When documentary filmmaker Nanna Dalunde contacted Douglas Miles (San Carlos Apache/Akimel O’odham) of Apache Skateboards, he was skeptical. Dalunde wanted to make a film about the female skateboarders associated with Miles’s skate crew — to investigate why they skate and why they create. The problem? Dalunde is from Sweden. Like many Natives who’ve seen skewed visions of their people on screen, Miles was wary of yet another non-Native filmmaker (even a well-intentioned one) who might depict American Indians from an outsider’s perspective. He wanted to ensure that the skaters would retain rights to how they were represented, and that they would hold partial rights to the documentary as well.
The solution was both unconventional and simple: Miles stepped up to assist and facilitate the project as a co-director.
The result is Apache Chronicle, a 41-minute look at the lives and artwork of five young Native American female artists and skateboarders. It’s a remarkable perspective that we rarely see in documentary film: the young Native female perspective.
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Beginning with Navajo textile artist Melissa Cody, we gradually learn the obstacles and struggles these women face as self-recognized “culture-bearers” of their communities and tribes. Culture-bearers are individuals who play the central roles in continuing their cultural practices. It can be a stressful responsibility, but as demonstrated in the film it often breeds striking creativity, positivity, and action. In fact, these artists are remarkably articulate in expressing the critical responsibilities they share in perpetuating old traditions, and forming new ones.
Culture, one of them explains, is “something you do.” It is a practice that must be exercised every day. But this ability — in fact, ease — of expression did not come easily. We see the processes of how they gained voice, how they began to realize the power in being a woman, in being an artist, in being Native American, and in being positive. Indeed, positivity reigns supreme for this group, and they promote a PMA: positive mental attitude.
Razelle Benally (Navajo/Lakota), a modern-day storyteller, describes her first experience with the camera: It was for a class assignment in which she documented Lakota history and culture. She recalls how she was able to educate her classmates and share a different viewpoint of her people through film; which was personally significant for Benally since her classmates generally viewed the Lakota people in a negative light. There is power in this medium to reach people, to open their eyes, and to change perspectives.
In the middle of the film we are introduced to the legendary female Apache warrior, Lozen, through the voice of actress and poet Lynnette Haozous (San Carlos/Chiricahua Apache). As we watch the hands of Rebekah Miles (San Carlos Apache/Navajo) paint a piece in honor of this historical figure, Haozous tells us that Lozen was a visionary who fought for her people in the 1800s alongside Geronimo. While we are all familiar with Geronimo, it is Lozen whom these artists hold in their memories, minds and hearts, for she serves as a rare yet incredibly important hero and role model. Few Native women are charted in US historical texts; it’s a void these and other Native women notice. Miles and Haozous counter it by looking to Lozen for strength and inspiration.
This mid-point is the climax, and we see how time collapses — the events that occurred 100 years ago are alive today in the spraypaint, voices and actions of these artists. In addition, we see how these females look not only to the past for inspiration, but also towards the future. It is necessary for them to think creatively about how the future will look for their children, their nieces and nephews.
The film ends with Tasha Hastings (White Mountain Apache). Soft-spoken, Hastings is a humbled warrior who talks to us about perseverance. You fall down? Keep at it. Through the kicks and spins of skateboarding, we witness something more important: dedication. Dedication and devotion to creating a better, brighter, more beautiful tomorrow.
In the last words of the film, Haozous breaks it down: The paint brush, the camera, the loom, — these are the new weapons.
If you’d like to screen Apache Chronicle, find them on their Facebook Fan Page at facebook.com/ApacheChronicle. The film’s teaser is below; to see brief clips of Lynnette Haozous, Melissa Cody, Tasha Hastings, Rebekah Miles, and Razelle Benally, visit the YouTube channel youtube.com/user/nancipirat.
The story was originally published on Mar 7, 2012.