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Native People are coming into our own in American pop culture.

MTV has been stepping up to the plate in the acknowledgement of indigenous people in North America. Last week, MTV premiered its first episode of the new season of the show, ‘Rebel Music.’ Last year, the series made a huge impact on audiences. This season’s premiere, just shy of 20min features, Indigenous musical artists and activists from the US and Canada. Amongst the artists featured is Redbud Souix rapper, Frank Waln, First Nations singer Inez Jasper, and Souix rappers, Nataanii Means and Mike “Witko” Cliff.

The musically talented individuals are all teaming up to create a more inspired native youth. Like many in this generation believe, they feel that it is time for today’s “7th Generation” of Native people to take the torch from the elder’s and speak up about social issues in Indian country; give back to the community; bring positive feelings to indigenous people; and reach out to those who don’t know of indigenous struggles.

These “rebel” leaders are using their words and music to send teachings and motivation to carry on the culture and strength so precious to indigenous survival.

Watch the full length premiere on Facebook, or below.

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MTV show films the life of an Indigenous woman.

Courtesy of E! News Online
Courtesy of E! News Online
Inupiat Eskimo cast member, Jackie.  Courtesy of MTV
Inupiat Eskimo cast member, Jackie.
Courtesy of MTV

The MTV Reality show, Slednecks had its debut episode on Thursday evening. In the hour and half episode, audiences were introduced to a group of friends in Wasilla, Alaska, a town made popular by Sarah Palin.

Within the first episode, the audience had seen an array of different personalities, from Sierra and Kelly a couple living in a run-down home that the two seem to provide temporary and crummy fixes to. However, the rest of the group and within a lot of the Wasilla area seem to have the same living situations. Other members of the rowdy group include, Dylan, Zeke, Trevor, “Big” Mike, Tosca, Samantha, Amber, and Hali.

The show also features a girl, Jackie, who is Inupiat Eskimo that moved to Wasilla from the Arctic Circle. She, among her friends is ostracized in a way because of her heritage and conservativeness. Mid-way through the episode her father comes to see Jackie’s birthday party ad friends. When he arrives he is at the party in a winter and hooded wolf coat, he is not only received with surprise but he is surprised with the goings on at the party. The friends were playing a drinking game that incorporated strip poker and the game quarters.

Later on in the show, Sierra tries to get Jackie to use her culture as a means of profit by convincing her to pose for the “Wild Woman of Alaska” calendar. While Jackie does go along with it she doesn’t flaunt herself in a bikini like the others did, instead she wore a fur coat she received from her family for her birthday. All whilst her peers teased her about her outfit.

In many cases most viewers probably wouldn’t have seen these scenes as offensive and in more ways than one evidence of privilege in Western and more specifically American society. Much of the indigenous people as well as their culture have become sexualized. People see it in Halloween costumes, movies, and now this “reality” show. However, the fact that Jackie stuck with her own comforts as well as standards regardless of her friends trying to convince her to do what she seems to feel as objectifying herself, sets a standard for others watching the show that are indigenous people or otherwise. In many cases it also is an eye opener as to how pressuring society is on showing skin for anyone, although in history it is very common for indigenous women in entertainment.

In the Huffington Post article, the MTV President, Stephen Friedman, is attempting to show some of the other Native American and indigenous cast members’ cultures and how they collide with others.

It will be interesting and perhaps insightful to see the rest of the series’ and how the native cast is portrayed in entertainment.

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South Park takes on that team in Washington.

“Digging in our heels and pissing on public opinion is what the Washington R*****ns is all about!” – Cartman (South Park)

This week there was two shows that covered the major NFL issue that is being drowned out by the current Ray Rice scandal (although domestic abuse is still an important topic). One was Jon Stewart’s coverage on the Daily Show that brought in Native American activists, some from the 1491s. The segment can be seen here and generally speaks for itself:

The other was South Park, for the full episode click here.

In the episode entitled, “Go Fund Yourself,” the boys of South Park created a start up company that does absolutely nothing. The debate over its name followed soon after, until Cartman chooses the Washington R*****ns after finding out that the trademark for the team was lifted.*

After declaring their company’s name, Dan Snyder was introduced into the episode to plead that they stop using the trademark and name because it was unfair and that it offended the football team. Snyder asks Cartman to change the name and his response was, “We have total respect for you. When we named our company the Washington R*****ns it was out of deep appreciation for your team and your people… ” Cartman finished his statement that he won’t change it out of sheer decency because he doesn’t want to and that it will be “super-hard”. The writers are so clearly mocking Dan Snyder’s response to the countless pleas from native people to change the name.

The writers also reference back to the 1971 Keep America Beautiful commercial featuring Iron Eyes Cody, however, they show Snyder picking up a newspaper on the Washington team and looking into the camera with a tear in his eye.

Following this they touched on the Ray Rice scandal as well as the lack of responsibility and action from NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell. They turned him into a glitching robot, repeating his actual statements as his voice-over, pointing out that Goodell has done and confirmed nothing about both of the situations.

The other topic that this episode so eloquently touched on was the its referencing of the “big F*** you” that the team and Snyder had given native people and other supporters by creating their “Original Americans Foundation” to ‘benefit’ native people.

The final few moments of the show depicts Snyder on the football field alone facing the Cowboys. Snyder gets pummeled and tackled multiple times and getting back up every time as crowd member yells out “just stay down” showing how Snyder makes things worse, for himself, his team and native people, by persisting on the subject. The show closes with a protest on the boy’s company and that it was demeaning everything the fans had stood for. The boys had given up on the fight for it and walked away.

The play in these popular programs, shows that the Washington team, its offensive name, and actions is allowing for Natives to finally be heard on a subject that isn’t about gambling.

For more information on the Original Americans Foundation and its insult to native people check out my article on XoJane.com.

*The Court has in fact decided to let the team keep the trademark while their court appeals are being processing.

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Robert Davidson – Abstract Impulse

davidson_robertThursday (June 5), I was in attendance of the final day of The Americas Film Festival of New York at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. I showed up early, like the over eager woman that I am, and spent some time walking around exhibits to observe some wonderful history and kill a bit of time before the premiere of the amazing film, Winter in the Blood (my review can be found here).

I was most drawn to the Abstract Impulse exhibit by Robert Davidson, of the Haida tribe in Canada (b.1946). The Salish style artwork was wonderfully curated in both directions of the exhibits path.

The outer pieces included jewelry, and wooden sculptures as well as darker colored paintings leading in to larger brighter pieces. These pieces had bright but deep red patterns and symbols that stood out against the eggshell white walls. This allowed the audience to feel the energy that was put into each piece.

Playing throughout the exhibit was a video featuring Davidson speaking about his pieces and on his work through the years. “Art has given me a chance to be a voice,” Davidson said within the video. With the energy and beauty from all of his pieces, Davidson has done just that by ‘speaking’ through his art about his tribe’s history and traditional symbolism.

My favorite pieces within the exhibit were the drums that were set up as a kind of funnel into an enclave that held totem pieces. The drums entitled, “Eagle Giving Birth to itself” finished in 1992 featured the traditional salish eagle, painted in white, red and black on the head of the drum. The second drum was entitled “Echoes From the Supernatural” or Wolf Drum. This drum was finished in 1991. These drums are traditionally used at potlatches (similar to pow wows) and other ceremonies.

 

The exhibition will continue through mid-September. The following was taken from the NMAI website:

 

“Organized by the NMAI and the Seattle Art Museum, this is the first major U.S. exhibition of works by Haida artist Robert Davidson, a pivotal figure in the Northwest Coast Native art renaissance since 1969, when he erected the first totem pole in his ancestral Massett village since the 1880s. For more than 40 years, Davidson has mastered Haida art traditions by studying the great works of his great-grandfather Charles Edenshaw and others. More recently, Davidson has interjected his own interpretation of the old forms with forays into abstraction, explored in boldly minimalistic easel paintings, graphic works, and sculpture, where images are pared to essential lines, elemental shapes, and strong colors. Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse features 45 paintings, sculptures, and prints created since 2005, as well as key images from earlier in the artist’s career that show Davidson’s evolution toward an elemental language of form. Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse is organized by the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) in collaboration with the NMAI–NY. Lead Grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Major support provided by The MacRae Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by The Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation, Port Madison Enterprises, Eugene V. and Clare Thaw Charitable Trust, and Contributors to SAM’s Annual Fund.”

 

While I would have loved be able to share pictures of the pieces within the exhibit, photography was prohibited under museum policy. However, I highly recommend viewing any of Davidson’s exhibitions on museum visits or at gallery showings. For more information on Davidson and to check out his works you can go to his website.

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Native Woman Crush Wednesday: Joanne Shenandoah

ShenandoahSinger, composer, actress, humanitarian, mother, and educator are just some of what make up the woman that is Joanne Shenandoah, of the Iroquois and Oneida Nation.

Having won over 40 music awards, Shenandoah has made her mark in the Native music industry as well as internationally. She has been known to perform at countless humanitarian events alongside, Peter Seeger, Willie Nelson, Bono, and many others. According to her biography she has now recorded 16 CD’s.

In recent years she performed at the Vatican, for the canonization of Saint Kateri Takekwitha. She has also continued to perform in multiple ways for her audiences. For environmental, spiritual, musical and historical reasons, Shenandoah travels across the country and as well as to Canada to participate in educational programs with her husband and daughter Leah.

Joanne-ShenandoahGrowing up, Joanne Shenandoah has impact me heavily in the more spiritual aspect of my life. As a little girl, my mother had introduced me to her album “Matriarch” and would play it for me to fall asleep, if I was ever upset, or just to enjoy something native and warm to play around the house. Little did my mother know that I would then carry around that cassette tape in my Sony Walkman for years playing, dancing and singing along to Shenandoah’s enchanting voice.

I was later able to see her perform at a small concert with family in Philadelphia where afterwards we were able to speak with her. I remember how starstruck and nervous I was when meeting her. Thinking about this memory now, I smile and then I realize the incredible impact that Shenandoah has on people, even toddlers, like I was when I first saw her perform.

Whenever I play the “Matriarch” album (on my iPod now), I immediately am taken to calm place and feel stronger than I was before I hit play. Below is the audio to one of her songs off the album:

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Frank Waln is doing it big!

Frank Waln
Frank Waln (Twitter)

Frank Waln, Sicangu Lakota, is the new up and coming native hip-hop artist and rapper who has been featured in the Chicago Tribune today.

Waln is 24 and attending his final year at Columbia College Chicago. Like many Native youth who struggle on and off the reservation rap and hip-hop is easily something to relate to. The way Waln has now impacted the music scene is through his incredible verses.

Listening to his music (often when I write or study), always gets me thinking on how to be better and improve my life as well as others around me through my culture. Seeing another young native peer using words and other talents to inspire the masses to speak out against American oppression is so amazing and leaves me with a huge smile on my face.

I hope to be able to get him up to the University of Maine for a performance in the near future. For those who have never heard of him or his music I recommend listening to his Sound Cloud here (my recent favorite is “White War”) and to check out the great article from the Tribune. You can also Waln on twitter, @FrankWaln.

Keep doing great things, Frank!

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Doris Pilkington Garimara has passed.

Doris Pilkington Garimara
Doris Pilkington Garimara

 

On Sunday Apr. 13, Aboriginal author Doris Pilkington Garimara passed away at age 76.

Pilkington Garimara is known for her documentation of her mother, Molly Craig’s journey of escape from the Moor River Native Settlement north of  Perth, Australia. The most well known book, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, published in 1996 follows Pilkington Garimara’s mother and her two relatives as they escape from the Native Settlement. Much like residential schools that have haunted American history, the three were taken from their home and forced to be taught the ways of the white Australian society and punished if they were found participating in any form of Aboriginal culture.

Rabbit-Proof Fence movie poster.
Rabbit-Proof Fence movie poster.

 

The three girls were able to escape by walking along the 1,600 kilometer (almost 1,000 miles) rabbit proof fence in Western Australia that passed along their home near Jigalong. They faced starvation, government and police trackers and the wild.

The book was adapted to the screen in 2002 was a huge success. If you have not read the book or watched the movie I recommend doing so. Not only is the storyline fast paced but it entices a vast array of emotions due to its truth and history.

Pilkington Garimara, her family and many surviving Aboriginals are among the Stolen Generations. Having Pilkington Garimara document the amazing story of her relatives through a number of books to tell and retell the history that has impacted so many indigenous people internationally has been an incredible benefit for the younger generations. The passing of Doris Pilkington Garimara is not going unnoticed and she should be and will be honored throughout the world.

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Older than America: Awards don’t make a movie.

Browsing through Netflix, I remembered hearing about the movie “Older Than America” from a bunch of people in Indian Country. Adding it to my queue I decided to check out the trailer first before watching.  “Older Than America,” from the trailer looked like a promising film so I hit play. After watching it, I realized that the trailer did precisely what it was meant to do, attract you to the movie. The trailer was better than the film.

“Older Than America” is a Native American thriller based on the trauma that native residential schools have left on today’s society. Starring skilled native actors such as Adam Beach, Wes Studi, Tantoo Cardinal, Georgina Lightning and featuring Bradley Cooper in a supporting role, I was surprised by the under acting in the film. All of the actors seemed as if they weren’t even trying to perform well. It was shocking the lack of fluidity in lines and emotions in some scenes with Beach and Lightning.

As Georgina Lightning’s directorial debut she was successful in creating an entertaining set for a tragic aspect of Native people’s history. While the aspect was well thought out it was carried out in a surprisingly mediocre fashion.

Lightning played the main character, Rain, has been subject to visions about a secret past of the reservation and its boarding school. In the beginning of the film the audience is shown that after a mysterious earthquake arises near the abandoned boarding school, a geologist (Cooper) comes to investigate the strange occurrences. He befriends John Goodfeather (Beach), a reservation police officer and Rain’s fiancé. The rest of the film is a battle between Rain, her Aunt Apple (Cardinal), the local priest and discovering the truth about Rain’s visions.

In analyzing the film, Cooper’s character plot and the rest of the film, don’t merge properly; Luke (Cooper) was a side-plot that never had a true conclusion that lead to the rest. I felt compelled by the history of the boarding school that had caused its students to be “broken and bruised with scars that never healed” but I was left left questioning the background and future of the characters.

The film had won two awards from The American Indian Film Festival, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Wes Studi). However, it most likely had to do with the historical content of the film. I thought Studi’s role, Richard Two Rivers, the reservation’s radio host, was a minimally contributing role in the film. Which also makes Cooper and his character as being used merely for his worldwide acting success to bring attention to the film.

While the film tries at an interesting storyline its main point was to bring attention to the travesties that occurred across indigenous communities from forced removal of children and their placement into residential schools. It succeeded in this aspect but not as fulfilling entertainment. The film itself seems confused with its identity as a documentary versus a film with a compelling fantasy storyline, which can be the reason for the sub-par acting from skillful actors.

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Native Woman Crush Wednesday: Melaina Sheldon

Melaina Sheldon: Indigenous women and First Nations Theater.

In recent years the major buzz has been in sports with the misappropriation of indigenous people as team mascots. While the representation of native people is important the aspect of how native people represent themselves is equally so.

Internationally, the struggle of breaking the barrier in the entertainment and arts industry is a large focus for the future of indigenous people. Canadian First Nations member, Melaina Sheldon speaks of how she feels First Nations theatre has impacted her and its effects in society.

Sheldon, of the Teslin Tlingit Council from Teslin, Yukon Territory Canada has contributed much of her life to First Nations theatre. Graduating from high school in Whitehorse, and attending the University of Victoria where she double minored in Greek & Roman Studies and Indigenous Studies, achieving a Bachelors of Arts degree, Sheldon moved on quickly into theater. Having always felt a pull to acting but never doing more than a few classes during her education she later began her pursuit in an acting series near her home in the Yukon.

In 2008, Sheldon had auditioned for a public play for the Gwaandak Theatre’s Summer Play Reading Series, which according to Sheldon is the most cost-effective way to produce a play and find local talent who are interested in First Nations Theatre.

When first participating, Sheldon was selected to perform in Kenneth T. Williams’ play Bannock Republic. “What inspired me when I read this play was what was being said,” Sheldon commented. Referring to Williams’ representation of politics, reserve life and residential schools that were less talked about openly publicizing the issues. Sheldon states, “It was there that I saw the power of the art of theatre.”

In Sheldon’s experience, all plays are meant to say something of importance and reveal a face of humanity. An example of a work she feels that has stood out in this way is Keith Barker’s The Hours That Remain, in which she played Michelle. The play is takes on the unrecognized of numerous missing and murdered women in Canada. In recent years the issue has been lacking national attention, and within the last few months the Federal Government of Canada had rejected the request for a National Public Inquiry of the missing and murdered indigenous women.

In the Native Women’s Association of Canada Fact Sheet for the statistics of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls in 2010 conducted on cases within 10 years, approximately 582 cases have been documented. Of these cases 67 percent were due to homicide or negligence; 4 percent were of suspicious death, which includes death caused by police, family or community members. Another 20 percent are cases of that are just for missing women and girls and the final 9 percent are of unknown cause of present circumstances. These statistics have risen and impact all of indigenous women within Canada as well as internationally, in places like New Zealand where these atrocities are frequent.

With issues like this that are being exposed within the arts and entertainment industry it creates a greater need for indigenous people in these roles and productions. For the Hours That Remain, the company would tour Canada to conduct this form of dialogue on the issues of missing aboriginal women and girls.

In most indigenous theater companies their goal is to create a dialogue within the audience, cast, crew, director and playwright to expand the knowledge on national and international issues. Sheldon, due to indigenous theater, feels “stronger in [her] beliefs and in [her] identity as a First Nations woman” thus becoming more approachable as an advocate and source of information in both theater and within her tribe on issues. In her community she is an active member on the General Council of the Teslin Tlingit Council’s Self-Government, directing decisions for her tribe that involve various issues, much of which include that of the concerns of indigenous women.

In regard to the historical treatment of indigenous people as entertainment, Sheldon has described her experience as one that in First Nations Theater allows you to step away from the stereotypical roles. Being that you are no longer entertaining non-natives but according to Sheldon, are “ ‘entertaining’ ourselves, in ‘our way’ – we set the standard and decide the stories that need to be told, as well as educating the rest of the world from a First Nations perspective.” Most visions of indigenous theater are to provide another form of support, advocacy and an outlet to for native creativity and voices.

Today, Sheldon also works as the Community Arts and Events Coordinator, helping coordinate the biennial gathering Ha Kus Teyea (The Tlingit Way). Sheldon advises anyone in the First Nations who has interests in theater but feels that they aren’t going to be recognized “that there most definitely is a space and need for us here!” For more information on getting involved in theater or attending events, Sheldon recommends contacting Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance (IPAA), Native Earth Performing Arts, and the Gwaandak Theatre, all of which can be found online. All of these groups look to provide experience, exposure and empowerment to indigenous voices for the education of all people on indigenous issues. With this type of mission, indigenous arts and entertainment will be in the forefront of indigenous peoples’ future.

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Winter in the Blood rings true in present day native traumas.

Winter in the Blood film poster.
Winter in the Blood film poster.

On the evening of April 3, entering the auditorium, with only having the trailer of the film resonating in my mind, I knew how profound the feature had the potential to be. Having never read the book, Winter in the Blood but familiar with James Welch’s work, the connections from his time to present day native issues are still very much relevant. Issues such as blood quantum, abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism are featured in the film and are very real in indigenous society.

Co-director, Alex Smith welcomed his audience and beginning the film, saying, “Sit back, laugh, cry, get lost, get found,” and just like that described everything one will feel and do while watching the film. As the audience views the journeys that Virgil First Raise, played by Chaske Spencer, goes through from his original plan to find his renegade wife and his stolen rifle, the audience is given the chance to explore their own relatable journeys.

The film is directed in a way that resembles First Raise’s state of intoxication, consciousness and clarity. From First Raise’s drunken stupors and his flashbacks of memories you are brought through his emotional and critical life experiences. In this First Raise thinks critically and tries to focus on his traumas in order to find himself and get the closure he longs for. While many may think that they are merely watching another stereotypical “drunken Indian” the trouble that Virgil First Raise goes through in his life encompasses many natives’ troubles that go unacknowledged. It isn’t a clichéd role or story if much of it speaks truths for indigenous people.

The film, like many books, is filled with metaphors, one being that throughout the film the rifle the audience sees so much of is broken and unable to fire off a shot. However, when Virgil brings it to a blind elder, he is able to fix it. When returning the rifle the elder says, “the rifle wasn’t broken, something was just stuck deep inside it.” These words describing the problem with the rifle is what the audience sees in Virgil’s journey to find himself.

Chaske Spencer portrays a native soul who has experienced a huge amount of loss, pain, helplessness and self-inflicted tormenting with absolute perfection. Spencer, known for his roll in the Twilight film series, makes a definite break out from that roll and proves hundreds of times over his acting abilities.

From his deep voice the audience hears narrate the film, to the incredible drama and drunken sequences he portrays he captures you in every scene.

Smith commented on all the actors ability, to “access the characters that none of [the crew] being native could.” The director’s recognition of these abilities in native actors is a major boost in the indigenous entertainment industry needs. Being that many native-based content films, books, and theater aren’t widely produced it gives a non-native perspective of appreciation.

I highly recommend this powerful movie to anyone who is interested in movies that hit spot on with native traumas that are very real amongst native people as well as to those who want a look inside of their selves.