and educational media, public service announcements (PSAs), documentaries, radio programs and podcasts, and advertising and brand promotions that use audio-visual products.

Means said there are currently seven high school students at First Person Productions during after school hours. They are students at Roosevelt, South and Washburn high schools in Minneapolis and Harding High School in St. Paul. Enrollment is larger during the summer months.

For some, the training program is introductory to learn about multimedia and audio-visual equipment and discover one’s own interests. “I’d say it is a hobby for me now,” said Iliana Zephier (Yankton Dakota), a student at Roosevelt High School. “But who knows.”

For others it is clearly an attempt to access equipment, training and learn about their own talents and interests that may lead to post-secondary studies and artistic and business careers emerging as great 21st Century opportunities, said Means (Oglala Lakota).

That is where training and working in a real business environment share the same road leading to potential opportunities ahead. With any form of multimedia, communications and journalism, she said. “They will (also) need to know the business.”

Means worked for six years at In Progress, the nonprofit digital arts training program based in St. Paul, before joining First Person Productions in December to prepare for the latter’s expansion as an entrepreneurial company in multimedia production.

First Person Production is off and running by tailoring products and services for diverse clients. These services include filming and documenting events, making one to two-minute PSAs, talk show documentation, promotional spots, 30 to 90-minute commercials, training videos, documentaries, editing and DVD production services, and fundraising videos usable for groups involved with the annual MN Give to the Max Day.

Native, health and educational groups are among the company’s initial clients.

Some include programs for Minneapolis Public Schools, the Indian Health Board, elder interviews for the Minnesota Historical Society, Center for School Change, Minneapolis Department of Health, Achieve Minneapolis, American Indian Cancer Foundation, and the Indigenous Peoples Task Force.

Some are nonprofit organizations that also seek to be viable entrepreneurial organizations as well, like First Person Productions. They would include Mixed Blood Theater, New Native Theater, and Running Wolf Fitness Center.

Still others have ties to the Native communities through philanthropic work. Among them are the Tiwahe Foundation, the Division of Indian Work and Native Americans in Philanthropy.

Adam Savariego (Upper Sioux), representing the University of Minnesota’s Youth Development Leadership program, said he was astonished by “the creativity and technical skills the students already possessed” when they worked on a presentation for the University’s program.

Another aspect of the training is that students will learn there are many different business forms that entrepreneurs may use to turn personal interests and talents into meaningful careers.

By seeking to become an ongoing, self-sustaining business, First Person Productions is emulating the multiple objective business plans of tribal-owned enterprises and cooperatives, including credit unions and mutual insurance companies, which are popular throughout Upper Midwest states.

These member-owned and operated businesses have a primary purpose of meeting business or service needs of members, insists Dutch economist and business professor Gert van Dijk, a leading international expert on cooperatives and their strategies. At the same time, the ventures must be sound enterprises in their own right to survive and succeed in competitive markets.

Where nonprofit businesses are different is that the “members” aren’t really a collection of shareholders. Rather, they are stakeholders – beneficiaries and community members who share reasons for being connected or reliant on an enterprise.

First Person Productions is like a close relative of cooperatives and tribal-owned enterprises, said Graham Hartley, director of programs for MIGIZI Communications.

The nonprofit MIGIZI was launched in 1977 with the objectives of training youth and countering misrepresentations of Native Americans and their communities. This started with producing the first nationally distributed radio show and later television programming for the region. That was the initial enterprise of MIGIZI and the origin of First Person Productions, Hartley said.

From the start, MIGIZI has been a training vehicle for young Native people by introducing high school-age students to modern visual, graphic and audio technology and constantly evolving strategies for multimedia presentations.

MIGIZI has expanded over the years and now has several training and education programs serving Native and at-risk youth. Programs called Green Jobs Pathway, Native Academy, Native Youth Futures, Advancing Change and First Person Productions are somewhat interconnected.

The parent foundation helps students with paid internships when they are working on First Person products, Hartley said. And it also has a matching savings program that multiplies the amount of money students set aside in saving for future college tuition expenses.

The multiple goals of MIGIZA and First Person Productions impressed the University’s Savariego as much as the students’ sophisticated skills.

“I didn’t know about their programs,” he said. “It blew me away.

“This is exactly what I want to do in working with and empowering young people when I get my MED.”

To learn more about MIGIZI and First Person Productions, or to see their products, services and prices, see their website at: