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  • “This Is Our Playground”Skateboarding, diy Aesthetics, and Apache Sovereignty in Dustinn Craig’s 4wheelwarpony
  • Joanna Hearne (bio)

In his 2008 experimental film 4wheelwarpony filmmaker Dustinn Craig (Apache/Navajo) combines the punk and do-it-yourself (diy) aesthetics of skateboarding with family and tribal history to assert an expressive politics of Apache resilience. Using archival images, still and motion picture photography, animation, reenactments, and graphic art, Craig documents his own immersion in youth skateboarding culture in the Whiteriver community of the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona and links several generations of Apache skateboarders with their nineteenth-century ancestors. In addition to the film’s documentary work recording successive cohorts of skaters, Craig also develops the symbolic potential of skate-boards to serve as vehicles for performative and graphic historical storytelling. 4wheelwarpony intervenes in the larger mediascape as well as its off-screen community by supporting the construction of skate parks at Whiteriver; creating ceremony for young men through costumed reenactment and skate contests; and, ultimately, envisioning skateboarding as a means for reestablishing social systems of Apache masculinity, coming of age, and intergenerational nurture. The film and its production perform these many kinds of self-determination by bringing together the diy ethic of punk and skateboarding, independent film production practices, and Apache cultural and political knowledge.

While 4wheelwarpony’s brevity (eight minutes) and its focus on a group of young skateboarders who are marginalized even within their reservation community might suggest a contained or small-scale story, in fact the film engages with expansive historical accounts [End Page 47]

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Fig. 1.

“4wheelwarpony Skateboard Deck” from 4wheelwarpony. Copyright © 2008 Dustinn Craig. Used with permission.

that challenge longstanding narratives of Apache-US relations in the nineteenth century. Understanding the way the film’s personal, lyric visuals exert transformative power in relation to broader discourses about genocide and cultural revitalization requires a methodology that frames the hermeneutic work of film analysis in the context of the social conditions and relations supporting image production. As Faye Ginsburg notes in her 2011 article on the state of the field, Indigenous films “demonstrate that a textual analysis of what we see on-screen is not sufficient if it does not also take into account the cultural and political labor of indigenous activists whose interventions have made support for this possible, revealing how contemporary states and their indigenous citizens negotiate diversity” (“Native Intelligence” 250). Indeed, privileging the voices and priorities of Indigenous artists and the politics of media production marks some of the most important contributions that scholarship on Indigenous media has made to the ongoing study of representation as a phenomenon spanning our world and our screens. In this essay I attend to the film itself—to the way 4wheelwarpony is “indigenizing the screen,” to quote Merata [End Page 48] Mita—and, equally, to the way 4wheelwarpony is keyed to off-screen circumstances that link its production process to Craig’s work with young skaters and with tribal history (Mita, qtd. in Dowell 377). In the interview that accompanies this essay, “Just by Doing It, We Made It Appear,” Craig provides his own account of 4wheelwarpony and the closely related documentary projects We Shall Remain: Geronimo and Apache Scouts. I take up his film here as an exemplar of the generative dynamics underpinning much of contemporary Indigenous media, media that works to decolonize on-screen representational systems, catalyze cultural revitalization, activate political consciousness, and revise powerful historical narratives.

The twenty-first-century flowering of Indigenous filmmaking includes a new wave of short narrative and experimental films by young filmmakers, such as Taika Waititi’s Two Cars, One Night (2004), Kevin Lee Burton’s Nikamowin/Song (2007), Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s Sikumi/On the Ice (2008), Sterlin Harjo’s Cepanvkuce Tutcenan/Three Little Boys (2009), Blackhorse Lowe’s Shimasani (2009), and Helen Haig-Brown’s ?E?anx/The Cave (2009). Independent forms of media production have been a crucial factor in the development of Indigenous cinema, the “Fourth Cinema” that Maori filmmaker Barry Barclay asserts takes place “outside the national orthodoxy” and almost always outside of the industrial studio system (11). Prominent Native filmmakers have modeled autonomous film production in a...


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