“The Conchetti Pueblo, just for instance, were resistant to preserving their culture on tape,” said Beverly Morris, a program director for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. “But with the advent of new technology and their familiarity with it, they’ve started to do that, with their own people.”
Some contemporary Indians, Ms. Morris noted, have voiced suspicion of even the most well-meaning chroniclers of their culture. “Let’s face it, there’s been a lot of resentment about past exploitation,” she said, citing not just Hollywood but also anthropologists, National Geographic-style preservationists and even the Indian photographer Edward Curtis.
“I don’t want to say the visual medium is replacing the oral tradition,” said Mr. Burris, who specialized in Indian law before becoming a producer, “but I think it’s encompassing it. And I think that’s out of necessity in terms of the world we live in now. Stories can still be told and passed on and lessons be taught. But we’re such a visual society. The media are such an influence and can be such a great way of conveying a message. I think, just out of necessity, the traditional stories are going to fall into the visual medium.”