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Native American Heritage Films

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

What do you think of when you first hear “Native American”? Pocahontas? Thanksgiving? Or do you imagine the Chiefs or the Redskins? No matter what it may be, this month, I challenge you to dive into the rich history and culture of the indigenous people of the Americas and learn something new because often times, what we imagine when we think of Native Americans is directed by what we see in the media: the extreme whitewashing of Hollywood and the stereotypes they popularize. I’m here to make it easier for you by compiling some resources that may be helpful in your endeavor…

Columbus Didn’t Discover Us

Around the time of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America, 300 Native Americans from North, Central, and South America gather in Ecuador for the first First Continental Conference of Indigenous People. This documentary features interviews with them in order to understand the Columbus legacy from the indigenous point of view and get a better understanding of the 500 years of struggling they faced after European colonization. For most people Columbus represents the “discovery” of America: He is a nationally celebrated hero. However, for many indigenous people, Columbus’ arrival was the beginning of their devastation, with land being taken away and the native people being exploited.

Standing Silent Nation

This documentary presents what life on the reservation in the South Dakota plains is like for the Lakota tribe. Despite the high unemployment rate and the endemic poverty, things begin looking up when Alex White Plume and his family decide to grow industrial hemp—a relative of marijuana— to meet the high worldwide demand for the good while sustaining themselves economically. Although growing hemp was illegal in the U.S, the White Plume family relied on tribal sovereignty to protect them for the U.S federal government. This documentary follows the consequences of the White Plume family’s attempts to improve the lives of their tribe.

In Whose Honor

The controversy of using Native American caricatures to represent sports teams has been an ongoing battle for the indigenous community. Protest and petitions demanding the teams change their mascots have been widespread. This documentary follows Charlene Teters as she protests against Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois’ beloved team mascot, and the controversy it stirred up in the college community. Most people who defend the use of Native American mascots claim that they want to honor Native Americans. However, on the opposite side of the controversy lies the argument of ethnic stereotyping that encourages prejudice. To learn more about the topic, check out this documentary!

Smoke Signals

Featuring a Native American cast, this award-winning film follows two young men, Thomas and Victor, in their journey to pick up the ashes of Victor’s father, Arnold. Throughout the film, the reasons for the tense relationship between Victor and Arnold as well as Thomas’ hero-worship of Arnold is revealed, and the theme of family secrets and finding you self-identity is explored in this film. As an all-Native American production, this film offers a rare occasion where Native Americans represent their own culture and heritage without any misrepresentations from white ideals. Check it out if you’re looking for some comedic relief as well as a poignant story.

If any of the titles above have piqued your interest, come into Media Services and get your copies, and if you find yourself wanting more, browse our collection on IUCAT!


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