NATIONAL AMERICAN INDIAN HERITAGE MONTH
The first American Indian Day was celebrated in May 1916 in New York. Back in 1990, President George H.W. Bush named November National American Indian Heritage Month. The purpose of the observance is to highlight the roles America's aboriginal peoples have played in the country's history. It's kind of interesting. I'd say that the main role Natives have played in regard to American history was armed resistance and reluctant subjugation. It's kind of like Israel having a National Palestinian Heritage Month, Turkey having an Armenian History Month or Sudan having a Darfur Day.
I suppose, somewhat begrudgingly, that most Natives today have come to accept the fact that America is here to stay ...at least until 2012. Furthermore, Natives have, in many cases, actually been supportive of America and contributed to her history, to be sure. For example, not only did many Native nations align themselves with the US and its colonial antecedents at various times, but they also served as really good trackers and proved to be natural ecologists who demonstrated their intrinsically environmentalist natures by using every part of the bison and coming up with 30 different names for snow.
Don't worry, I will use every part of you Hmm... what kind of snow is this?
AMERICAN INDIANS VS NATIVE AMERICA
Now, one thing I don't get is why we're supposed to differentiate the hemisphere's various indigenous people along the present day lines of colonial-imposed boundaries. For example, why are the Uto-Aztecan-speaking Comanche and Hopi lumped in with Alaska's Aleuts and separated from their Uto-Aztecan cousins, the Aztecs, just because the latter chose to cross a then-non-existent border? It gets especially confusing when you realize that there are/were various people like the Míkmaq, Inuit, Lingít, Niitsítapi, Cree, Algonquin, Kanienkeh, Blackfoot, Tohono O'odham and many others who lived on both sides of the future US's borders as if they weren't even there (namely, because they weren't). Though far from hegemonic, to distinguish between Canada's "First Nations" or "Aboriginal Peoples," the US's "Native American" or "American Indian" population and Latin America's "Indios" or "Pueblos Indígenas" along the lines of their colonial destructors is not only nonsensical but ignorant, at the very least, and possibly a bit racialist.
Anyway, though the stated aim of Native American Heritage Month is to honor contributions only of the U.S.'s indigenous peoples (you know, the usual Sakajewa, Pocahontas and the Navajo Code Talkers stuff), it's not going to stop me from addressing the contributions and existence of non-U.S. Natives from the blogversation as if there's some kind of pan-Native solidarity.
MANY MOONS - A BRIEF HISTORY OF NATIVES AND CIVIL RIGHTS
obviously thrilled to be civilized
When the USA's history began, the country's initial policies toward Natives were either extermination or "civilization" (i.e. forcing them to adopt their conqueror's customs). Civilization occurred in special schools where Christian missionaries sexually, physically and mentally abused children and attempted to force them to abandon their cultural traditions under threat of severe punishment. Their centuries long resistance seems to me to be the first civil rights struggle in this hemisphere.
It was only in 1924 that all Natives were granted U.S. citizenship in the Indian Citizenship Act. There had been citizenship granted earlier, however, to some Natives. In 1831, the Choctaw became the first non-white people to be allowed status as Americans.
You're citizens now. You still don't have the right to have a beer! Go ahead and have some whiskey though.
Good lookin' out, Chief!
About 44,000 Native Americans fought for the US in World War II. They fought alongside other Americans who called them, affectionately and patronizingly, "chief," a practice continued to this day by brohams throughout the nation.
Indians squatting on dawn's highway...
In 1973, at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, Frank Clearwater and Lawrence Lamont - two members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) - were shot and killed by US Marshals.
In 1975, two FBI agents were killed at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation shooutout. As the result of a trial (one wherein the fairness of proceedings have raised widespread concern), activist Leonard Peltier was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2005, Massachusetts repealed their 330 year-old law banning Natives from entering Boston. I assume this had something to do with that tea party that got out-of-control.
Angeleno Natives from the film, The Exiles
Today, most Natives live in California, followed by Arizona and Oklahoma. 8 out of 10 Natives are now of mixed ancestry, sometimes known as "Metis." These figures don't include Mestizos, who are just as Native-descended as Metis, but not included due to aforementioned false distinctions between Natives north and south of the U.S.-Mexican border. This is also despite the fact that over 80% of the Mexican-American population have Native ancestry. Due, I suppose, to deeply the ingrained tradition of Spanish racism, it often seems that most Latinos are in denial of their Native ancestry. Conversely, nearly every non-Latino white person in the U.S. claims to be "part Cherokee." Still, even without counting Latin America's indigenous and mestizo immigrant populations, Los Angeles is home to the largest Native population in the USA.
NATIVE AMERICANS IN THE MOVIE INDUSTRY
In most American film, non-Native (usually white, Latino or Asian-American) actors played Natives as bloodthirsty, unreasoning barbarians whose demise was glorified. Actors in redface depicted Natives as droopy-nosed, barely human stoics capable only of speaking English in broken, halting fortune cookie-isms. Iron Eyes Cody even adopted a Native kid (Robert Tree Cody) and chanted on Joni Mitchell's "Lakota." Lithuanian/Tatar Charles Bronson often passed for believably Native -- at least for a movie-going public almost completely unaware of what Natives actually look like.
RED WING AND YOUNG DEER
There were very few actual Native Americans starring in American films during the silent era. James Young Deer, a veteran of Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West Show, and his wife, Red Wing, starred in Bison Motion Pictures' The Falling Arrow (1909). The two went on to work together in front of and behind the camera. In 1914, Red Wing starred in the first, feature-length film shot in Los Angeles, Squaw Man. Red Wing continued acting, appearing in over 35 films between 1909 and 1921.
Young Deer directed White Fawn's Devotion: A Play Acted by a Tribe of Red Indians in America Under Both Flags, The Red Girl and the Child, A Cheyenne Brave,An Indian's Gratitude, Cowboy Justice and The Yaqui Girl (all 1910); Red Deer's Devotion(1911); The Squaw Man's Sweetheart and The Unwilling Bride (both 1912); The Savage (1913);Who Laughs Last and The Stranger (both 1920); and Lieutenant Daring RN and the Water Rats (1924).
Young Deer acted in The True Heart of an Indian, The Mended Lute, Red Wing's Gratitude and Young Deer's Bravery (all 1909); The Ten of Spades; or, A Western Raffle, Young Deer's Gratitude, The Cowboy and the Schoolmarm, The Indian and the Cowgirl, The Red Girl and the Child and Young Deer's Return (all 1910); Red Deer's Devotion and Little Dove's Romance (both 1911); The Unwilling Bride (1912); Against Heavy Odds (1914); Under Handicap (1917); and Man of Courage (1922).
Read more on Red Wing and Young Deer here
With the emergence of Hollywood and its domination of American film, Asian-American, Black, Latino, and Native American filmmakers were effectively silenced. Although it wasn't commonplace, there were non-white actors who reached celebrity status. By far the most famous indigenous American star was Ray Mala.
Read more about Ray Mala here
Redface and almost always negative portrayals of Natives occurred almost unchecked until AIM started staging protests in front of theaters showing anti-Native films. Their efforts (along with revisionist western filmmakers using the genre to subversively attack the war in Vietnam and address civil rights) helped put an end to the universal glamorization of the Native American holocaust.
Real Native American Film history returned in the 1970s, when a duo of anthropologists taught a group of Navajo how to shoot their own films, which resulted in the series of seven documentaries that make up Through Navajo Eyes (1972).
DOWN WITH THE REDS
Nowadays, Natives primarily serve as local color (e.g. Twin Peaks or Northern Exposure) and authenticity-conferers to white people in whom they recognize something special. To this day, Hollywood is still completely incapable or unwilling to attempt to tell a story purely from a Native perspective. Instead, the protagonist is invariably a white guy who earns (like Jane Godall with her chimps or Diane Fossey with her gorillas) the trust of the noble savages and whose ultimate acceptance of the protagonist serves to exonerate the film's entire audience from racism or exotification and confer on them the status of being down and maybe even slightly mystical.
So, whilst no longer hateful in their portrayal of Natives, now you've got films centered around Natives with white people so down with Natives that the stories are really about them, part of the larger "Through Blue Eyes" genre which includes work like Amistad, Schindler's List (Spielberg is an auteur of the genre), Glory, the Last Samurai, Tarzan, Ghosts of Mississippi, Mississippi Burning &c.
Through Blue Eyes films that deal with Natives include Run of the Arrow (and its un-credited remake, Dances With Wolves), Little Big Man, A Man Called Horse (and Return of a Man Called Horse), The Missing, The New World, Last of the Mohicans, Black Robe, The Mission, Cabeza de Vaca, Thunderheart, Geronimo, Pocahontas, Aguirre Wrath of God, Pathfinder, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, The Emerald Forest, The Light in the Forest. Don't get me wrong, a few of those films are amazing, even favorites. It's just sad that Hollywood won't make a film about Natives which doesn't at least squeeze weddos in somewhere. Even Apocalypto, which was concerned enough with accuracy to be filmed in Mayan, ended with a shot of Spaniards heading for shore, even though their arrival came hundreds of years after the Mayan Civilization had collapsed.
RED WESTERNS, OSTERNS and SAUERKRAUT WESTERNS
Roughly at the same time that America started producing Revisionist Westerns, which often looked critically at the mythologization of the Western narrative and the widespread demonization of Natives, the Eastern Bloc produced so-called Osterns, or Red Westerns. Some (mainly Soviet) merely transplanted Western iconography to a different locale (usually the steppes). Others parodied American Western stereotypes such as Czechoslovakia's Lemonade Joe, the USSR's The Man from the Boulevard des Capucines or the DDR's The Oil, the Baby and the Transylvannians. But most interesting for their portrayal of Natives were the "sauerkraut westerns" made by East Germany's DEFA studios, which cast Native characters against Americans in a propagandic attack on Western capitalism and corruption.
Whether Native-made or merely Native-centric, more and more filmmakers are making films with strong, positive or nuanced portrayals of Native Americans, almost exclusively outside of the Hollywood system.
In 1914, Edward S. Curtis made In the Land of the Headhunters. The cast was entirely made up of Kwakwaka'wakw and, as such, was the first film cast to be entirely Native. The film, though not marketed as a documentary, attempted to accurately portray Kwakwaka'wakw customs. As with all Curtis' depictions of Natives, however, anachronism were portrayed as aspects of modern Kwakwaka'wakw life.
Yawar Malku (1969) is a damning attack on American cultural imperialism. The story concerns American Progress Corps (i.e. Peace Corps) volunteers who, reportedly, sterilized the Quechua in an effort to shrink their impoverished population. In the film, the Quechua get wise and deal with the antagonists. Director Jorge Sanjinés followed it up with several militant films about Natives.
Consider these other Native Cinema films:
Not Pictured - Honey Moccasin, On and Off the Res and Harold of Orange.