Turtle Island begins celebrating Native American Heritage Month today, with forums, festivals, programming and all manner of commemorations on tap around the country.
The year 1990 marked the first that an entire month was set aside to acknowledge and celebrate Native history, and it has been done each year ever since, according to the U.S. Government website on Native American Heritage Month. Public television in California has put the month front and center, from PBS station KCET, the country’s largest independent public station, broadcasting several documentaries throughout the month, to PBS SoCal, which is making several films and reports available online to commemorate.
KCET starts off right away with a documentary featuring Sitting Bull, at 9 p.m. Pacific Time on November 1. Public television stations nationwide will do the same at various times during the month, according to the documentary’s website. The award-winning Sitting Bull: A Stone in My Heart weaves an “intimate portrait of one of America's legendary figures in all his complexities as a leader of the great Sioux Nation,” KCET said in a media release. Adam Fortunate Eagle portrays Sitting Bull in this 2006 documentary that “makes extensive use of Sitting Bull's own words,” the description notes, and brings to life the “little-known human side of Sitting Bull as well as the story of a great man's struggle to maintain his people's way of life against an ever-expanding westward movement of white settlers. It is a powerful cinematic journey into the life and spirit of a legendary figure of whom people have often heard of but don't really know.”
American Indian veterans will be highlighted in two documentaries to be broadcast, Defending the Homeland: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces, which profiles the veterans of two California tribes, the Pala Band of Mission Indians and the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians, as they grapple with “emotional battles both overseas as warriors and here at home as veterans,” KCET says. That will air on November 7 at 10:30 p.m., followed three days later by Choctaw Code Talkers, the little-known story of the Choctaw Soldiers who served as the original Code Talkers during World War I—long before the Navajo made code talking a household term. The documentary tells “a story which has been buried in history for nearly a hundred years,” KCET notes. “With testimonies from family members and Choctaw tribal leaders, the program brings a unique perspective to these forgotten heroes and their wartime contributions.”
Next on the docket is Injunuity, an animated “collage of reflections on the Native American world, including our shared past, turbulent present, and undiscovered future,” the station says. Its unique blend of hip-hop music and animation give the history contained therein a contemporary feel. Below, a clip from the film illustrates how the dot-com revolution desecrated a burial ground, complete with interred babies.
"From Columbus to the western expansion to tribal casinos, we are taught that the Native way, while at times glorious, is something of the past, something that needed to be replaced by a manifest destiny from across the ocean,” KCET says. “But in a world increasingly short of real answers, it is time we looked to Native wisdom for guidance.”
Such sentiments are coming more and more to the fore of late, most notably with the recent devotion of an entire edition of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Climatic Change to indigenous perspectives on climate change, and the inclusion of tribal leaders as key players in President Barack Obama’s executive order delineating federal responses to climate change.
Health is another area of American Indian history that plays into contemporary life, and Racing the Rez shows how the act of running “is much more than a sport,” is rather something that is “woven into the cultural fabric” of the Navajo and Hopi, KCET says.
“Encouraged by their elders, many Navajos and Hopis begin running at an early age—to greet the morning sun, to prepare for a ceremony or simply to challenge themselves in the vast, southwestern landscape,” says KCET. The film follows five cross-country runners from both tribes and two rival high schools as they vie for the Arizona state championship, learning lifelong lessons during two racing seasons.
The documentary was partly funded via a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign highlighted by Indian Country Today Media Network.
Lastly, Apache 8 airs the day after Thanksgiving and is the story of an all-female firefighting crew from the White Mountain Apache Tribe who have battled wildfires in their home base of Arizona as well as throughout the U.S. for 30 years. Delving into the challenging lives of four of the women, the documentary chronicles their hardships, losses, families, communities and most of all their pride in being Fort Apache firefighters.
RELATED: Apache 8: Fighting Fire with Women