Thursday, July 11, 2013


Indigenous peoples on these continents are like babies in the following way:  people take a passionate and invested interest in babies in utero, but then wander off after the birth even if the babies are starving, unsheltered and unloved.  Likewise, the Indian of the past is cherished and protected, but once they are modern, educated, employed, and walking around, those same idealistic people lose interest.  Indeed, they don’t even recognize the indigenous anymore.  If a story about alcoholism or bad housing is on TV, they say,  “Oh, it’s so depressing.”  That’s because the media loves to picture the downside.  And they need something people can see, because the real problems of the modern reservation Indian are so deep and complex, so drowned in bureaucracy, that most people get their brains tied in knots -- even the Indians themselves.

Out of necessity the indigenous have developed a whole strata of helpers from their own gene base and now they use video to tell their own stories to each other:  how to do things, ways to educate, ideas for controlling addictions and illness.  Here’s an example that I’m listing because this source posts trailers for each of their films and even watching the series of trailers -- each five minutes or so -- is enlightening.  We need a variety of images in our minds -- not just Johnny Depp with a bird on his head.  (Among my mag clips is an old man with white braids in an elegant tuxedo to counter all the naked boys on pintos.)

Date: July 7, 2013
Subject: ANN: First Nations Educational Resources

FIRST NATIONS FILMS distributes and creates award-winning television
Aboriginal documentary films and videos *for, by and about* First Nations
people. Our exclusive educational native programs are shared with schools,
universities, libraries, organizations and other groups and institutions
throughout the world. Please visit our website for a complete list and
video highlights from each film.


At another extreme are videos meant to break down the division between Glacier National Park and Blackfeet kids by collaborating to make vids about the park.   First they had to teach rangers the basic skills, then the kids.  Some of the rangers had experience and contributed their own archived videos.  They had some fancy software to use.

From Alkali Lake
IMAGE is the name of the game when it comes to video made by whites about Indians or by Indians for whites.  But when the task is Indian-to-Indian, things get more serious.  When I was teaching at Heart Butte, which makes it 1990, there was a video -- in those days tape in a cassette -- called Alkali Lake.  At this url is an intelligent discussion of the video on other tribal peoples.  I saw it.  The tape the kids had and brought to school (this was not “official” as they were pretty deep into denial) was a copy of a copy of a copy and nearly worn out, but they watched it with the kind of rapt attention any teacher would love.

About the same time some Hollywood hustlers filmed locally “Warparty,” a sensational teen film about a re-enactment of a massacre that turns real.  This introduced the Blackfeet to Rodney Grant impersonating a “two-spirit” person attached to a military man -- not one of his nobler roles.  The movie was pretentious, influenced by Japanese martial film in which it is noble to die, and informed by faux French theory about the nature of reality.  First viewing:  Wow.  Fifth showing:  Duh.  By that time people were saying,  Look!  There’s my grandmother’s table they borrowed and never returned!”

As I write it's the first day of North American Indian Days in Browning.  Lodges and tents will be going up, but also many RV’s will pull in.  This ceremony, once particular to the Blackfeet and timed by the then-superintendent to be after haying, is now an event of the Pan Indian tribe and draws in people all the way from South America.  (The Blackfeet are a Two Nation tribe, since the 49th parallel plowed through their lands like a freeway bisecting a ranch.)  There’s a big new hotel nearby and the rodeo grounds have been restored for several years.  Sometimes there is a rock concert.  

The videos will be many and some of them will be made on smart phones, though infrastructure support here is pretty iffy.  Some years there are professional crews on hand.  Once it was Scientology with Tom Cruise in the tent to schmooze Indians.  One of the local Blackfeet gave him an elegant and valuable beaded vest and was thanked.  But Cruise didn’t seem to realize there was an obligation to respond.  He’s never been seen wearing the vest.  Scientology was not there to learn Blackfeet ways.

I probably won’t attend.  The Indian Days in my head can’t be video-taped.  In those days the campgrounds were just dirt and grass -- and a field of debris afterwards that the city prisoners (who had contributed by drinking their way through the days, leaving bottles and cans) cleaned up while they worked off their hangovers.  Nowadays the campground is fenced, policed, provided with enough portapotties, and furnished with a big stickgame hall and concrete picnic tables.  I was telling a young Indian clerk in a nearby Big Box store about how funny it was when some ground squirrel, who had dug his home on what had seemed an innocent field, suddenly popped up inside a lodge between the robes on the ground.  Her reaction was:  “That’s disgusting.”  So there’s your irony:  the white woman looks for the primitive and the indigenous woman prefers civilization.  No surprise.

What outsiders might not see is that what was once local and particular is now as universal and basic as a carnival, which it partly is.  The booths selling “Indian” jewelry, t-shirts with Sitting Bull’s face, dayglo-dyed goose down and faux eagle feathers made from domestic turkey tailfeathers, dream-catchers and frybread -- they’re all fun.  Some years the rides come and other years they’re booked elsewhere.  Recently the “buffalo jumps” have arrived for kids.

Indian Days 1962

In the old days the theme was authenticity with prizes for most authentic lodge interiors.  The grandparents then were born in 1880 and whatever had survived in their trunks came out for an airing.  We all knew each other by name and the center of the dance area held a big bonfire.  Of course, the dancing raised a cloud of dust and there was no shade unless you brought an umbrella. 

If I had an video camera that could show you memories, I would post a closing owl dance on the last night, very late when everyone was exhausted and singing voices were raw.  The people made a circle with arms around each other and spectators were pulled in for a slow stately gyre -- the Great Wheel enacted under the wheeling stars.  

Every dynamic group includes three parts:  the edge that wants to go forward (hope), the longing lagging part that wants to go back (memory), and the middle which is what most people see.  The international pow-wow system includes all three parts.  In the 1960’s the people wanted to go back to the buffalo days.  In the 2010’s the front edge moves towards solidarity, trying to find a political stance that will let them still be Indians.  In the middle are All Kinds, now equipped with video cameras.

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