That Indian nation and others are turning to new mediums to tell their enduring stories.
Two decades later, it's happening--the slot machines indeed are funding efforts to preserve tribal history and culture, often through film.
UCLA-trained Sandra Johnson Osawa, a member of Washington's Makah tribe, has produced a documentary on Native American prima ballerina Maria Tallchief, funded by the area's Muckleshoot Indians, and is helping Oklahoma's Miami tribe use gambling income to document its tribal language, whose last speaker died in the 1960s.
Michael Smith, who stages an annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, regularly brings a touring program to California's small rancherias--paid for by their casinos--to teach Native American youngsters filmmaking "as a tool for personal and community storytelling." One of Smith's instructors, Jack Kohler, has helped the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians make a film in the tribal language and worked with the Auburn Rancheria north of Sacramento to build movie-making facilities with proceeds from its casino. Among its projects is "Red Road to Nirvana," about "an urban Indian who needs to go back and preserve his roots and along the way becomes a stand-up comedian."
Of course, not everyone gets a "yes" from such tribes. "It's been a tough nut for us to crack," said Shirley K. Sneve, executive director of Native American Public Telecommunications, which provides programming to public TV and radio. "Casinos don't see us as an investment that will put more quarters in the slot machines."
But several tribes backed actor Rick Schroder's 2004 “Black Cloud,” a full feature about a Navajo boxer. And Connecticut's Mashantucket Pequots, with the vast Foxwoods casino, earlier financed "Naturally Native," the debut film of Valerie Red-Horse, a Cherokee who, like Osawa, got her training at UCLA. Los Angeles-based Red-Horse has a "day job" as an investment banker but is getting funding from various tribes for a new feature on Ponca Indian Chief Standing Bear, who was arrested in 1879 after attempting to return to his homeland to bury his murdered child. She also is following up her PBS documentary on WWII's Navajo "code talkers" with one on Choctaws who played the same role in WWI. The doc's backer? "The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma."
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.