Rabbett Before Horses


In filming “Ma’iingan: Brother Wolf (2019),” a story exploring the unique connection between wolves and the Ojibwe people, PBS Wisconsin producer Mik Derks visited Rabbett Before Horses Strickland, an Ojibwe artist, theoretical mathematician and jazz composer. We visited Rabbett over the course of two years, following his progress of an original painting. In that time, the crew were offered rare insight into his process of creation that became the basis of “Rabbett Before Horses (2020).” The detailed portrait shares Rabbett’s journey from growing up in an extended family of artists, to his rock band days and surviving homelessness, to the advanced mathematical theories scrolling through his mind and to the belief among his fellow Ojibwe that his art comes from the spirit world.

PBS Wisconsin producer, Mik Derks, formed lasting relationships with Rabbett and dozens of tribal elders across Wisconsin. Growing organically from a series of documentaries on veterans produced over a decade ago, relationships with a few tribal veterans paved the way for our work with Wisconsin’s First Nations. Mik, who engaged from a place of great respect and openness, helped those, who traditionally didn’t want to speak on camera, to tell their stories. Indigenous people nearly always had their stories, if at all, told by someone other than themselves. And for Indigenous people, their traditional way of passing on information was through oral tradition, which fit nicely with the production of video content. Mik encouraged them to share their story in their own way, however it wanted to come out. These interviews made up the series titled “Tribal Histories (2014-2017).” It tells the Indigenous history and culture of all eleven federally-recognized tribes and bands of Wisconsin, plus the non-recognized Brothertown tribe.

Adjacent to this project, PBS Wisconsin was part of a network of organizations dedicated to implementation of Wisconsin Education Act 31—a statutory requirement that all school districts provide instruction in the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the state’s American Indian Nations. Together, the coalition developed a first-of-its-kind multimedia website (wisconsinfirstnations.org) to provide appropriate resources for educators to teach about the American Indian Nations of Wisconsin. Additionally, PBS Wisconsin produces theways.org, a free, online resource for 6-12 grade students featuring videos, interactive maps and digital media exploring contemporary Native culture and language.