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Native Recognition

Indigenous Cinema and the Western

By Joanna Hearne

Publication Year: 2012

Offers a new interpretation of the century-long relationship between the Western film genre and Native American filmmaking. Although generally obscured by larger-than-life on-screen images of Indians in Westerns, Native performers, directors, writers, consultants, and crews have been making films that subvert the mass culture images of these supposedly “vanishing” Indians since the silent film era. Reframing the commodity forms of Hollywood films to reenvision Native intergenerational continuity, they have effectively marshaled the power of visual media in the service of advancing national discussions of social justice and political sovereignty for North American Indigenous peoples. Using international archival research and close visual analysis, Joanna Hearne brings together a wide range of little-known productions—from the early silent dramas of Cecil B. De Mille and James Young Deer, to the 1972 film version of House Made of Dawn, and the twenty-first-century feature films of Chris Eyre—to expand our understanding of the complexity of Native interventions in cinema both on screen and through the circuits of film production and consumption.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Native Recognition: Indigenous Cinema and the Western

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pp. 1-3

Native Recognition: Indigenous Cinema and the Western

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pp. 4-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xvi

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pp. xvii-xx

Throughout the years writing this book, my thinking about Indigenous images and image‑making has been influenced by conversations with artists, intellectuals, and scholars who expanded my understanding in innumerable ways. I owe a special debt to Larry Littlebird, Scott Momaday, and Rick...

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Introduction: Before‑and‑After: Vanishing and Visibility in Native American Images

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pp. 1-40

During location shooting in Monument Valley for the 1925 Paramount film The Vanishing American, based on the Zane Grey novel of the same title, a photographer shot a promotional photograph of the film’s non‑Native star, Richard Dix (see figure I.1; see also figure 2.12). Dix plays a Navajo (Diné)...

Part I: Indigenous Presence in the Silent Western

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pp. 41-63

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Chapter 1: Reframing the Western Imaginary: James Young Deer, Lillian St. Cyr, and the “Squaw Man” Indian Dramas

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pp. 43-100

In 1912 John Ford’s older brother, Francis Ford, partnered with Thomas Ince, producer and director of early popular “Indian dramas,” to direct The Invaders, a three‑reel film for Kay‑Bee Pictures. The ambiguity of the film’s title, which refers to white surveyors illegally trespassing on Lakota lands,...

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Chapter 2: “Strictly American Cinemas”: Social Protest in The Vanishing American, Redskin, and Ramona

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pp. 101-175

In the late 1920s, Hollywood studios returned to the “Indian drama” form with a cycle of sympathetic Westerns that directly addressed contemporary social movements to reform federal Indian policy. The policies under pressure governed a range of Native American relationships to the United States,...

Part II: Documenting Midcentury Images

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pp. 177-199

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Chapter 3: “As If I Were Lost and Finally Found”: Repatriation and Visual Continuity in Imagining Indians and The Return of Navajo Boy

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pp. 179-215

The poster for Jeff Spitz’s 2001 documentary film The Return of Navajo Boy visualizes a scenario of encounter, one not seen in the film itself but rather present everywhere in the visual texts that surround it. Against the backdrop of Monument Valley’s rock spires, a man and a woman with their...

Part III: Independent Native Features

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pp. 217-239

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Chapter 4: Imagining the Reservation in House Made of Dawn and Billy Jack

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pp. 219-264

In taking the 1972 film version of House Made of Dawn as my central text in this chapter, my object is to trace one point of emergence in the nascent Native filmmaking movement’s emphatic disarticulation from the representation of Indians as a practice of industrial manufacture. The film...

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Chapter 5: “Indians Watching Indians on TV”: Native Spectatorship and the Politics of Recognition in Skins and Smoke Signals

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pp. 265-296

In preparing for his role as Thomas Builds‑the‑Fire in the 1998 film Smoke Signals, actor Evan Adams (Coast Salish) improvised what would become one of the film’s signature lines: “You know, the only thing more pathetic than Indians on TV, is Indians watching Indians on TV!” This joke—uttered...

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Coda: Persistent Vision

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pp. 297-303

Across the twentieth and into the twenty‑first century, Indigenous peoples have been involved in cinema as performers, directors, writers, consultants, crews, and audiences. While both the specificity and range of this Native participation have often been obscured by the on‑screen, larger‑than‑life...


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pp. 305-345

Works Cited

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pp. 347-377


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pp. 379-408

E-ISBN-13: 9781438443997
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438443973

Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2012