July 30, 2008

Transforming California's Indians

Here's a short film produced by the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) to tell the story of California's tribes:

The Tribes of California Present Transformations, a Tribute to All Native American Indians of CaliforniaTransformations documents the rich past, transformative present & hopeful future of California Indians. From the lush northwest coastal forests to the sunburned hills of San Diego County, a hopeful tale of survival unfolds amid the spectacular backdrop of the Golden State. Told in the voices of tribal members.Comment:  Click the link to see the 10-minute film online. (I presume this is the whole film and not a segment or trailer.)

My review: If you don't know a thing about California's Indians, Transformations should teach you something. But if you've read a general book on Indian history, the California chapter undoubtedly covered this topic in more depth. I'd say give the film a pass unless you want to see what Native filmmakers are doing, as I do.

Also, Transformations suffers because four of the five sponsoring tribes are from Northern California and the film concentrates on them. The split between Northern and Southern California Indians is more like 50-50 than 80-20. The film is really a glimpse of Northern California Indian history, not California Indian history in general.

CNIGA was smart to produce a film rather than, say, a booklet. That's the way to reach lots of people these days. But the filmmakers need to think a little further out of the box.

This is a typical case of a documentary's being too respectful of its subject. If the film had shown Indian actors, rappers, and skateboarders and been made with quick cuts, animation, and rock music, it would've conveyed the vibrancy of California's tribes better. Give me a day, 2-3 well-spoken Indians, and a picturesque golf course, and I'll give you a memorable documentary on California's tribes.

For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.


Anonymous said...

A small correction- there are 107 Federally Recognized Tribes in Cali, only around 30 are in SoCal.

Rob said...

Yes, there are more tribes in Northern California. I was thinking more of other factors, especially the number of Indians (including urban Indians). Considering these factors, I'd say California's Indian country is roughly split between north and south.

If the film had to feature five tribes, I'd say a 3-2 split between north and south would've been fair. A 4-1 split is a little biased toward the north. Not coincidentally, I bet, CNIGA is headquartered in Sacramento.