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Native Americans on Film

Conversations, Teaching, and Theory

edited by M. Elise Marubbio and Eric L. Buffalohead

Publication Year: 2013

The film industry and mainstream popular culture are notorious for promoting stereotypical images of Native Americans: the noble and ignoble savage, the pronoun-challenged sidekick, the ruthless warrior, the female drudge, the princess, the sexualized maiden, the drunk, and others. Over the years, Indigenous filmmakers have both challenged these representations and moved past them, offering their own distinct forms of cinematic expression.

Native Americans on Film draws inspiration from the Indigenous film movement, bringing filmmakers into an intertextual conversation with academics from a variety of disciplines. The resulting dialogue opens a myriad of possibilities for engaging students with ongoing debates: What is Indigenous film? Who is an Indigenous filmmaker? What are Native filmmakers saying about Indigenous film and their own work? This thought-provoking text offers theoretical approaches to understanding Native cinema, includes pedagogical strategies for teaching particular films, and validates the different voices, approaches, and worldviews that emerge across the movement.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front Cover

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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. iii-4

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: Talking Back, Moving Forward

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pp. 1-28

In the spirit of conversations and relationships, the nurturing heart of Native Americans on Film, we introduce ourselves to you and extend an invitation to participate in the growing network of people interested and invested in the burgeoning field of Indigenous film. Our friendship and respect for each other’s ideas, approaches to scholarship and teaching, and philosophy of life have flourished over the years that we have been colleagues. Native Americans on Film is an expression of this relationship...

Section One - Theoretical Conversations

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pp. 29-39

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Introduction to Section One

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pp. 31-34

At every good dinner party, numerous conversations take place that sometimes converge, sometimes overlap, and sometimes compete with each other. In the end, fragments of many become one great discussion. Thus it is in this section of the book, where a number of threads from conversations that have been happening throughout Native film circles come together in one fascinating theoretical dialogue. These include issues of representation and Indigenous voice, frameworks or models for Indigenous...

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Dimensions of Difference in Indigenous Film

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pp. 35-57

Indigenous feature films exhibit so much diversity that it is impossible to generalize about them. Thinking about the collection of Indigenous films as a whole, then, calls for a focus on their differences rather than on their similarities. Many of these films, for example, employ mostly Indigenous people as cast and crew, while many do not. Some adapt traditional cultural practices to filmmaking, but others follow Western production...

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Reading Nanook's Smile: Visual Sovereignty, Indigenous Revisions of Ethnography, and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

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pp. 58-88

Toward the beginning of Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922), Allakariallak, the Inuit actor who portrays the titular hunter in the film, is introduced to a gramophone by a white trader.1 Having never seen such a device before, the putatively naïve Nanook inspects all sides of the machine, touches it, laughs at it, seems to ask the trader about its operation, and subsequently bites the record in a haptic effort to understand this new...

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Dismantling the Master's House: The Feminist Fourth Cinema Documentaries of Alanis Obomsawin and Loretta Todd

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pp. 89-115

In 2009, Canada’s National Film Board (NFB) celebrated its seventieth anniversary. The board was created by John Grierson, a Scot, in 1939 to produce and distribute films to interpret Canada to Canadians and to the world. Funded by the federal government, the NFB was the first such film agency anywhere in the world and has had much success over its history. NFB films have shown at festivals around the world and have received numerous...

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Indigenous (Re)memory and Resistance: Video Works by Dana Claxton

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pp. 116-134

The multifaceted artistic practice of Hunkpapa Lakota artist Dana Claxton intertwines her Indigenous1 worldviews with contemporary Aboriginal realities to create a visual language that exposes legacies of colonization, critiques settler histories, and asserts previously silenced Indigenous perspectives. Although her vast body of work includes films, installations, performances, and photography, her intricately layered video pieces are...

Section Two - Pedagogical Conversations

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pp. 135-145

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Introduction to Section Two

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pp. 137-140

A number of years ago at a Native American Film roundtable discussion a recurring question came up around teaching Native film.1 Many of those participating were educators in American studies, English, ethnic studies, or education who had either limited access to Native films other than those promoted by the motion picture distribution companies—Smoke Signals, for example—or who were located in areas of the country that...

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Native Resistance to Hollywood's Persistence of Vision: Teaching Films about Contemporary American Indians

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pp. 141-174

In representing American Indians, as the still-prescient 1979 documentary film series Images of Indians illustrates, Hollywood films consistently offer nineteenth-century manifest destiny stories, white male perspectives, and monolithic images of vanishing Indians. To non-Indians, these films convey the impression that American Indians are relics of the past; to Indians, they send a message of cultural and historical misrepresentation and...

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Geographies of Identity and Belonging in Sherman Alexie's The Business of Fancydancing

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pp. 175-201

Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), one of the most widely read Native American authors, gained a taste of Hollywood through adapting some of his own short stories into the screenplay for Chris Eyre’s 1998 Smoke Signals, the first Native American–directed feature film to be theatrically released in the modern Hollywood era.1 After trying his hand at other Hollywood writing jobs that followed, Alexie decided to make his...

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Teaching Native American Filmmakers: Osawa, Eyre, and Redroad

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pp. 202-222

Feature films written, directed, and produced by Native Americans have increased substantially in the past ten years, and while Native filmmakers have been making documentaries since the late 1960s, there is relatively little information published on how to teach these films. There is a wealth of knowledge contained within these artistic works and educators might find that they can broach a number of topics via Native media. This chapter...

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"The Native's Point of View" as Seen through the Native's (and Non-Native's) Points of View

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pp. 223-245

This chapter describes a reception study that I conducted with both Navajo and Anglo viewers using two sets of films about Navajos in order to compare and contrast their reactions to “insider” and “outsider” perspectives of the same subject matter. The first set addresses the forced relocation of Navajo families from their ancestral homeland as presented by a Native filmmaker and non-Native filmmakers. I screened the films...

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The Dirt Roads of Consciousness: Teaching and Producing Videos with an Indigenous Purpose

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pp. 246-257

I have a favorite ceramic sugar bowl, handmade in New Mexico, that I bought at an upscale garage sale on Santa Fe’s eastside. For over twenty years it has been a keeper; I love it. The colors and design reflect my life—an abstract desert landscape with pale blue skies and hues of gold and brown with a swathe of green. It reminds me of the northern Rio Grande valley and the foothills near my village of Santa Clara Pueblo, located east...

Section Three - Conversations with Filmmakers

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pp. 259-269

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Introduction to Section Three

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pp. 261-264

Everyone loves a great story: to be included in other people’s stories, to imagine oneself as part of their world. Learning is never more engaging then when peoples’ stories lift you out of the classroom or theoretical realm and into the heart of their reality. Section 3 offers us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in filmmakers’ stories. Here we elevate the volume and strength of the personal voices reflected in the previous sections. Five interviews highlight the individual philosophies, perspectives, personal...

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"Pockets Full of Stories": An Interview with Sterlin Harjo and Blackhorse Lowe

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pp. 265-287

Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Creek) and Blackhorse Lowe (Navajo) are part of a dynamic new generation of filmmakers who have bypassed Hollywood in order to make low-budget portraits of families in their home communities. Unlike the self-conscious, direct engagement with media stereotypes that characterized films like Smoke Signals (Eyre, 1998), Harjo and Lowe tell stories about ordinary people “who just happen to be Native American...

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Wrestling the Greased Pig: An Interview with Randy Redroad

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pp. 288-302

I first encountered Randy Redroad’s (Cherokee) work at the Museum of the American Indian’s Film and Video Center in New York City in late September 2001. The museum sits on the corner of Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan, just blocks from Ground Zero. Army and National Guard, who were camped out in the park and patrolled the area, along with the lingering smell of the destroyed buildings and the debris-polluted air heightened the sense of danger, anxiety, and surrealism of the moment...

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An Upstream Journey: An Interview with Sandra Osawa

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pp. 303-321

Sandra Osawa has been working as a filmmaker longer than any other American Indian in the country. She is also my mother and I have been lucky enough to travel with her and my father, Yasu Osawa, to many parts of Indian country since I was eight years old. At a young age, I never thought the work my parents did was special. It was not until later that I realized that my mother, and really both of my parents, had unique gifts that they cultivated all of their lives to make them into master storytellers...

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Video as Community Ally and Dakota Sense of Place: An Interview with Mona Smith

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pp. 322-336

Mona Smith is a Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota whom I met in the early 1990s, when she was producing work for the Minnesota American Indian AIDS Taskforce. These early videos interweave Native worldview with current health issues, gender identity, sexuality, and sexual orientation, as well as inspiration and Native philosophy in healing. I wrote about two of her videos, Her Giveaway: A Spiritual Journey with AIDS (1988, twentyone minutes) and That Which Is Between...

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The Journey's Discovery: An Interview with Shelley Niro

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pp. 337-358

A gifted photographer, bead worker, painter, multimedia artist, and independent filmmaker, Shelley Niro explores the complex world of Native people and community story in the light of being part of the twentyfirst century. With remarkable insight and often with humor, her work is intended to deflect and even comment on the customary stereotypes of Native people as represented in art and film. One of her strategies is to confront negative or clichéd notions and turn them upside down...

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pp. 359-360

Native Americans on Film is the creative outcome of a long-standing friendship and collegial dialogue about Indigenous film, nurtured by our mutual respect and philosophy of life and learning. Our dialogue grew to include an extended family of educators, scholars, filmmakers, and artists whose voices are highlighted in this volume. Native Americans on Film began as a conversation about the need for a collection of essays that provided the Native American and American Indian studies’ approach to film. As often happens, the idea began...

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Selected Filmography

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pp. 361-367

In conceptualizing this collection, we imagined a resource guide for teachers, academics, students, and general readers. Part of that resource includes this filmography, which provides a listing of the Indigenous films discussed throughout the edition. It also theoretically continues the conversation about what constitutes an Indigenous film and an Indigenous filmmaker, a primary theme throughout the book. Some of the films...


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pp. 369-372


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pp. 373-390

E-ISBN-13: 9780813136813
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813136653

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians in motion pictures.
  • Indians in the motion picture industry -- United States.
  • Indigenous films -- United States.
  • Indian motion picture producers and directors -- United States -- Interviews.
  • Stereotypes (Social psychology) in motion pictures.
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