December 31, 2006

Indian tribes operate nation-to-nation

Here's a letter that I believe The Day, a Connecticut newspaper, published March 3, 2002:To the Editor of The Day:

Regarding David B. Irons' Feb. 23 letter, Indian nations have rights guaranteed by Indian treaties and law. These stem from the fact that Indian nations are sovereign entities. They are not racial groups like the NAACP or the Congressional Black Caucus. They include people who are multiracial or even predominantly white by "blood."

Indian nations are political entities similar to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. They have rights based on their political relationship to the federal government. The only difference is that Indian nations, unlike states and territories, determine their own membership.

Even if Indian nations didn't have legal treaties guaranteeing their rights, granting them "benefits" wouldn't discriminate on the basis of race. If any political entity—Egypt, California or the Cherokee Nation—receives more federal aid than Connecticut, that's a political decision, not a racial one. The racial makeup of the recipient is irrelevant since it's a sovereign-to-sovereign relationship.

Indian nations get only a tiny fraction of the benefits a state like Connecticut gets. Indian nations get only a tiny fraction of the benefits owed them under a plethora of legal treaties. If the United States doesn't want to live up to the treaties it signed, it can always void them and return the continent to its original owners.

Rob Schmidt

The writer is publisher of Peace Party, a comic book series featuring young Native Americans.

Hollywood's take on Eskimos

Freeze Frame:  Alaska Eskimos in the Movies

By Ann Fienup-RiordanFreeze Frame takes a penetrating, often humorous, look at how Eskimos have been portrayed in nearly a century of film, from the pioneering documentaries of missionaries and Arctic explorers to Eskimo Pie commercials of the 1990s. Some of these works are serious attempts to depict a culture; others are unabashed entertainment, featuring papier-maché igloos and zebra-skin parkas. Even filmmakers who sought authenticity were likely to build igloos in villages that had never seen one and to hire non-Native actors to portray the Eskimo principals.

The groundbreaking film Nanook of the North, released in 1922, solidified the popular impression of Eskimos and set the precedent for dozens of movies to follow. Freeze Frame documents the ideas that motivate and lie behind this abundant generation of images. The first study to look at the popular image of Alaska Eskimos, it makes an important contribution to our understanding of Native American stereotyping.
Comment:  Interesting-sounding book that I hadn't heard of until now.

Hitchcockian Indian thriller

“Imprint” Redefines Native Women in FilmChris Eyre’s latest production, Imprint, is not an “Indian” movie.

Yes, it does take place on a reservation and includes Native cultural and religious references. Yes, it does have Indians playing Indians and the requisite unlikable white guy. It has all those things. But Imprint is not an “Indian” movie. At least, not by conventional thinking. And that’s to Eyre’s and director Michael Linn’s credit, as they have redefined what we’ve come to expect of a film depicting Native America and in this case, women in Native America.

Starring Tonantzin Carmelo, the film is a suspense thriller in the Hitchcock mold—otherworldly forces, evil in disguise, and regret leading to redemption. Most significantly, Imprint’s biggest imprint is its portrayal of women; neither victims nor backdrops, they are the force and soul of the entire story.

We get criticism...

Sometimes I'm asked if anyone has reacted negatively to my comics or website. Here's a verbatim message I received Feb. 22, 2002. I think it speaks for itself.I was at your website and I think that your comic book sucks.

I read the FAQ and you guys stated that the peace party characters could take on the Hulk or Superman. That's wrong. Any Marvel character could easily destroy your peace party. DC characters suck too, but they could also annihilate the peace party. I just wanted to let you guys know how corny peace party is. And on your "Fans" page, their were no real comic book authorities saying good things about your book. They were all old people who were probably parents striving for a wholesome, all-american family life. Your book sucks and so do you. Burn in hell.

Summing up Mel's message

Indian Comics Irregular #149:  The Death-Dealing Maya

December 30, 2006

Apocalypto's absurdities

Apocalypto (Mark's take)To give the film an air of authenticity--one it really has no right at all to claim--Gibson films the entire film in the Mayan language. This is probably a first for a general release film and as such the film is to be commended. (According the to IMDB, the 2003 film Vera was also entirely in Maya, and parts of El Norte, Men With Guns, and this year's The Fountain are in Maya.) But much of the air is lost when he has subtitles having Mayans saying modern things like "He's f**ked" and even making a verbal reference to Midnight Cowboy.

The plot is full of absurdities. Jaguar Paw has had a spear go into his back and come out his front. This should be a fatal injury. But he escapes and still has the strength to outrun a jaguar. (Well, unless there are black jaguars that I don't know about, it is actually a panther that has somehow found herself on the wrong continent.) A jaguar is not the fastest cat, but it probably can do 35 miles per hour in sprints and the wounded Jaguar Paw is apparently able to do better than that. Jaguar Paw is light on his feet and light in general. At least he is light enough to float in water. His wife, however, appears to be heavier than water for reasons never explained. (And, no, pregnancy would not have this effect.)

"The odd detail wrong"?

It’s bloody fantasticAs with many of his films, there have been plenty of complaints about the accuracy of the script. Maybe he has got the odd detail wrong concerning cave paintings and who the Mayans used in their human sacrifices. But what he does brilliantly is take you back in time, place you inside the drama of a native tribe and make you feel as if you are really there.

The whole film looks authentic; it smells authentic.

This is partly down to his use of native language and his decision to put unknowns in key roles. But the quality of the cast is remarkable. Youngblood conveys the strength and terrible suffering of his character with total conviction, while Trujillo’s Zero Wolf is one of the scariest villains we have seen on the screen for a long while.
Comment:  Based on what I've read, it's more correct to say Gibson got the odd detail right.

Soboba Movie Ranch

Tribe pitches own idea for filmsThe Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians went Hollywood this week.

The tribe is marketing its newly refurbished resort in the hills northeast of San Jacinto as an on-location filming destination for moviemakers.

"We are hoping to attract independent filmmakers, movie studios, corporate films and music videos," Tribal Administrator Tobin White said in a prepared statement. "We can pull together the locations, shots, and services, cut through the red tape and accommodate location needs in a timely manner."
See also Indian Reservation Becomes Another Hollywood Movie Set.

Navajo film begins with a bang

'Mile Post 398' riveting slice of rez lifeThe story opens at a Kayenta Chapter House country-western dance in the '70s where a woman is watching her husband dance with another woman. Later another man asks the wife to dance, provoking her husband's jealousy.

The two argue as they walk back to their vehicle, where their son Cloyd (Beau Benally), is patiently waiting to go home and playing with his toy cars on the dashboard.

The argument continues at home where it intensifies into a physical fight, a gun appears, and the scene ends with a bang.

More Eskimos on ice

Ethnic stereotyping and ageism

Interesting followup to New Yorker Cartoon:  Eskimo Is "Retired" to Die on an Ice Floe. It seems the New Yorker has a history of publishing stereotypical cartoons about Eskimos on ice floes.

December 29, 2006

Movies and missionaries vs. Natives

Mel’s Merry Messianic Movie Missionaries:  An Analysis of Apocalypto and Other Silver Screen Savagery

By Tim MitchellWith evangelicals looking to share the gospel with those who keep kooky religious company, it would seem that Christian evangelists are looking to ‘save’ nature-based indigenous tribal religious groups through proselytization while working to save the environment, with stereotypes from films such as Apocalypto and End of the Spear convincing them of the righteousness of such intentions. On this particular issue, some environmental groups have addressed the impact of religious conversion on the environment in some of its literature, such as the World Conservation Union’s report, "Protecting Sacred Natural Sites of Indigenous and Traditional Peoples: an IUCN Perspective":

Many traditional sacred natural sites have been appropriated or destroyed because they were considered pagan or idolatrous by newly emerging world faiths. In some instances religious buildings were forcefully superimposed upon traditional sites. While it is important to guard against ‘demonising’ the involvement of major faiths with indigenous and traditional peoples, it is important to acknowledge that the erosion of sacred natural sites can be directly related to the expansion of the dominant faiths in many cases.
Mitchell's conclusion:Mayan activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchu Tum once said, "We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism." To respect the people and faiths of the present, we must stop creating and accepting false, self-serving depictions of the past.

Seminoles' status at FSU

Bonding Over a Mascot

The latest views on last year's mascot controversy.

The NCAA:Myles Brand, the president of the N.C.A.A., said in a telephone interview last week that his organization made the right decision but witnessed more negative reaction to the ruling than expected.

“What we’ve accomplished in part is to raise the level of awareness nationally about how we treat Native Americans,” Brand said. “If we don’t stand by our values, we lose our integrity.”
FSU:[T.K.] Wetherell, a former Florida State football player who also teaches history, wore a hunting outfit when interviewed recently in his office. He pointed to a team logo of an Indian’s face that he said had elements of caricature. “That’s not really a Seminole-looking deal,” Wetherell said. “This is a marketing tool.” He said the university might “gradually let certain things fade.”

He said he told the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s council, “If you don’t want Florida State to be the Seminoles, we ain’t Seminoles anymore.” Wetherell said the tribe approved the use partly because the campus is in the capital and tribal leaders “are not only good businessmen, they are great politicians.”

Resolutions for reporters

Harjo:  Realistic New Year's resolutions for othersResolved, to cover stories about all Native peoples. In the rush to follow the Indian money, most Indian stories are being missed. How about starting with stories about Native peoples who have no money and who exist in suffocating poverty? Even with the stunning success of tribal gaming in certain states, tribal people still are the most economically impoverished people in the country.

Resolved, to cover the anti-Indian hate groups that are organized nationwide to undermine Native American treaties, laws and rights. Led by John Birchers, these groups are working hard to bring down the legal, constitutional, orderly activities of tribal governments and to keep Native peoples from owning and controlling Native property. They've been given a pass by most in the news industry, and even a boost by some.

Resolved, to cover stories about threats to Native ceremonial and burial grounds and about environmental emergencies affecting Native peoples, lands and waters.

Resolved, to find out who's manufacturing myths about Native peoples and why, particularly in politics and the entertainment and advertising industries, but even (and maybe especially) in the news industry itself.
Comment:  We've already studied some people who are manufacturing myths about Native peoples and why--e.g., Mel Gibson and Budweiser.

The Truth About Stories

Just finished reading The Truth About Stories:  A Native Narrative by Thomas King. It's a fine set of essays of particular interest to readers of this blog. An reviewer summarized it well:This book is fantastic! The first chapter alone is a must read for everyone you know, and could change your life. About how the kinds of stories we tell can be paradigm-shifting. Deals with the romanticized notion of native americans (see also Edward Said's book ORIENTALISM), how an invented idea of "indian" has been used and abused by the u.s. in hypocritical ways, and how the stories we hear and tell about ourselves shape our identity. Lots of very sad facts about native american history in its relationship with the US government. The book is set up in a kind of spiral with a recurring story told in different ways at the beginning of each chapter. This book is really for everyone--not just those with an interest in native americans. The stories we are telling in America today are globally destructive and negative--let's start fresh with some positive stories to turn this country around--we are all on this planet together.Rob's rating:  8.0 of 10. Check it out.

December 28, 2006

Mel's doomsday scenario

Mel, Mayans-–and madness

Mel Gibson's latest film Apocalypto, reveals a lot about the star, says Michael Shelden

Why Mel went crazy:At the time, Gibson had just returned from months in the Mexican jungle filming this blood-soaked orgy of half-naked men slashing each other to pieces. After weeks of directing a non-stop odyssey of raping, pillaging and bludgeoning, he must have thought that speeding through his hometown high on tequila was a relatively harmless way of letting off steam.

After all, when your job includes orchestrating scenes of mass human sacrifice, it's easy to forget the rules of real life and explode in anger when the cops insist on treating you like an ordinary offender.

Finding himself under arrest, Gibson's inner savage was unleashed and he went on a verbal rampage, insulting a female police officer (he called her "sugar tits") and cursing Jews with all the venom of his Mayan warriors attacking an enemy tribe.
What motivates Mel:While the box-office success of Apocalypto in America is proof that Mel's madness may still work on screen, it's no longer possible to pretend that the rage erupting from his films is driven merely by the story. With Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, he could insist that the violence was rooted in fact. But in the new film, which opens in Britain next week, the relentless slaughter is his invention, a revel in a sadomasochism that says a lot more about Mel than the Mayans.

On the surface, he seems to be interested in their culture, having his actors speak their lines in the ancient Yucatec dialect. But practically everything else in the film is only vaguely related to the real Mayans or entirely fabricated. As several experts have pointed out, there is no evidence the Mayans ever engaged in mass human sacrifice, but it hasn't stopped Gibson from building a whole film around the concept.
Mel's "apocalyptic" vision:Given the nature of Gibson's Malibu rant, this scene now looks much more disturbing than even the director may have hoped. In effect, Apocalypto is a 139-minute tour of Gibson's darkest fantasies, including his apparent suggestion that the End of the World is imminent. "I don't mean to be a doomsday guy," he has said, "but the Mayan calendar does end in 2012, boys and girls. Have fun!"

In the Mayans, Gibson has found a convenient culture to hijack, using the past to provide cover for ideas that would look far more threatening if applied to a modern setting. If the incident in Malibu had never happened, he could easily have pretended that he was just a multicultural guy who wanted to present an honest look at native people. That is not the case now.

Educators and filmmakers lie

The 'deception' of 'Apocalypto'Worse than the lies the teacher tells are the lies that top scholars tell. Like that genocidal warfare, rape from sexually repressed soldiers, racial enslavement and global conquest were a part of everyday American Indian life. You may have already heard your children say, "Indians had slaves, too"; "Indians murdered and raped each other, too"; "Indians stole the lands of others, too." These lies void responsibility and accountability of the racial enslavement of Africans in America, the genocidal warfare practiced against American indigenous people and the thievery of their land.

Indians must be especially aware of these types of lies because they set up an even greater lie--that Indians were equally or more violent than the Spanish, English or French colonizers of America; or that the Roman Catholic Church saved Indians from themselves.

"Apocalypto" is a movie that takes these lies to the fullest extent possible. After you watch this film you may be wrongfully convinced that it was the Mayan who stole land from your ancestors; you may begin to think that it was the Mayan who burned the villages of your ancestors; you may begin to believe that it was the Mayan who tied up Indian men and raped their wives while they watched powerlessly; you may be convinced that the Mayan were the culprits who brought smallpox to decimate the indigenous American populations; you will probably be convinced that Indians taught Europeans racism and racial slavery; you will be lied to while watching this movie, and you will mistakenly be thankful that Europeans came and saved your ancestors from their own demise.
Conclusion:Gibson may have the resources and ability to do some good research on existing Native peoples; perhaps this trend will catch on in big Hollywood. But still, in terms of historical research, a high school senior could have done better than his entire "Apocalypto" team. Comment:  I've yet to see a single source that says Apocalypto is historically accurate. If someone has such a source, please present it.

Native American Idol

'Aboriginal Icon' winner rocks onNo one is more surprised about where his music has taken him in just two years than the Cree high school teacher from the Goodfish Lake First Nation in Alberta. After a hiatus from music, W.T. Goodspirit rekindled his love for music and soon after, entered the “Aboriginal Icon” singing competition.

Goodspirit was one of hundreds of First Nation, Inuit and Metis performers who auditioned for a shot at the title. He eased through the local and regional levels and was named one of seven finalists on “Aboriginal Icon,” a program that is modeled after the television show “Canadian Idol” and draws aboriginal contestants from across Canada. At the finals in the spring of 2005, Goodspirit sang Jack Green's “Statue of a Fool” and Alabama's “Mountain Music,” and the title of Aboriginal Icon was garnered.

"Misunderstood cultures" in movie

Chris Martini’s “The Stone Child":  A Lakota-Mormon American TaleIt may be universal, but in the upcoming Chris Martini film, The Stone Child, the boy and his parents aren’t the usual plastic suburban cut-outs. This time, the family is Mormon and Lakota.

And that’s where it gets interesting....You see, Martini isn’t Mormon or Lakota himself, but that didn’t prevent him from writing a script about two of the most misunderstood cultures in the United States.

More on the Virgin Train ad

See how people are reacting to the ad over at Racialicious.

December 27, 2006

Native filmmakers take New York

Young filmmakers shine at Native American Film and Video FestivalThe recent Native American Film and Video Festival confirmed it: There is a spectacular growth under way in the number of Native filmmakers and the quality of their productions.

Organized by the Film and Video Center of the National Museum of the American Indian, the 13th Native American Film and Video Festival took place in New York Nov. 30-Dec. 3. The festival screened 130 films and shorts by Native directors, producers, writers, actors, musicians and technicians. More than 10,000 people attended the screenings, which were free.

Champion Cherokee coach

Davis proud of his heritage

UNC football coach embraces Cherokee ancestryNot a lot of people were surprised when Butch Davis was hired as the football coach at North Carolina.

But very few knew that Davis is part Cherokee Indian and that he and his son are on the tribal roll of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Davis, who won a national championship as coach at Miami and a Super Bowl ring as an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, was the frontrunner for the Tar Heels job as soon as John Bunting was fired earlier this year.

D Is for Drum

Native history, culture featured in bookThe children's book, written by Debbie and Michael Shoulders and illustrated by noted Navajo artist Irving Toddy, is part of Sleeping Bear Press' award-winning alphabet book series. Released earlier this year, the book is particularly appropriate for local young readers, ages four to 10.

"D is for Drum" features each letter of the alphabet with an accompanying illustration by Toddy and two separate levels of text a shorter and simpler rhyming text for beginning readers and a longer, more explanatory text for upper elementary school-aged children. The book offers readers a glimpse into the traditional history and culture of many contemporary tribes in the United States and Canada--sometimes through shared cultural items like bison, corn, drums, flutes, horses, medicine pouches, rattles, and sometimes through tribe-specific topics like the game of lacrosse from the Choctaws, the Chinook potlatch, Inuit umiak boats, Yup'ik masks, and the Xai Xais tribe of British Columbia.

100th anniversary of land theft

Oklahoma centennial upsets Indians

Customary telling of the state's history, they say, leaves out the taking of their land As the state prepares to mark its 100th birthday next year with parades, fireworks and festivals, the grand celebration is also opening old wounds for some American Indians.

Tribal leaders and academics say the centennial isn't a time for celebration because in 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state through the dismantling of tribal territories. Those lands once were guaranteed to American Indian nations by the U.S. government but the promises were brushed aside as Western expansion caught fire.

Celebrating codetalkers

Code Talker holiday createdThe Navajo Nation Council voted 56-0 Friday to establish Aug. 14 as Navajo Nation Code Talkers Day and a Navajo Nation holiday.

Delegate Larry Anderson of Fort Defiance, sponsor of the legislation, told council, "In all the war histories of the United States, no other language other than English was used, except in World War II, when the United States for the first time in its military history used the Navajo people, and used Navajo words to win the war."

December 26, 2006

Not wild about WILD STARS

Correspondent Bill Foster sent me a copy of WILD STARS, an independent comic published in 2003. Here's what one reviewer said about it:

Wild Stars:  The Book of CirclesMichael Tierney's Wild Stars is a graphic novel that has been twenty years in the making, drawing upon it's earlier incarnations as first a text novel and then as three separate comic book series. Visually it shows as, rearranged by the author into a more chronological telling than the comics presented, the reader can notice sharply contrasting changes in art style as the various pencillers came on board and the series evolved.

But what is Wild Stars about, specifically?

It's a science fiction story involving spaceships and time-travel. It's a historical adventure about ancient Native American tribes. It's a ghost story about a Civil War soldier and his namesake descendant. It's a crime drama revolving around drug runners and the search for Adolph Hitler. It's a mystery surrounding a cosmic case of mistaken identity.

And it's probably a dozen other things, beside.

Wild Stars is a story that is very demanding of the reader, filled to bursting with subplots and hidden storylines that aren't always apparent on first blush. This isn't your basic "Introduce the bad guy and his evil plot, here comes the hero to stop him, battle battle battle, victory and the end." You can't casually read through this book; it requires you to think. But for readers making the commitment, the payoff is worth the investment.

Upon reading the first chapter, the reader will be inclined to ask himself exactly what is happening. Upon reaching the middle of the book, the reader will be no closer to catching up with the plot that he is now certain is a literary runaway freight train with track continually being laid out in front of it as it progresses forward. Not until the climax of the story are the seemingly disparate threads brought together for an elegantly simple ending, leaving the reader feeling much like a stupefied Watson at the end of a Sherlock Holmes adventure.
Rob's review:  After reading the first chapter, I was asking myself exactly what was happening also. The answer is: Nothing worth mentioning.

The plot apparently involves an alternate reality in which modern, Nazi-like Europeans invade a primitive and untrammeled America. The continent's indigenous tribes join together to fight the mechanized stormtroopers.

As you can see from the cover illustration, one lead character is Sharp Knife, a Blackfoot who wears a ridiculous combination of headdress and loincloth and wields a ridiculous iron battleaxe. Another lead character is the "Kanze shamaness" Rosetta Stonewolf, whose ridiculous off-the-shoulder outfit matches her ridiculous name. The less said about the concept of a sexy young "shamaness," the better.

Even more ridiculous, the story appears to hinge on a white man: "Keltic war chief Corr Mac Nal." In this version of history, the Kelts captured a Norse longship and sailed to America, where they established a foothold and repelled the other Europeans, starting with the Puritans. So a handful of Kelts were able to do what millions of Natives were unable to do: stop the white man's progress.

I'd say you can safely skip this series. Only those who collect every single Native comic will want it.

Human sacrifice and other thrill rides

Mel’s Merry Messianic Movie Missionaries:  An Analysis of Apocalypto and Other Silver Screen Savagery

By Tim MitchellIf Gibson learned anything from his previous filmmaking experience it would be that if you are going to demonize a minority group, pick one that the mainstream public knows and cares so little about. The portrayal of ancient Mayans in Apocalypto as violent heathens in need of salvation not only fits with Gibson’s conservative Catholic understanding of the world, since the populations of modern-day Central and South America are overwhelmingly Catholic due to the religious affiliation of their European conquerors, but with his own upbringing in Australia, a country with its own brutal colonial past. He also found a way around the concept of “white guilt.” Instead of risking the arousal of remorseful feelings among his predominantly Caucasian audience by showing cowboys or conquistadores killing Indians, he chose instead to show Indians killing Indians—or, to be more exact, show many Indians killing many, many Indians, and with many, many, many more Indians cheering them on. The Western genre of filmmaking may no longer be the blockbuster franchise it was before, but it appears that portraying Indians as brutal, bloodthirsty savages from a primitive, bygone era is still considered acceptable in mainstream filmmaking. While Gibson has claimed before that his movie is a critique of the Bush administration, his movie clearly exploits the white American fear of exotic, swarthy foreigners with unusual languages and violent, inexplicable religious beliefs to add appeal to his movie—the same kind of xenophobia Bush has utilized in promoting his anti-Arab, anti-Muslim “War on Terror” that has resulted in countless cases of profiling, harassment and incarceration on the basis of race and religion.

To put the figurative shoe on the other foot, imagine if a violent, gory movie was made that portrayed a large medieval Catholic community as a group of child-molesting, Jew-torturing, witch-burning, crusading holy warriors who relished gruesomely executing thousands of innocent people in Vatican Square, and that “a new beginning” for the Catholics was provided at the end of the film by the arrival of several Scientologists. (Yes, I know—witch burnings ended centuries before the beginning of Scientology, but if you use the same kind of sloppy chronology that Gibson uses in Apocalypto, Scientology and church-sanctioned witch killings could easily co-exist.) Also imagine if this film was written and directed by one of Hollywood’s more well-known and controversial Scientologists—Tom Cruise, for example. Do you think that the mainstream media would give Cruise’s movie such a free pass, calling it at best a “thrill-ride” and at worst a “blatantly sadistic spectacle,” and not make connections between Cruise’s religious beliefs and the ending of his film? Just think of how the Pope would respond to hearing that Cruise, in his search for “historical accuracy,” used a cast of no-name Catholic actors who he had to train to act like medieval Catholics to fit the movie, to “knock the 21st century right out of them”? Somehow, I doubt Catholics like Gibson would view such a film as an “inspiration to Catholic actors who aspire to perform relevant roles in the film industry.”

Youngblood not an Indian?

Mel & Sly hit for hypecasting"Youngblood has claimed Yaqui blood and Cree blood and Comanche blood … which is ideal for Mel Gibson," Comanche blogger David Yeagley tells us. "I don't trust a word of it."

Youngblood's manager, Michelle R. Shining Elk , admits the actor once used his Mexican stepfather's surname, Gonzalez. But the actor's bio claims "he is the son" of the late Preston Tahchawwickah, a prominent Comanche.

According to Yeagley, Tahchawwickah adopted two children and Youngblood wasn't one of them. Tribal administrator Gene Pekah told us he isn't sure if the actor is an enrolled Comanche, but adds, "I take Rudy at his word."
Comment:  This criticism is pretty funny coming from Yeagley, the pseudo-Comanche.

December 25, 2006

The influence of "black Indians"

Mardi Gras Indians struggle to survivePost-Katrina, it has become commonplace to lament the decline of New Orleans' distinctive character. But nothing cuts closer to the soul of this city's culture—or the origins of American music—than the endangered art and ceremony of the Mardi Gras Indians.

Though little-known to the public at large, because it operates mostly outside New Orleans' official arts and entertainment districts, black Indian culture has helped shape the course of American music.

Jazz musicians from Jelly Roll Morton to Wynton Marsalis have evoked their chants. New Orleans icons such as Dr. John and the Neville Brothers have performed and popularized their songs. Uncounted bands have covered their most famous melody, "Iko Iko."

Natives against drunk drivers

Chris Eyre and Gary Farmer Anti-Drunk Driving AdsIf you need ANY more reasons to respect Chris Eyre and Gary Farmer, here ya' go. Eyre has directed two anti-drunk driving PSAs which are now running on New Mexico television stations. Both ads feature Farmer (Eyre also appears in one) hammering home the message on how devastating drunk driving is on Native communities. Props to these two incredible dudes for once again going above and beyond to benefit others.For more on the story, see Anti-Drunk Driving Commercials Target New Mexico Natives.

Sexy indigenous Bolivia

Bolivia's Morales faces biggest testBolivia's first Indian president has not backed down from his campaign pledge to be a "nightmare" for Washington, emerging as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's closest ally in the region. With his fiery revolutionary rhetoric and distinctive jackets crafted of Indian fabrics, Morales has gained great cachet among the left in Latin America, the United States and especially Europe.

"An indigenous government has extraordinary 'sex appeal,' " said Carlos Torsano, an independent political analyst here. Torsano notes that despite Morales' focus on what the leader calls Bolivia's indigenous majority, polls have shown that most Bolivians, like most Latin Americans, consider themselves mestizo, or mixed-race people.

Season's greetings

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Ecstatic Eid, Krazy Kwanzaa, and a Wondrous Winter Solstice!

December 24, 2006

Lots of losers

Harjo:  2006 Mantle of Shame Awards

This year's losers include:“Indian Fight Club”--Those who fight living Indian peoples over fictional “Indian” sports references--such as the University of North Dakota, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Washington professional football club--and who fight Native peoples in courts and Congress in order to keep “honoring” us with their disparaging names, imagery and behaviors.

Retro Dartmouth Review--For its full front-page “cartoon” of a scalp-waving “Indian on warpath.” For its relentless effort to bring back the good old days of Dartmouth College's “Indians” sports references, which it dropped over 30 years ago. Kudos to the Native Americans at Dartmouth (Go NADs) for withstanding indignities with dignity and to those administrators and faculty members who backed them.

Director/actor Mel Gibson--For demeaning Mayans (“Apocalypto”), Jews (“Jews are responsible for all of the wars in the world”) and women (“Sugar Tits”). For substituting stereotypes, fictions and his own alcoholic dementia for the known history, culture and reputation of past and present Mayan people. For Disney and “Mad Mel” using the Cabazon pow wow and Chickasaw casino as backdrops of support for this anti-Maya movie.

X-mas dancing and drums

Christmas atop ancient mesa

Native Christmas Eve ceremony takes place in front of and inside a church built in the 1600s amid candlelight, dancing and drumsThe procession surges forward, with candles lighting solemn faces. I turn to see that a bonfire has been lit on the plaza, opposite the open church door.

Then I hear drumming and singing. I push my way back through the crowd to see dancers enter the church--a man and a boy with buffalo headdresses and women with black fringe covering their eyes and bells on their hands. The church vibrates to the drummers and the rhythmic stamping of their feet.

This group of dancers is followed by many others. A small boy with a spiky headdress holding a bow and arrows is accompanied by four drummers. I wonder if the young hunter is also a representation of the Christ child.

Holiday viewing for Native fans

And so, it is Christmas...And What Should We Watch?Don’t worry. I’m not going to wax philosophical in a nauseating retrospective that have become as common and welcome as those hideous inflatable snow globe lawn ornaments.

Nope. Just a few ideas on how to enjoy the leisure time most of us have the next few days. Like watching a few of our favorite Native and Native-themed movies, that is. So here’s a start, a few must-see (and accessible) films that are available at Amazon and other video retailers. And no, I don’t list Dances With Wolves...

Christmas cookies and Hoyan doughnuts

Holidays bring out variations of both cultures, according to tribal membersOneida tribal member Pearl McLester was raised Christian and raised her children Christian as well.

So they celebrate Christmas with a decorated tree, family gatherings and gifts. McLester's home is filled with twinkling lights and red bows, while Santa is perched on the rooftop.

But that doesn't mean McLester, whose mother was German, won't also cook traditional corn soup for Christmas Day. And her family will recognize Hoyan, the Native American tradition in which friends and family travel from house to house on New Year's Day collecting doughnuts. The circles represent the start of a new year's cycle, elders say.

December 22, 2006

Apocalypto actors had no choice?

Give Actors a Break. It’s Not Selling Out, it’s a JobApocalypto star Rudy Youngblood, the young Comanche-Yaqui from Texas, went from being an unknown grass-dancer before his first real acting job catapulted him to the red carpets. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy for Rudy and I certainly don’t expect him to lecture Mel Gibson or Touchstone Pictures about their lack of cultural sensitivity.

What I’m getting to, in a rather roundabout way, is that it comes down to power. Actors, most actors, especially NATIVE actors, well, they don’t have much. Power, that is. The studios, the moguls, the big boys—they have lots and lots of power. This is what you call a disconnect.

This disconnect makes it virtually impossible for someone like Rudy Youngblood to fall on his sword for the cause and have it matter much at all, except to Rudy, who’d be committing career suicide. Explain to me—what good would come of that other than to quell the opportunities of a promising young talent?

Mascots bite the dust

Anti-mascot movement made headway in 2006The decades-old effort to abolish the use of sports logos considered racist, offensive and damaging by American Indians advanced significantly in 2006, despite opposition and a well-funded attempt by pro-mascot lobbyists to pass a law that would protect universities from banning their “Indian” trademarks.

On the legal front, six young American Indians filed a petition in August with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office seeking cancellation of six trademarks owned by the Washington Redskins that use the word “Redskins” or “Redskinettes.”

Indian Christmas music

Music brightens the holidaysMusic has always made an excellent holiday gift, whether something one personally wrote or performed, tickets to a concert or the perennial--and lasting--compact disc or DVD. Running from $10 to $20, CDs are generally affordable and welcomed by all.

Those looking specifically for holiday music can check out the great new and classic CDs available this year, such as Jana's Christmas songs sung in various Native languages (“American Indian Christmas,” 2005, Standing Stone Records), Redheart's GRAMMY-nominated “Sacred Season” (2002, Red Sea Records), and Red Nativity's “One Holy Night” (1997, Red Sea Records), featuring Brule. Some favorites are the classic compilations featuring Joanne Shenandoah, Mary Youngblood, Robert Mirabal, Lawrence Laughing, Peter Kater and others (“Prayer for Peace,” 2002, Silver Wave Records) and (“Winter Dreams,” 1993, Canyon Records).

Fort Mojave's patriotic band

A Sousa band of IndiansA century ago, dozens of Indian tribes nationwide had bands that played the music of John Philip Sousa and other patriotic anthems. The bands were an outgrowth of government-run boarding schools that sought, brutally at times, to erase Indian cultures, religions and languages in the name of assimilation. Only a few bands survive. The Fort Mojave tribe's is thought to be the oldest.

Through the decades, the band has weathered forces that killed others—poverty, an exodus of young people and opposition from Indians who saw marches as symbols of oppression, music to which their ancestors were slaughtered.

"A lot of tribes dropped their bands because they were symbols of the boarding school experience," said Melissa Nelson, an assistant professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University. "The Mojave made it their own music and it helped them survive.... It's an incredible story."
Comment:  See a video of the Fort Mojave band here.

Natives talk to astronauts

Alaska students tune in for video link up with astronautsSpace shuttle Discovery astronauts took a break from their hectic schedule Thursday to talk to Alaska students during a video conference viewed by participants across the state, including some of the most isolated native communities.

The seven astronauts sat two rows deep, smiling into the camera as welcoming cheers erupted in the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai where local students posed questions to the crew during a live 10-minute interview. Students in several dozen other communities tuned in to watch the exchange on the crew's last full day in space.

December 20, 2006

Aboriginals seek DiCaprio

Native group asks DiCaprio to help block Ontario diamond mineA group representing aboriginal communities in northern Ontario is trying to enlist U.S. film star Leonardo DiCaprio in its fight against diamond mining in the boreal forest.

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation—a political organization that represents about 45,000 Cree and Ojibwa people in 49 communities—has written to DiCaprio, who stars in Blood Diamond, a recently released film about the diamond trade in war-torn Sierra Leone.

Apocalypto is bogus

Mad Max vs. the MayansSure, the movie is imbued with a Sepulvedan racism. It's also stomach-churningly violent even as it lectures us about the perils of moral decay (note to Mel: I hear from morally upright folks all the time that a taste for excessively violent entertainment is a strong indicator of moral decay). And there are plenty of the details of Mayan culture that he gets wrong, too (more on that later).

But Apocalypto is bogus on so many levels, including the simple elements of its plotline, that it's difficult to recommend it even as a piece of fantastic cinema. It's not even a particularly good chase film, which is what Gibson says he set out to make here.

December 19, 2006


Back in July I reported on RAVEN'S CHILDREN, a pair of graphic novels featuring pseudo-Native people in conflict. Now that I've read the series, here's an update.

Apocalypto actors had no conscience?

Doug George-Kanentiio:  'Apocalypto' offensive to Native historyI sometimes wonder if Native actors bother to read the scripts of the movies in which they are asked to perform.

I understand there are limited opportunities for aboriginal professionals in the film industry but there must be some projects which are so offensive to Native history and culture as cause actors of conscience to turn down roles regardless of the money or the director.

Movies such as "Apocalypto", a bad film which has some of the most grotesque images ever shoved before a stunned audience. From heads impaled on poles to hundreds of corpses rotting in a burial pit the director Mel Gibson does his worst to show Natives as so thoroughly savage that only a righteous cleansing by Christian invaders can safe them from utter depravity. If left unchallenged it will destroy whatever admiration the world may have had for indigenous peoples.

Indians supposed to be Lakota

Pine Ridge 90210Pine Ridge is the Native 90210. Movies, from the smallest independent film to large productions hoping to capture the Native experience, find their inner and outer Indianness here. Dreamkeeper. Rez Bomb. Thunderheart. Skins. Dances with Wolves. Imprint. The Stone Child. Crazy Horse or historical movies with Pine Ridge themes filmed elsewhere like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Into the West.

On any July afternoon, tow-headed tourists from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands can be found sipping a cold soda at Big Bats or breathlessly snapping pictures at the local pow wow. They love Indians; especially these Indians. Because Pine Ridge, above all others, represents what INDIANS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE. It must be so because they’ve seen it in the movies.

AARP honors Cobell

Cobell honored for work on Indian trust fund caseAmid stars in the entertainment, media and political world, Elouise Cobell was honored on Monday for her efforts to bring accountability to the Indian trust.

At a ceremony in New York City, Cobell was hailed by AARP Magazine as one the 10 people who make the world a better place. She is the first Native American to win the Impact Award from the largest circulation magazine in the world.

Depp inspired Beach

Adam Beach thanks Depp for saving him from the world of crimeThe Canadian actor of 'Flags of Our Fathers' fame admits that he ran with gangs and landed in a lot of trouble after taking to crime following his parents death in a span of two weeks when he was eight years old.

An episode of '21 Jump Street'--a Fox TV series starring Depp in the lead role--made him realize that there was a better life for him.

December 18, 2006

"Super Indian" poster

From wonderful comic art was drawn by our Diva, Arigon Starr to help promote "Super Indian"--The Radio Series. If you're a member of the Autry National Center, you'll see this artwork printed in an upcoming "What's Next" newsletter. L-R: Mega Bear, Super Indian and their amazing Rez Dog, Diogi. Looming in the background is super villian, Wampum Baggs!

Apocalypto drops at the box office

From the LA Times, 12/18/06:

Filmgoers pursue holiday 'Happyness'Among other holdover films, Mel Gibson's violent historical thriller "Apocalypto," which is distributed by Walt Disney Co. and opened at No. 1 last week, finished sixth with $7.7 million in ticket sales. That was down 49%, not surprising given the opening weekend buzz that surrounded the movie, Dergarabedian said.

"People didn't want to wait to go see it," he said. "They wanted to see what the fuss was all about right away."

Indians butchered each other?

Aztecs = reality of pre-Columbian Indians, not Pocahontas

December 17, 2006

Singing between two worlds

Roger Kuhn Is Not a Gimmick. This Is Who He IsRoger's innate personal and artistic candor is reflected in his music. The song Two Nations, which is included on his CD, Proof, is indicative of a willingness to share his conflicts. Never blinking; never bitter, he describes this song as one “I can pass on to others going through the struggle of walking that very fine line between two worlds, the Native and non-Native world.”

I am conflicted I come from two nations/Do I need to choose one in order to feel whole?/I am conflicted my mother is brown/and she lives on a reservation/I am conflicted my father is white/and I know that he’s never coming home/The blood of the men who have died rushes through my body/And the blood of the women who have died courses through my veins/And I stand with the buffalo as I ride in the elevator/I know what I’m not but I don’t know who I am… (Two Nations (Conflicted) by Roger Kuhn, 2006)

Movie year in review

…Nary a Bead or Feather as Far as the Eye Can See. Are You Watching?2006 was a very good year. A year where nary a bead or feather as far as the eye can see except in documentary footage. Natives. Old Natives, young Natives. Mean Natives; nice Natives. Fat Natives. Sexy, sexy Natives. Urban, suburban and reservation Natives. Natives in gangs; Natives in love; Natives in uniform; Natives in courtrooms. Documentaries; comedies and true-life dramas. Natives. Indians. Aboriginals.

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. Expiration Date. One Dead Indian. Indian Summer: The Oka Crisis. UnNatural and Accidental. The Velvet Devil. Teachings of the Tree People. Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy. Dude vs. Dude. Gang Aftermath. Silent Thunder. Dude Vision. Clean Fight. Dream Makers. The Canary Effect. The Border Crossed Us, and a few fat Hollywood nuggets, Apocalypto and Flags of Our Fathers.

Timeless or irresponsible Indians

Wisc. candidate's excuse for being late is "we're on Injun time"

Why give Indians checks?

Other nations were overrun so Senecas don't deserve casinos

December 16, 2006

Still more mistakes in Apocalypto

Maya in the Thunderdome

In "Apocalypto," Mel Gibson paints a feverish, childish version of the Maya--and mangles decades of scholarship about this complex civilization.

The faux pastoral village:"Apocalypto" opens with a village of Maya hunter-gatherers living in harmony within a tropical forest. While the Eden-like scene makes for great cinematography, it is not supported by archaeological data. To begin with, the Maya were not organized into small hunter-gatherer groups sustained by the jungle's bounty.

By 300 B.C., the Maya had developed political and economic systems that were regionally integrated. People living in nearby towns, villages or homesteads--within a day's walk from larger centers--would venture into the city to sell or buy at the market, pay tribute requirements, witness political spectacles or attend to religious devotions. Therefore, populations that lived near larger centers would have been more substantially aware of activities in these capital cities than the movie implies. The villagers would have understood the threat of raids, battles and wars--which were a regular part of Maya society.
The wanton human sacrifice:Gibson's portrayal of a fervent and orgiastic mob completely violates what we know about Maya propriety in ritual behavior. Many modern Maya rituals, such as processions or prayers, are deliberate and serious affairs.

The treatment of sacrifice is also inaccurate and misleading. Much of what we see recorded by the Maya is a form of sacrifice known as auto-sacrifice--self-inflicted bloodletting involving piercing ear lobes, fingers, tongues and penises. This practice was often the duty of ruling families, interceding on behalf of the people to the gods. Animal sacrifice was also common. In fact, Gibson's villagers would have conducted such sacrifices for their household and agricultural rites, although we never see them do so in the movie.

Interestingly, murals recently discovered at San Bartolo in Guatemala depict scenes of auto-sacrifice and animal sacrifice. They reveal gods undertaking rites that bring the world into creation. Gibson cribbed these images for his mural scene but saw fit to alter them to convey a view of the Maya involved in wanton human sacrifice.
How the civilization really "collapsed":[The city] scenes reflect the exploitation of natural resources, violence, social repression, and detached ruling class that archaeologists have proposed as causes for the "Classic Maya collapse" in the 9th and 10th centuries. Although the debate about the collapse continues, the images of a diseased populace in the movie do not fit with the data. Maya cities were likely to have been much healthier than contemporary European ones.

Whatever the causes, the collapse was primarily of a system of governance, not a self-immolating culture. The movie misses this important distinction by creating a spurious contrast between a rural idyll and an urban miasma of excess and violence. The truth is that within several generations of the Classic Maya collapse, other regal cities with different forms of government would flourish in other parts of the Maya area. Over several millennia, the Maya underwent many cycles of growth and decline, each with its own major cities. The idea, proposed by the movie, that Maya civilization was at the verge of final self-destruction makes for good drama, but does not reflect the depth of this civilization's resilience and history.

Why Mel chose Maya

With Help From a Friend, Mel Cut to the ChaseSafinia and Gibson chose the Mayan civilization as their historical point in time for several reasons. They wanted to explore a pre-Colombian, pre-European native culture, and they chose the Mayans over the Aztecs because of their sophistication and swift downfall.

"The Mayans were far more interesting to us," Safinia says. "You can choose a civilization that is bloodthirsty, or you can show the Mayan civilization that was so sophisticated with an immense knowledge of medicine, science, archaeology and engineering ... but also be able to illuminate the brutal undercurrent and ritual savagery that they practiced. It was a far more interesting world to explore why and what happened to them."
Translation:  You can choose a bloodthirsty civilization, or you can invent a bloodthirsty civilization.

Kids do the darndest things

Children dress up as Indians to celebrate Columbus's arrival