Fr: Doug George-Kanentiio
Re: Discovery Channel’s “First Nations”
Date: November 17/08
I am sending this notice to inform the Haudenosaunee that the Discovery Channel is set to broadcast a program entitled “First Nations” which is supposed to tell the story of the founding of the Confederacy. This is being done over my vigorous protest as the film is inaccurate, violent and badly edited. It is an insult to our history and to all who see it. The credits may list my name as well as other Haudenosaunee but I have asked repeatedly to be removed from the credits as I have had no part in the final edit of this project.
In May of last year I was contacted by the film’s original producers Jonathan Zurer and Joe Becker to become involved in a unique series of stories entitled “First Nations.” This was supposed to be ten stories about Native history told “in our own words” beginning with the Confederacy and moving on to other Nations. In July of last year I was given the working script and made great changes to reflect our story as we know it. Filming with a mostly Haudenosaunee cast began in late August. I had informed the Mohawk Nation Council of this project but the leaders were doubtful this could be done correctly but I was confident the director and producer would follow my advice.
The film was to have four elements:
We spent six weeks filming the above with over 55 hours of raw footage. Then the project was shelved for many months as the Discovery Channel board fired the Chief Executive Officer who had approved the film and hired a new one named David Zaslav. We had no contact with this person or the new editing team from a company called Half Yard until June of this year. Again, I expressed my clear intent as to what the film must include. A non-Native scriptwriter was hired unknown to myself and without any contact with any Haudenosaunee person. This person destroyed the story and in its place created a film which is full of distortions, lies and violence. None of what Half Yard wrote is true to my agreement with Zurer and Becker, both of whom resigned in protest from the film.
I have been show two rough edits of “First Nations” and was infuriated at what they had done to our history. I arranged to have the film shown, in early August, to Oren Lyons and a group of filmmakers and media professionals at Syracuse University without preconditions. They agreed this was a bad film. Dr. Robert Venables also reviewed the film and told the producers he could not recommend that the episode be shown to anyone at anytime since it was a disaster in every way. They have ignored his counsel.
I have written letters outlining my concerns but to no avail. The current producers have refused my request that they meet with the Haudenosaunee to discuss this. They will not make any changes and are determined to broadcast this mess across the nation this coming week on Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 9:00 pm est.
I am including the telephone numbers of the Discovery Channel persons involved in this project. I have insisted that my name, as well as that of my wife Joanne Shenandoah, be removed from the credits just as has Mr. Becker and Mr. Zurer. I have extensiv e records showing my concerns about the film which I will send along to all councils if requested.
Here are the numbers:
John Ford, President, Discovery Channel
Abby Greensfelder, President, Half Yard Productions
I will send the number for David Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery Channel. I extend my apologies to the Haudenosaunee and anyone who might see this travesty.
For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.