Native Expressions of the Old Year Set Up the New Year

Alex Jacobs

2013 will be known by many actions and events in the historical record, including Canada declaring war on its own First Nations peoples and the indigenous IdleNoMore response. Canada seems hell bent on resource extraction via transnational corporations. Will Canadians derail this runaway train and get a chance to vote green? Will Americans vote green against Keystone XL, will Obama say yes or no? Brazil’s Kayapo Indians are once again fighting back on the Belo Monte hydroelectric power project, something they thought they had defeated once. Brazil has upped the ante, saying they would scale back from 5 dams to 2 dams. Now there is legislation pending that would allow Brazil to go ahead with all development and not be required to inform its indigenous peoples. Sounds like The Canada Plan. Also disturbing this year was the exposure of the missing and murdered First Nations Women in BC and the American Northwest and the lack of police investigative results.

This year was strange in that us Native Folks were debating and arguing over Johnny Depp, his portrayal of a fictitious Tonto and whether we should like Johnny or Hollywood or any Native portrayals at all. Did you know one part-time Hollywood actor who demanded just the chance to be able to play a Native American (or any other character) was able to scuttle an attempt to “authenticate” Native representation in movies (re: Native Preference in Hiring), because studios don’t want lawsuits, fights with actor unions or bad PR for movie projects.

Now that was just the scary stuff. It was actually a good year for small, independent Native films and intimate portrayals, away from the Hollywood machine. That should actually put the Johnny Depp/Tonto arguments away for good. If you want a Hollywood blockbuster then you have to put up with the machinery and the BS. If you want to develop a proper foundation for Native Cinema, then just keep doing what they’re doing now with small indies and features. Just revel in all the small Native themed movies lately: Frozen River, Rez Bomb, A Thunder-Being Nation, Mesnak, Tiger Eyes, The Lesser Blessed, Winter in the Blood, Empire of Dirt, the Activist, Road to Paloma. I did hear that the original movie script for Wilma Mankiller’s bio was rewritten to remove controversial material (that she was an alleged AIM activist!) see the movie to find out, The Cherokee Word for Water.

What I find interesting among these movie-scripts like Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Blackstone, Out of the Furnace, and The Sopranos episode with the Mohonks: They all deal with the contemporary nastiness of being an Indian living on the Rez in the age of casinos, whether true or not, they are uncomfortably close. I see the potential for a real blockbuster, The Indian Godfather, with as many stereotypes as you can fit into a major two-hour movie, how about Indians playing Italian Mafioso, Jack Abramoff and other ex-cons doing cameos, NDN hitman whacking the worst offenders, New Agers fighting for bit parts, Hollywood actors portraying fake Indians and Native actors playing great heroes and villains, hot mob wives, AIMsters, gangsta skinzs, shamanic studs, rez honeys and pow wow queens. It would be a casting bonanza leaving dead Hollywood bodies across the country while rewriting our own cinematic history.

Leading this growing list of Indigi-Indie films, is the Sundance Institute certified indie, Drunktown’s Finest (aka Dry Lake), with a Navajo director and lead actors and dozens more Native characters and crew. As we say this, the Sundance crowd will probably anoint Drunktown’s Finest to the top of 2014’s movies to see. Winter in the Blood, was “The Indian Movie” just a few months ago, with a major Native cast and winning all the awards. My guess is both movies will break out to theatre audiences in 2014.

2013 is also the year of Native Fashion as High Art, since Taos Pueblo Native Patricia Michaels won the hearts and minds of Project Runway fans early on, ended losing Season 11 but kickstarting her PM Water Lily designs into a worldwide campaign that has opened up a new phase of her career. Native Designers such as Sho Sho Esquiro, Bethany Yellowtail and the Paul Frank designers, Autumn Dawn Gomez, Dustin Martin, Louie Gong, made headlines this year along with the great look of Cree Nisga’a Clothing and its boots. Cochiti artist/designer Virgil Ortiz continues his international profile with his Donna Karan collaborative work, the Indigene line, pottery and now film.

Fashion Week Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival and MoCNA conjoined at the downtown Eldorado Hotel for Fashion Heat 2013, including pieces by Fashion Heroes Lloyd Kiva New and Kay Bennett from the 60s-70s, and local hero Patricia Michaels. But what was really interesting were artists such Rose B. Simpson representing the avant-garde and Naomi Beebo representing the contemporary aspects of traditional native techniques along with her husband award-winning beadwork artist Dallin Maybee. Yet why do the fashionistas continue to raid Native culture? First it was Victoria’s Secret, Gwen Stefani and Drew Barrymore, as documented by Cannupa Hanska Luger’s exhibit, STEREOTYPE: Misconceptions of the Native American. So at years-end we get the estimable Karl Lagerfeld doing these over-the-top Art Deco befeathered and befringed romanticized Cowboy & Indian allegedly wearables for Chanel. They looked like faded ghosts stepping out of and then back into the past on some weird merry-go-round.

Professional Native Women in the Arts abound, affirm and shake things up. Amber Dawn Bear Robe is the new director of the Pablita Velarde Museum for Native Women in the Arts, named for the Southwest Art icon. Ms. Bear Robe represents Native Women in the Arts by being herself, as in organizing, networking, curating, writing, acting and being involved in the Santa Fe film and fashion community. Her partner is film-maker and SFUAD Chair of Film Studies Chris Eyre, who’s been the face and voice of Native Cinema the last few years.

Mohawk/Tuscarora poet Janet Marie Rogers made waves from Vancouver’s Talking Stick Festival to The Lincoln Center in NYC in 2013. Rogers is a multi-media artist, once a painter she broke through in Vancouver BC as a spoken word artist publishing books and CD’s, now with her own brand Ojistah Publishing, her own radio show, Native Waves (www.cfuv.uvic.ca), a Native Music review show on CBC Radio, winning an award for her radio documentary, “Bring Your Drums - Native Protest Music”. In the last few years, Rogers released a Native Erotic Art book, a spoken word & music collaborative CD project “Got Your Back”, an impressive book of original poetry titled “Unearthed” on Leaf Press, and is now working on a new collection she hopes will knock down a few doors.

The Denver Art Museum’s exhibit Sovereign: Independent Voices, features a vibrant new generation artist from a Santa Fe art family, Rose B. Simpson, catch her voice with “I’m not kidding around, I’m serious”; also Virgil Ortiz, “Inspired by Untold Histories”; and Kent Monkman with “Stealing Landscapes”. Monkman (of the ‘Polysexual’ Clan) put out strange casting calls looking for actors to portray his performance needs at the Denver Art Museum, in a piece called “Casualties of Modernity”.

Stands with a Fist, was the name of an exhibit of Native Women Artists from all over North America, at MoCNA, Santa Fe, NM. Artists were Gina Adams, Natalie Ball, Nanibah Chacon, Lindsay Delaronde, Merritt Johnson, Tanya Lukin-Linklater, and Melanie Yazzie presented modern, visceral, surreal, tactile work, organic and emotional. IAIA professor Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe was involved with the Santa Fe Fashion Heat show, she and fellow blogger Adrienne Keene had earlier called out designer Paul Frank who reacted positively by searching out Native designers to re-launch new designs at Indian Market. Dr. Metcalfe had recently launched Beyond Buckskin, a Native American on-line fashion boutique shop; she’s also a Native Fashion promoter/critic/blogger at Native Appropriations, and has a new site Red Willow Poetry. A long rumored magazine, First American Art made its debut in Santa Fe at Indian Market, editor/publisher is America Meredith, award-winning Cherokee artist, with dozens of Native writers and artists every issue.

Passage of the Violence Against Women Act by President Obama highlighted such issues as the disappearance of Native Women in the Northwest. The start of 2013 saw the return of Menominee lesbian poet, Chrystos, whose work reflects the experience of the abused and exploited and violence against women. She’s written at least 5 books of poetry, her most famous poems, Dear Mr. President; We Have Not Been Moved; In the Brothel Called America; There is a Man Without Fingerprints. Chrystos unapologetic take on her past life as a sex worker seemingly upsets some feminists who ignore her as a writer. Joy Harjo’s “Crazy Brave” won the 2013 PEN Award for Creative Nonfiction, making us all wonder what our memoirs would be like, meaning would we actually tell these stories out loud? Then at the end of 2013, there’s Carmen Moore, a Native American transgender woman with her courageous role of Felixia, a person known as Nadleeh, the Navajo 3rd gender or 2 Spirit Person, in the Sundance certified movie, Drunktown’s Finest.

Finally as 2013 leaves with a cold blast, go sign a petition to President Obama to pardon Leonard Peltier, go see an NDN movie, buy NDN music CDs for gifts, buy the new AIM book read it and give it away to a school, donate to a survival or freedom school, exchange heritage seeds, break out your mocs for a flashmob, and don’t forget to bring your drum! Have a Happy New Year, break out a new broom to sweep out the old ashes.

Alex Jacobs, Mohawk, is a visual artist and poet living in Santa Fe.

Photo above taken by Jaque Fragua (fragua.co) of a billboard he painted near Sandia Pueblo outside Albuquerque, NM.





C.Soap's picture
Hello! Thank you for bringing attention to the Cherokee Word for Water. I'm sorry you never got to see the film when it played in Santa Fe this fall. Wilma was my wife & partner for almost 30 years & a week before she passed on she asked me to help producer Kristina Kiehl raise money and make the film with a focus on community, not her, as Native people across the country and world make major contributions and are seldom recognized for them. Wilma's life story was never to be the focus of the film, or she never would have agreed to be involved. Wilma believed in community & the focus of the movie is the Bell self-help waterline project where we first worked together. That effort led to Wilma being elected the first modern woman Chief of the Cherokee Nation & many self-help projects throughout the Cherokee Nation and beyond. It is important to point out that Wilma's bio was not re-written to remove controversial material, and that Wilma approved the script before she died. There are so many vital points in Wilma's life not covered in the film because of the nature and focus of the story Wilma wanted. Wilma did not shy away from her association with AIM any more than she did from the Black Panthers (in fact, in her book and interviews she discusses both openly. Additionally, the PBS documentary we're currently producing highlights both AIM and Black Panther involvement) but that isn't the story she valued most. This movie was 24 years in the making and Wilma made her wishes clear - the movie would show the hope and resilience in Indian Country today. We kept our promise and look forward to your seeing the movie soon. In the meantime, here is a link to the trailer & website! http://www.cw4w.com/ Additionally, we are using Tugg to help us with distribution. It allows fans to request our film be shown in a theatre near them, and may be a helpful resource for the other films you mention! See our Tugg here: http://www.tugg.com/titles/the-cherokee-word-for-water
As I said, "I heard..." 2nd person from a person/writer who I trust, that was the case, or at least THEIR take from being involved...but as you said, it took so many years and so many writers, to come up w/ a final movie script, and I agree...GO SEE THE MOVIE. go see all these NDN movies, thanks for the perspective & insight...