2018 Native Crossroads Research Symposium

Panel I: Community

Amanda Cuellar
Ph.D. Student, Dept. of English
The University of Oklahoma

Indigenous Filmmaking in Contemporary Latin America:  The Case for Artistic Collaborations

The current state of indigenous media production in Latin America relies on collaborative efforts by indigenous and non-indigenous filmmakers, producers, distributors, and exhibitors. The complex indigenous and non-indigenous, as well interethnic, relationships in the region reflects filmmaking collaboration methods that are consistent with the relationships cultivated by indigenous communities with their non-indigenous neighbors. This paper will briefly trace the rise of indigenous media production in Latin America during the 1990s, particularly the institution of the Mexican government’s pluriculturist policy that supported the production of video indígena programs for indigenous communities. This example of state sponsorship for media production follows a history of collaborative filmmaking in Latin America and shapes the way current alliances of filmmakers, academics, and activists approach indigenous media projects. While recent scholarship that focuses on specific indigenous Latin American filmmaking collectives examines particular collaboration practices such as Erica Cusi Wortham’s Indigenous Media Production in Mexico: Culture, Community, and the State, a broader investigation of the collaborative efforts throughout Latin America is needed. This kind of investigation will offer insight to the collaborative filmmaking in Latin America that continues to flourish and helps inform the standard distribution and exhibition practices that are widespread throughout Latin America. I contend that an understanding of the historical practices of film production expands our appreciation for the alliances formed in filmmaking collectives and community-based filmmaking groups in Latin America, including the support offered by non-indigenous groups committed to promoting the work of indigenous film projects.


Dr. Joanna Hearne
Associate Professor English and Film Studies
University of Missouri

Alanis Obomsawin’s Children’s Films

This paper examines lesser-known short films for and about Indigenous children by the renowned Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin.  With more than 50 films to her credit, Obomsawin is widely recognized as a master filmmaker and has attracted considerable scholarly attention.  Honored internationally for her trilogy of powerful films documenting the Mohawk resistance to land expropriations at Oka in 1991, Obomsawin has also made short animated, documentary and experimental short films for and about First Nations children, their rights, and their experiences. These include Christmas at Moose Factory (1971); Walker (1991); Sigwan (2005); and When All the Leaves Are Gone (2010), as well as her films about Indigenous children’s and educational rights, such as Richard Cardinal: Cry from the Diary of a Metis Child (1984) and Hi-Ho Mistahey! (2013).   Along with Obomsawin’s early-career work as an educational consultant preparing multi-media educational kits about First Nations histories and cultures, these films illustrate the strategies (such as foregrounding Native voices through extensive sound recording before commencing any camera work) by which Obomsawin sought to intervene in the legacies of First Nations residential school experiences, identifying Indigenous children as bearers of Indigenous political, cultural and linguistic futures.  I draw on my own and others’ interviews with Obomsawin to establish her representation of Indigenous teaching and learning models across the wide range of her work. While most of these short films, which span the arc of her career, are addressed directly to youth, they also tell stories about Indigenous communities for the widest possible audience.  Linking the sovereignty of the camera to decolonizing Indigenous education, these productions represent strategies of intervention that answer the de-culturating project of residential schools with an expanded reach of traditional worldviews.


Dr. Angelica Lawson
Assistant Professor, Native American and Indigenous Studies
University of Colorado, Boulder

 “Ancestor Memories:” Sound, Image, and Multiple Generations in Missy Whiteman’s “Time Dreams”

This paper explores the pedagogical implications of visual and audible representations of multiple generations in Missy Whiteman’s music video “Time Dreams” (2016) which weaves together the spoken word poetry of John Trudell, vocables of Quillman, and the music of Minneapolis based band The Pines. “Time Dreams” juxtaposes images of industry and capitalism with multiple generations of Indigenous people. The layering of Indigenous song, language, poetry, and images both ancient and contemporary, produce a “site of Indigenous instruction” (Allen 2002) that not only appeals to multiple generations, but also visually represents multiple generations via archival footage, images of Trudell, and ending with Whiteman’s son—dressed like Trudell-- and signing the words “friend, together, and peace” in Plains American Indian sign language, thus “representing the younger generations connection to Trudell’s message.”(The Pines 2016) The inclusion of children in Indigenous new media radically challenges centuries of stereotypes of vanishing Indians as,  “envisioning Native families . . . is always a political act, and representations of youth in particular stake claims about the future of Indigenous nations as legitimate, and legitimating heirs to the land” (Hearne 9), thus ending on a hopeful note. Though Trudell has passed, a new generation will take up the reins with the lessons they have learned, countering images of destruction of the land with “with ancestor memories” and a hopeful future.


Christian Rozier, M.F.A.
Assitant Professor of Film Studies and Storytelling
University of Missouri

Empowerment and Narrative Storytelling in Indigenous Communities

The storytelling model that proves most authentic, resonant, and transformative with media production that purports to speak truth to power is a mode that is based around equity and shared stakes: a participant-production model that is rooted in the principle of community inclusiveness. For the purposes of this presentation, “participant production” is defined as the collaborative and intentional production of narratives in which the folks in front of the camera simultaneously play meaningful and significant roles behind the camera as well, with editorial input and agency during all phases of the production process. Through the story of a media arts youth program created in collaboration with the San Carlos Apache community and the Racing The Past documentary produced with the participants from that workshop, this presentation will explore the participatory production model as an especially impactful production approach for indigenous media. The shared vision that unites these education and filmmaking examples is a missional commitment to empowerment through access to the means of image production and self-representation. Media arts education, particularly within the context of programs that are designed to create new access to the tools and skills for native communities and are driven by the participants themselves, will be explored as an act of resistance against systemic disenfranchisement.


Panel II: Sound

Dr. James Cox
Professor, Department of English
University of Texas at Austin

Spatial Rhythms in Independent Indigenous Cinema

This paper considers the formal and thematic links between Lynn Riggs’s 1932 film A Day in Santa Fe and contemporary independent Indigenous cinema such as Diné filmmaker Arlene Bowman’s Navajo Talking Picture (1985), Bay of Quinte Mohawk filmmaker Shelley Niro’s Tree (2006), and White Mountain Apache filmmaker Dustinn Craig’s 4wheelwarpony (2008). It takes as its specific focus the representations of Indigenous people in built and natural environments, or what we colloquially call the rural and urban, and especially the movement between and visual juxtaposition of these environments as rich with tension and possibility for Indigenous people.


Dr. Hugh Foley
Professor, Fine Arts
Rogers State University

Ethics and Epiphanies: Audio and Video Recording Music in Native Communities


Scholars, documentary producers, and tribal preservation specialists often have opportunities to record Native music of historic importance. This discussion will center on precautions and sensitivities before recording any Native music or video, as well as subsequent archiving, copying, licensing, or distribution of it. Additional comments will focus on Native music providing unique opportunities to explore alternative views of Native North American history.


Dr. Lindsey Claire Smith
Associate Professor, English
Oklahoma State University

Where it All Started: Jazz, History, and Futurity in the Writings of Joy Harjo

Like the zigzag, improvisational quality of jazz, Joy Harjo demonstrates the fluidity of time and the cosmos in her poetry as well as her jazz musical in progress. Key to her rendering of a Creek-centered world is her foregrounding of the body—its rhythms, its creativity, its pain as well as pleasures—as the provider of melody. Locating the Creek origins of jazz in the stomp at Congo Square, Harjo offers song as an answer to the erasure of Indigenous peoples in settler colonial histories of America. Linking the “greats” of American jazz music with Creek oral performance, Harjo’s work enacts a holy jump across worlds, with all of their regrets and possibilities.


Dr. Dustin Tahmahkera
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Mexican American & Latina/o Studies
The University of Texas at Austin

Audible Acts: Cinematic Rhythms of Becoming Sound

This paper addresses indigenous actors’ audible sounds of speech and vocables in film as aural windows into becoming sound, a process grounded in the physical formations of sonic vibrations and soundscapes (acoustic studies) and the medicinal formations of good health and healing (medical humanities). From Will Sampson’s unmuted performance inOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Chaske Spencer’s sonic memories in Winter in the Blood, I theorize how barely audible and elusive sounds in feature films can contribute to conversations on mental health and healing in Indian Country. I contend that listening closely to indigenous performances onscreen can inspire empowering moves toward becoming sound human beings offscreen.