Indian Country Diaries

 

American Indian Film Festival

Wednesday and Thursday,  April 12, 13, 2006

 

Indian Country Diaries (formerly Native Americans in the 21st Century) is a two-part series for national public television that explores issues facing contemporary Native Americans in both urban and reservation settings. The 90-minute documentaries feature compelling narrative stories weaving themes of identity, sovereignty, health, assimilation, religion and more into a fascinating portrait of a people too often invisible both on television and to American society in general. Along with the

planned outreach campaign and website, Indian Country Diaries will spark a national dialogue among indigenous peoples as well as between Natives and non-Natives to consider how culture, place and history shape identity.

 

 

In "A Seat at the Drum," journalist/playwright Mark Anthony Rolo (Bad River Ojibwe) seeks to learn how Native Americans in Los Angeles preserve a tribal identity, survive economically and cope with the pressures of assimilation in a challenging metropolis. His personal quest to come to terms with these issues leads him to meet Native community leaders, Indians relocated from reservations, boarding school students, Native business leaders and single parent families whose stories typify the experiences of urban Indians. As these characters tell how Indians in Los Angeles create community and retain a connection to their tribes; choose whether their language and traditions are relevant in the modern world; cope with mounting social problems and declining social services; and develop business empires fueled by gaming profits, Rolo is propelled toward a reckoning with his own identity.

Characters like Tara Baugus, Navajo teacher at the Sherman Indian School – one of the last remaining residential boarding schools – who dreamed of what might be down the long stretch of highway she contemplated as a child on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. Tara moved to Los Angeles as a high school student, became a teacher at her

alma mater and has never looked back, though it pains her that she did not teach her son to speak Navajo. A participant in the Federal relocation program of the 1950’s, Randy Edmonds left Clinton, Oklahoma on the train with hopes of a new job and a new life. He tells of the early attempts relocated Indians made at creating community in bars and at powwows. It was the beginning of the end of being Kiowa, Apache, Navajo or Creek and the birth of being merely Native American. The choice facing new generations of young "urban Indians" is to accept assimilation and celebrate Native culture like Italian, Irish or Polish immigrants to America, or move back home to large, land-based reservations where tribal culture is experiencing a renaissance. Rolo finds that though relocated Indians seem to lose their tribal identity, indigenous California tribes such as the Gabrieleno/Tongva and the Pechanga Band of Luiseno

Indians strive to strengthen theirs. Original inhabitants of the LA Basin, the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe grasp threads of their original birdsongs, traditional ways

and history in an idealistic attempt to gain Federal recognition, and with that, the golden road that the Pechanga have achieved. The Pechanga, a dwindling band before the National Indian Gaming Act was passed, are now so prosperous that Governor Schwarzenegger looks to them and other gaming tribes to help bail out California debt. But what makes them Indian? Is a Federal I.D. number enough? Do the wealthy Indians bear responsibility for philanthropy toward the poor?

 

 

"Spiral of Fire" takes author/historian LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) to the North Carolina homeland of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to discover how their fusion of tourism, community, and cultural preservation is the key to the tribe’s health in the 21st century. Along the way Howe seeks to reconcile her own identity as the daughter of a Cherokee father she never knew. Howe’s search leads the viewer on a journey of discovery to one of the most beautiful places in America where Cherokees living on lands they’ve inhabited for 10,000 years manage their own schools, hospitals, cable company, tourist attractions and multimillion dollar casino. Yet, despite these successes, diabetes threatens 40% of the population, racism undermines self-confidence, and greed threatens to divide the community. "Spiral of Fire" reveals the forces at work to restore health, prosperity and sovereignty to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Forces such as that of Joyce Dugan, former teacher, school superintendent and the only woman elected principal chief, who has been instrumental in cultural preservation efforts by leading the tribe to purchase the site of Kituwah, the original "mother" town of the Cherokee. Dugan has led the effort to feature Cherokee art and culture at the casino hotel by commissioning works by local artists and co-writing a book that resides in every guest room. And Corey Blankenship, whose ambition to be tribal chief has gotten him involved in politics early. As a high school student, Corey led a campaign to convince legislators to pass a bill to allow a land exchange with the National Park Service that will provide a site for badly needed new schools. As well as James "Bo" Taylor, a young father who leads the movement to revitalize the Cherokee language, and traditional songs, dances and spirituality. Howe learns that a strong sense of community binds the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Whether expressed at the high school football game, the 90th annual Cherokee Indian Fair, or at a meeting to protest tribal council actions, their strong sense of identity comes from knowing who their neighbors are, and who their families are back several generations. This realization encourages Howe’s desire to accept her Cherokee identity and to forgive an absent father.