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Jay Silverheels - Happy American Indian Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 24, 2010 02:00pm | Post a Comment

Jay Silverheels was a Kanien'kehá:ka actor born Harold J. Smith on May 26th, 1912. He was born on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reservation, the most populous First Nation in Canada, and the only nation in which all six Iroquois nations live together. He was the third of eleven children born to Major George Smith, the most decorated Native American soldier in the Canadian Army, who served in World War I.




Harold began going by the name Jay and was given the nickname Silverheels when he played on the lacrosse team, the Mohawk Stars, at sixteen. He later moved across the Niagara River to play lacrosse on the North American Amateur Lacrosse Association team, the Rochester Iroquois. He also boxed and in 1938 placed second in the middleweight section of the Golden Gloves tournament. He lived for a time in Buffalo, where he had his first son, Ron, with Edna Lickers.

The previous year he'd begun working in film, as an extra in the musical comedy, Make a Wish. He married his first wife, Bobbi, and they had a daughter named Sharon. They divorced in 1943. Over the next few years he appeared, usually uncredited, as a stuntman or extra in The Sea Hawk, Too Many Girls, Hudson's Bay, Wester Union, Jungle Girl, This Woman is Mine, Valley of the Sun, Perils of Nyoka, Good Morning, Judge, Daredevils of the West, The Girl from Monterrey, Northern Pursuit, The Phantom, I Am an American, Raiders at the Border, Passage to Marseille, The Tiger Woman, Haunted Harbor, Lost in a Harem and Song of the Sarong.

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Red Wing and Young Deer, the First Couple of Native American Silent Film

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 20, 2010 04:00pm | Post a Comment

Cast and Crew Members at Inceville in Santa Monica, circa 1915

Before the emergence of Hollywood and the studio system, moviemaking was something of a free-for-all, open to anyone that could afford it. In the US, that privileged group was almost exclusively white and male. Roles for minorities were usually crudely stereotypical, minor, and liable to be played by a white actor in yellowface, brownface, blackface or redface. As a result, some minority figures attempted to start their own alternatives. In 1916, Oakland resident Marion Wong made the first example of Asian-American Cinema with The Curse of Quon Gwon. A few years later, Anna Mae Wong and Sessue Hayakawa began making films. In 1918, John Noble invented Black Cinema with Birth of a Race. He was soon joined in his endeavor by Oscar Mischeaux.

In the Land of the Head Hunters movie poster 

True Native American cinema beat them both by almost a decade. The mainstream view of Natives at the time was generally less murderously hateful than those of contemporary Asians and blacks (or the Natives' ancestors). In fact, Natives were widely adored and fetishized, what Frank Chin would later term “love racism." Natives, regardless of reality, were reduced to mere metaphors and symbols… for stoicism, honor, strength, &c. Edward S. Curtis's 1914 In the Land of the Headhunters and Robert Flaherty's 1922 Nanook of the North have little to do with reality, but did reflect well-meaning white men’s attempts to portray their subjects with some respect, even if it meant they had to fictionalize and stage everything.


Red Wing, Young Deer and cast members

However, beating them to the punch was a member of the Ho-Chunk nation, James Young Deer. Red Deer was born in Dakota City, Nebraska in an unknown year. He was already a showbiz veteran by the time he got into film, having previously performed with the Barnum and Bailey circus and the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West Show. In 1909, the New York Picture Company established their western imprint, Bison Motion Pictures, in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Edendale, then the center of west coast film production. Fred J. Balshofer was put in charge and Young Deer directed the first Native American film with 1909’s The Falling Arrow. Young Deer also co-starred in the picture, along with his wife, Red Wing.

  

Red Wing was born Lillian St. Cyr on February 13th, 1883 on Nebraska's Ho-Chunk Reservation to a white father and a Ho-Chunk mother. When Lillian was four years old, her mother died. Red Wing and two of her siblings were sent off to pro-assimilation schools. Red Wing went to Carlisle Indian Industrial School; her siblings Julia and David attended Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. On April 9th, 1906 she married James Young Deer. Working together behind and in front of the camera, the couple began working on films that addressed racism, assimilation, miscegenation and cultural clashes between whites and reds. That year, they also worked on For Her Sale; or, Two Sailors and a Girl and Red Wing's Gratitude (both 1909). 

France’s Pathé Frères, in a bid for greater authenticity, hired Red Wing and Young Deer in 1910. They worked primarily in New Jersey until Red Deer became head of Pathe's West Coast studios. In Los Angeles, they were also in demand as actors. Cecil B. DeMille chose Red Wing to star in 1914’s The Squaw Man, the first feature-length picture shot in LA. 

In the 1910s, the moviemaking landscape was changing. William Selig moved from Edendale to Lincoln Heights and opened a zoo. Nestor Studio opened in Hollywood. Over the next two years, so did more than a dozen other studios. Red Wing continued acting, appearing in over 35 films between 1909 and 1921. 

Young Deer continued to direct and act. He 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).


He acted (often for Balshofer) 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).

Red Wing and Young Deer's film careers were mostly over by the 1920s. Young Deer worked in France, making documentaries between 1913 and 1919. Red Wing worked as a college lecturer and civil rights activist. During the 1930s, Young Deer worked occasionally as a second-unit director on B-movies and serials. He died in New York City in April 1946. Red Wing died on March 13th, 1974.
  
Of the young, minority cinemas, only Black Cinema continued to prosper through the rise and fall of Hollywood, in part because there was a large black film-going audience who craved an alternative to Hollywood’s viciously demeaning portrayal of their people. With much smaller audiences, depictions and roles for Native Americans, like Asians, were completely co-opted by Hollywood for the next 50 or so years. For half a century, Natives in Hollywood existed almost exclusively within westerns, with rare exceptions like The Exiles (1961) and Through Navajo Eyes (1972).


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The situation in Ngulu Mapu intensifies

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 31, 2009 01:16pm | Post a Comment
Although it's received little-to-no coverage in most mainstream media, clashes between Mapuche activists and the Chilean government have intensified as of late. Two days ago, thousands of Mapuche and other Chileans gathered around the country to protest plans for damming many of the country's rivers. This was only the latest round in a growing protest movement over land rights issues in Ngulu Mapu, the Mapuche homeland.


Just two weeks ago, a young Mapuche, Jaime Mendoza Collío, was shot in the back and killed by a Chilean police officer. The police were attempting to evict a group of about eighty Mapuche who were occuypying the San Sebastián farm. Following Collío's death, many Mapuche took to the streets of Temuco demanding direct talks with the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet. The killing of Collío was only the latest death of a Mapuche at the hands of Chilean police. On January 3, 2008, 22-year-old Mapuche student Matias Catrileo was shot and killed by police. 17-year-old Alex Lemun was similarly shot and killed in November of 2002.


The Mapuche, whose claims to Ngulu Mapu stem from thousands of years of continuous presence, routinely clash with the Chilean governments as it sells off more and more of the Mapuche homelands to foreign mining companies which wreak considerable environmental destruction whilst reaping considerable profits. Meanwhile, large timber firms (most state-owned) continue to deforest the countryside. Most of the timber ends up in the US, at an annual profit of about $600 million. After the forests are destroyed, the timber firms replant the area with thirsty, non-native trees like eucalyptus. Those who speak out against what they call environmental racism are frequently arrested under the banner of counter-terrorism. The government regularly applies laws enacted during the Pinochet dictatorship to imprison activists, especially those belonging to Mapuche organizations like Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM).


In 1993, the government passed a law that recognizes Mapuche and Chile's other indigenous peoples and allows for Mapudungun, their language, to be taught in schools. For many, much more needs to be done. In addition to seeking the ownership of their ancestral homeland, the Mapuche seek constitutional recognition of their tribal identity, rights and culture. Toward that aim, a delegation of Mapuche leaders recently traveled to Geneva to appear before the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), where they hoped to gain condemnation of the Chilean goverment's alleged environmental racism.


Susana Abgélica y Los Peñis

The Mapuche's origins aren't agreed upon and their languaage, Mapudungun, is variously classified as relating to other Andean languages, Carribean Arawak, Mayan and even North American Penutian. Recent DNA analysis has shown that the Mapuche's Araucana chicken is native to Polynesia and was a staple of their diet before the European colonization of the Americas, suggesting that there was trade between Pacific Islanders and Native Americans (Rapa Nui is off the Chilean coast). The Mapuche also succesfully resisted several attempts by the mighty Inca empire to subjugate them. Although the Spaniards first claimed the lands in the 16th century, the Mapuche proved so effective in driving them away that it wasn't until 1862 that any permanent Chilean presence was established. It was the longest indigenous resistance struggle in the western hempisphere and, as recent tensions reveal, for many Mapuche, it continues.


Nancy San Martín
For those interested in Mapuche in film, there are several movies that focus on Mapuche issues, including Mapuche (1972), La Nave de Los Locos (1995) and the documentary Huinchan. There are also, of course, many CDs representing the music of Mapuche people, ranging from traditional to, inevitably, hip-hop. In addition to the artists featured above, Mapuzungun, Groupe Kalfucanelo, Tino La Guitarra Mapuche, Beatriz Pichi Malen and many other examples of music representing the voice of the Mapuche are available.


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November is Native American Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 5, 2008 07:19pm | Post a Comment


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.


Clearly, since the presence of Mounties indicates that this is Canada, these can't be Native Americans, right?

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.





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MANY MOONS  -  A BRIEF HISTORY OF NATIVES AND CIVIL RIGHTS

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