Health Care in American Indian Communities from TWN

Trailer for Don’t Get Sick After June: American Indian Healthcare

I recently watched two films on Native American health distributed by Third World Newsreel . The first is a 2000 documentary directed by Beverly Singer titled Diabetes: Notes from Indian Country. The film draws on the perspective of many people in painting a well rounded picture of this disease. It includes interviews with American Indian health professionals and their experiences engaging patients. One of the more memorable interviewees is nurse Lorelei De Cora who discusses a grant project which will examine the successfulness of the talking circle, a traditional method of education, as an educational and preventative tool. She notes the importance of taking a multifaceted (physical, mental and spiritual) approach to combating the disease. De Cora also provides an interesting oral history by noting other challenges to combating this disease. Before Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing was introduced, she notes, her community used gardens to manage their nutrition in a healthier and self sufficient way.* HUD’s clustered housing and income-based pricing format seemed to encourage unemployment and reliance on the commodity system with all its health consequences. Other professional interviewees also provide information in an accessible format, while the community members interviewed are people living with the disease, or people who have helped loved ones combat it, or who give their impressions and anecdotes about this killer. In this sense, the film is yet another educational tool for the community to be used in conjunction with talking circles and other outreach methods. I just noticed that my posts typically end by noting that scholars or teachers or students studying a particular topic can avail themselves of one film or another. But in a recent post on diabetes, I express my interest in having American Indian communities themselves watch the films and pass them on to community members and I feel the same about this film.

The more recent 2010 documentary Don’t Get Sick After June: American Indian Healthcare, directed by Chip Richie, is an indictment of the federal government’s mismanagement of American Indian health care. While health care is a federal obligation under treaties between the U.S. government and sovereign American Indian nations, but insufficient funding has resulted in unacceptable conditions. Some reservations have healthcare only one week per month or provide outsourced ambulatory service that have in some cases arrived too late to save a life. In this very informative and integrated film, Richie attacks the issue as one of not only inadequate healthcare, but other systemic and foundational problems of the colonization project. This project ushered in several systems that have had a profoundly negative effect on these communities. One of these is the commodity system based on processed, canned, and food lacking nutritional value. Another was the boarding school system which extricated children of their traditional knowledge, spirituality, and languages and has had a negative effect on familial and community relations. The startling statistics presented in Don’t Get Sick After June – like the much higher rate of diabetes, homicide, and suicide in Native American communities – point to the negative consequences of the way that American Indians have been treated historically. Although the reality is stark, the film does point to positive changes. In some reservations, casino profits have been used to improve health care, including the re-incorporation of traditional medicine. I particularly appreciated Comanche interviewee Rodney T. Stapp (I had trouble removing the subtitles so I couldn’t tell his professional affiliation), who provided a succinct and articulate explanation of how medicine is approached in American Indian versus Western medicine. I also thought it was important that the documentary, while ensuring that the record is straight in terms of the government’s historical culpability, ends on a note of self determination. As I noted above, this film would be of interest to American Indians themselves who have a vested interest in fighting the lack of funding in their communities. This film would also be of interest principally to those studying healthcare and disease, but some segments could also be very interesting to those researching food, American Indian perceptions of the U.S. government, and women.

In a broader sense, this documentary is one that everyone in America can relate to from a nutritional perspective since the topic of obesity is regularly on the news and is being fought with such efforts as the First Lady’s Move campaign. The topic was brought home in a radio interview I recently heard with the director of A Place at the Table, a new documentary about the many millions of people in this country who suffer “food insecurity” every day. These people include those who technically eat, but they eat detrimental food void of nutritional value, which fills bellies and is cheap in the short term but has an expensive long term effect in disease and medical costs.

[*This was particularly interesting to me because in other films, like Good Meat, interviewees on the Pine Ridge Reservation refer to infertile land and their history as a hunting community as deterrents to farming. Perhaps De Cora is referring to Nebraska and not South Dakota, or perhaps in Good Meat, they were referring to pre-Contact days and not to the 20th century, as De Cora is.]

Diabetes: Notes From Indian Country trailer


This is a quick note to thank Roselly Torres Rojas at Third World Newsreel (TWN) who sent me several preview copies of TWN’s Indigenous Studies Collection for review. Roselly and her colleague Michelle Guanca, who used to work at LAVA (Latin American Video Archive) were very helpful to me when I first started researching video indígena, almost ten years ago! This is the first time anyone has sent me preview copies for the site, believe it or not. Hopefully this will open the flood gates for more preview copies which I am unable to obtain via mainstream venues. ¡Gracias, Roselly!

Miss Navajo

Trailer for Miss Navajo

I finally caught the documentary Miss Navajo, directed Billy Luther (who also directed Grab). It has been on my list for some time and I thought I would have to request it from the library until I noticed it on my Hulu stream, along with Barking Water, a feature directed by Sterlin Harjo. (Thanks to my man and apparently secret faithful reader, who corrected me when I put down Netflix when it was actually Hulu.)

Miss Navajo primarily follows Crystal Frazier as she competes for the title of Miss Navajo 2005-2006. Crystal is not the typical beauty pageant contestant, but then again, this isn’t a typical beauty pageant. In fact, although the earliest Miss Navajos might have been picked primarily on the basis of their looks (and Crystal is indeed beautiful), the title has come to represent a woman of substance who lives in beauty, so to speak, through her awareness, knowledge, and respect for her culture. Candidates must perform a talent or skill before an audience; they must answer questions on Navajo culture and history in the Navajo language given by the winners of previous Miss Navajo competitions; and, they must butcher a sheep.

Although the sheep butchering scenes were memorable, it was actually the interviews which most stood out in my mind. This was because I saw how much the young women struggled to speak in Navajo. Besides the fact that I think language is an important way to live a culture, I know there is a lot of concern and discussion over language loss and recuperation in native communities. And yet, I also have questioned myself about how important language or other culture markers, like clothing, really are. While not in Navajo, Crystal’s answer to one of the questions demonstrates knowledge and respect for both her cultures, intelligence, and a clever mind. So, I think that this film would be of particular interest to any classes studying the importance of language retention. (I should note that after the contest, Crystal says that she has made more of an effort to learn Navajo and feels more confident in her language skills. It does not sound like she is fluent yet, but I just read that a few years ago, she was considering running for Navajo Nation president in the future.) The film would also be an interesting way to discuss gender, beauty, and cultural representation.

I think I enjoyed the film mostly because of Crystals’ down-to-earth way and because I appreciated the effort that Luther must have put in tracking down all the older Miss Navajos and getting their input. It was interesting geting to know Crystal, her competitors, and learn the importance of the contest from past winners, but I would have liked to have learned more about the previous winners. In particular, I would have liked to get a sense of what they thought of the candidates’ lack of language skills or how the ideal of a Navajo woman has changed over time. It was nice to see how supportive previous winners were of the runners up, but I wanted more of an impression of how this pageant fits into the concerns of Navajo peoples in general. But, overall, an interesting watch and good way to introduce a debate about the importance of language in culture. I have also read about beauty pageants among Otavalos in Ecuador with a similar emphasis on language and culture, so I guess such a pageant is not totally unique. But, it’s still pretty refreshing that I got through this post without using the words “make-up” or “nail polish.” (Although Crystal did wear heals, which was interesting on a few levels.)

Native America: Tell Diabetes to go Kick Rocks!

Diabetes Is Not Our Way

A few months ago, I researched films related to Native American athletes and sports for a chapter entitled “Building a Library Collection: Fifty Years of Native American Athletes, Sports and Games on Film” which was just published in The Native American Identity in Sports: Creating and Preserving a Culture ( edited by Frank A. Salamone, Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2012). In the chapter, I write about all types of sports as well as non-athletic games like the Hand Game. I also include a few films on the mascot controversy. There are a number of famous and lesser known talented athletes that any aspiring athletes out there can draw inspiration from.

Today, though, I’m writing to all the rest of you. Those of you who think you don’t have an athletic bone in your body and who may be struggling with diseases like diabetes, which is affecting Native American communities in large numbers. A few months ago, I briefly wrote about the film Good Meat, which is an inspiring story of how far a more active lifestyle and a change in diet can go in fighting this disease. The film references some of the obstacles to good nutrition, like the commodity system implemented by the federal government.  In that post, I referenced some health-related resources like the exercise video RezRobics and the animated Eagle Series, which explains the importance of an active lifestyle and good nutrition to children (see the episode “Tricky Treats” below). Today I learned of a new video series called Diabetes Is Not Our Way, created by the people at The Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP). Please check it out and share it with your community.

If you are not athletic, please don’t let that stop you. Start by walking. I personally know a number of women who walk dogs a few times a week at a local animal shelter and have dropped 15-30 pounds just by doing that. If you’re  having trouble finding motivation to get active, finding something personally meaningful like this might be your way of staying the course. Consider doing a walk-a-thon or running even a short race for a charity that’s important to you. You don’t have to be fast. You just have to do it.

Let me know how it goes. I’ll be rooting for you!


Eagle Book “Tricky Treats” episode

Biindigaate Film Festival – Thunder Bay – September 27-30, 2012

Hi folks! Just a quick note for any Canadian readers that the 4th annual Biindigaate Indigenous Film Festival, to be held September 27-30 in Thunder Bay, will feature several First Nations and Inuit films.

2012 Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe

Hello my southwestern friends and folks who will be in Santa Fe through this Sunday, August 19. Please check out the Native Cinema Showcase at the New Mexico History Museum (113 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe, NM) ! I checked out a few films for a chapter I recently submitted on films about Native Americans in sports (Skateboard Nation and Run to the East), but many films in the line up are new to me so please let me know what you thought of them. I’m particularly interested in the sneak preview of The Medicine Game. (I still need to post my impressions of Crooked Arrows, which I watched on opening weekend.) Until next time, for all the runners out there, here is the trailer for Run to the East


Tejiendo Sabiduria / We Women Warriors


Last Friday, I saw the premiere of We Women Warriors / Tejiendo Sabiduria at the IFC Center in the Village (NYC). This documentary, by Nicole Karsin, who was on hand for Q&A after the screening, followed three Colombian indigenous activists: Doris (Awá(, Ludis (Kankuamo), and Flor Ilva (Nasa). Their communities are caught between the military, FARC, and paramilitary forces and the attendant violence. Some of them have lost their husbands and are left as single parents, a situation they share with many women in their communities. While the killing of men has left many widows and fatherless children, women as well as children are also direct targets of violence. The film contains graphic content and shows how many people are so easily wrongly accused or framed. As female leaders, these three women are charged with making decisions on sensitive issues that affect their communities. They also work to find more sustainable working conditions. This includes a discussion about the irreconcilable positions of the protagonists of the war on drugs and (indigenous, in this case) farmers who have little alternatives to growing coca.

I often marvel at the footage that documentary filmmakers are able to capture given the risky circumstances they are filming. During the Q&A, I asked Karsin how she navigated the line between wanting to get these women’s (and people’s) stories to a greater audience, but also possibly putting them in danger as a result. Also, does having a film crew on hand help to temper a potentially violent situation? Karsin responded by noting that the Nasa themselves have better video equipment than she does and were on hand filming one of the events which I referred to (that could have taken a violent turn). Although I think that having a foreign filmmaker on hand at that particular event may have made a difference (although she did not, and with her experience, she would know better), the point is well taken that indigenous people are themselves protagonists in the documentation of these events. So, she was not putting them at greater risk than the community itself was taking in also filming. The time invested in documentaries also never ceases to impress me. In response to another moviegoer, Karsin noted that the film took 6 years to make, with varying degrees of time to gain the trust of the three women highlighted in the film, which has not yet been screened in Colombia.

This documentary would be useful for any class dealing with indigenous women in Latin America; the war on drugs and coca production; and the ongoing armed conflict in Colombia.

In signing off, I’d like to thank my cousin Yvonne who attended the film screening with me. I don’t think I gave her enough of an explanation about this film, so I think it was a rude awakening after having our quiet vegan dinner at Cafe Blossom a few blocks away! But she said she was glad to have attended because it’s good to see what’s going on out there in the rest of the world. Which would make a good slogan for a t-shirt for documentaries. And I couldn’t agree more. Until  next time…


Free webcast of Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete

In case you are still craving to watch the Olympics after the 12th, you may want to check out the live webcast of the documentary Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete on the NMAI website on Friday, August 17, 2012 from 2–3pm (EDT). Check out the trailer here. This webcast, along with the discussion at the Washington D.C. NMAI site, is being presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics,” on display through September 3, 2012. Shout out to Steve Beleu, fellow AILA member and reference librarian at the Oklahoma Depart of Libraries, for alerting me.

Âs Nutayuneân / We Still Live Here

Âs Nutayuneân / We Still live Here trailer, with beautiful animation.

A month ago, I attended the NYC NMAI’s “At the Movies – in the Language” screenings on Native languages.

The first short, called The Amendment, set up the significance of language loss by highlighting the 1895 Annual Report of the Department of Indian Affairs, which refers to language as the thing that makes a community a people. As long as they know their language, it explained, they will not be assimilated. The Amendment asks viewers to consider what it means when four generations of a family progressively loses its language. Next came Our First Voices which included several shorts: Spelling Bee, which I especially appreciated because of the subtle way that spellers’ question about “word origin” indicates the historical breadth of Native languages; Airplane, which deals with the translation of the safety announcements on planes to Bella Bella; Earl Smith, about a man who, after 12 years of living in a boarding school, where students would be hit or have their mouth washed out with soap for speaking their languages, was unable to speak Chinook; and Mom N Me, about a woman with a linguist mother and monolingual mother who attempts to learn her native language. These shorts were followed by the award-winning short Horse You See,about a horse named Ross who shares his inner thoughts (in Navajo). The audience loved this one!

These shorts were followed by the full length documentary Âs Nutayuneân / We Still Live Here. It was probably not a coincidence that I watched this film with a colleague who practices the Yoruba Lukumi faith, which emphasizes individuals’ connection to ancestors and spirit guides. I am not always in circles where people feel or openly discuss this connection, and so her comment helped situate my mind in another concept of space and time (no small feat in this bustling city). It was almost like she opened a door to this film, where the protagonist, a Wampanoag woman named Jessie Little Doe, begins her quest to revitalize the Wampanoag language when her ancestors reach out to her through visions and dreams. They ask if she would intercede for them and ask her people if they would like to welcome their language back. The Wampanoag story of language loss goes back to the early colonization of the U.S., when war, yellow fever, Christianization, and displacement decimated their population.

Besides being the fascinating story of an inspiring woman, the film does a beautiful job of unpacking how much of a culture resides in language. Jesse Little Doe seems never to have had an interest in pursuing academics before, but goes on to pursue a doctorate in linguistics at the venerable MIT and leads her community’s effort at language revitalization. During a lesson on animate and inanimate nouns in the Wampanoag language, Little Doe notes that the categorization of the sun as inanimate shows that the Wampanoag knew that the world was heliocentric even before they were introduced to Europeans.

This film was made all the more memorable to me for its goose bump inducing ironies. Like her awkward first encounter with her future beloved mentor at MIT, Ken Hale. Or the fact that a translation of the Bible (and texts in related Algonquian languages), which wass originally used to colonize her people, is what she uses to figure out pronunciations in Wamponoag. Or the fact that Hale’s ancestor was one of the Puritans who originally colonized the area, showing how some things really do come full circle.

During the Q&A with Little Doe, director Anne Makepeace, and co-producer Jennifer Weston, who also works at Cultural Survival, Little Doe noted her community had initial trepidation about being filmed because they did not want their culture to be commodified or disenfranchised by the experience. Her community is not allowed to use the Wamponoag language on objects for sale or accept money for language classes.

One Wamponoag audience member asked Little Doe if their community had been able to use colonial documents in land reclamation efforts and she replied that the language used to describe land in these documents has helped them trace what the territory was at the time of Contact.

In terms of the future of the Wamponoag language, in the film we learn that Little Doe’s daughter, Mae, is the first native speaker in generations. During the Q&A, Little Doe notes that there has been a spike in pregnancies among language apprentices in her community so they will probably have more native language speakers soon. She also noted the importance of parents setting an example in this endeavor; even if children know Wamponoag, they will switch to English as soon as it is spoken among the parents.

I really enjoyed this film, which besides being a great story also employed animation in a beautiful and meaningful way. I think the film would be great for scholars interested in language revitalization, linguistics, colonization, women, commodification, and self determination.

For those of you interested, producers Weston and Makepeace created Our Mother Tongues (, a website which highlights several Native American language revitalization projects in the U.S.


Reseña de Huichol Journeys

>> English <<

Este pasado jueves, asisti la proyección de “Huichol Journeys” en el Museo Nacional del Indígena Americano en la ciudad de Nueva York (NMAI NYC) donde Amalia Córdova, la gerente de programación del Programa Latinoameriacno del Centro de Cine y Video del NMAI, presentó las tres películas sobre el pueblo mexicano Huichol/Wixaritari. 

Yumakwaxa/The Drum Celebration es una animación hecha de arcilla por jóvenes estudiantes wixaritari en su idioma, wixárika, con subtítulos en inglés. La película demuestra cómo se da a cabo esta celebración del tambor. Aunque fue placentero, me pareció que la película se dirigía al pueblo huichol ya que no me recuerdo haber escuchado una clara definición sobre esta celebración. La clausura de la animación me pareció muy divertida  y demostro la creatividad de estos cineastas jóvenes. (Si les gusta animación y la cultura wixaritari/huichol tal vez les gustaría la siguiente animation.)

Flores en el desierto es un documental bello sobre el pueblo wixaritari de San José que emprenden una peregrinación al espacio sagrado llamado Wirikuta para encontrar peyote. Durante la charla que siguió la proyección, un señor que asistió dijo que se había sentido transportado por la película, como si la cámera se había desvanecido. Uno de los organizadores de la noche, Carlos Gutierrez de Cinema Tropical, le contestó indicando que el director de fotografía, Pedro González Rubio (cineasta de Toro Negro y Alamar), suele hacer esto.Los comentarios me sorprendieron un poco porque a pesar de la hermosa cinematografía, estuve muy conciente de la cámera no tanto en un sentido técnico si no mas bien en el sentido en que interpreté a la película, puesto que los miembros de la comunidad preguntaban cómo se debería llamar la película, que se tenía que incluir y tambien decían que la película era para su porvenir. Todos estos detalles me dieron a entender que el cineasta consultó con la comunidad para asegurar que la película compaginaba con su imágen de si mismos. Córdova dijo que los cineastas indígenas latinoamericanos suelen trabajar en colectiva y suelen buscar entrenamiento como en cinematografía despues de haber trabajado en algun proyecto. Algunas partes de Flores en el desierto fueron grabadas por la comunidad. Uno se puede dar cuenta de esto porque en una escena, alguien le está capacitando a una persona. Tambien, hay escenas que se ven mas pequeñas y tienen un color distinto al resto de la película que mas bien parece que fue grabado en los años 70.  Pensé que esto era por el uso de cámera de video o por falta de capacitación pero en realidad estas escenas fueron tambien bonitas y pienso que tal vez fueron hechas a propásito para evocar la idea de la memoria colectiva compartida entre los miembros de la comunidad. Que bueno que Córdova prognostico que no le sorprendería si estos pasos indican la germinación de una colectiva huichol.

El tema principal de Flores en el desierto fue la religión y la espiritualidad. En la película, se ve el sacrifico de un cordero, un toro y un benado que son actos dirigidos a establecer un balance en el mundo huichol.1 En la película se abre la posibilidad de un diálogo sobre la dificultad de practicar la religión indígena dado la dificultad de cazar a benados, que son sagradas para los huichol, en tierras ajenas y tambien el estigma del uso de peyote. Cuando una mujer hace una comparación entre la Biblia y el peyote, dando cuenta que el peyote ayuda al pueblo obtener sabiduría ancestral me recordé de una escena en la película The Border Crossed Us, cuando un jóven tambien compara como son vistas las religiones indígenas y occidentales. En Flores del desierto se ve que los huichol comen el peyote solamente despues de confesarse ya que de otra forma, esta planta les puede hacer mal. La espiritualidad asociada con el sacrificio tambien es manifiesto cuando una esposa dice que ella está en ayunas cuando su esposo caza benado porque ella sabe cuán dificil es el cazar a benados.

El documental In Defense of Wirikuta and the Sierra de Catorce trata sobre una compañía minera canadiense que está operando ilegalmente en Wirikuta, pese a que el gobierno lo ha prohibido desde 1994. Durante la charla, Jennifer Weston (Hunkpapa Lakota) de Cultural Survival dijo que a pedido de los huicholes, Cultural Survival inició  una campaña para protestar a la minería en este espacio sagrado. Las cortes han hecho un mandato para que no sigan la minería.

Otro tema sobresaliente durante la charla fue la revitalización de los idiomas indígenas. Alguien dijo que le gustó escuchar el idioma Wixárika pero se preocupo cuando uno de los niños huichol cantó una canción entera en español porque tal vez indica que está perdiendo su idioma ancestral. La respuesta de Córdova dio a lucir los matices de este tema puesto que aunque la pérdida de los idiomas indígenas es real, al mismo tiempo algunos pueblos indígenas pasan dificultades por no saber o no tener oportunidades de aprender el español. Gutierrez fue optimista sobre el futuro de la revitalización de los idiomas indígenas despues de un paseo a México donde vio varios comerciales para las elecciones que están a pundo de darse en varios idiomas indígenas. Weston dijo que en México, las cortes proveen interpretadores en 18 idiomas indígenas! Otra persona en la audiencia que trabaja con junventud mixteca y de otros pueblos mexicanos que han inmigrado al Bronx dijo que estos niños atraviesan la dificultad de aprender dos idiomas colonizadores: el español para poder hablar con sus compatriotas mexicanos y el inglés para poder existir en los EEUU. Este proceso tambien a complicado cómo ellos se identifican . Tanto Hortensia Colorado of Coatlicue Theater Company (quien reconocí por un evento que organizé en 1997) como Weston dijeron que muchos pierden su idioma por la vergüenza que les han hecho sentir por hablar su idioma y han tenido que aprender sus idiomas nuevamente. Weston aconsejó al hombre del Bronx que incentiva a los jóvenes que vivan sus culturas a través de sus idiomas y no solamente como traducciones del inglés. Esta charla nos quedó al pelo ya que el NMAI NYC va a proyeccionar películas sobre idiomas indígenas el 31 de mayo y el 1ro de junio (no veo información sobre las películas ahorita pero en cuanto las vea, les he de avisar).

(Por otro lado, en la charla me enteré de otras películas que pueden ser de interés: una rarámuri llamada Cochochi  y otra maori llamada Boy de Nueva Zelandia, que acaban de mencionar en el New York Times.)

Flowers of the Desert director José Alvarez’s new award-winning documentary entitled Canícula about the Totonac people.

Huichol Journeys Recap

On Thursday, I attended the NMAI NYC’s Huichol Journeys screening which featured three films by and about the Huichol/Wixaritari.  Amalia Córdova, Latin American Program Manager at the Film and Video Center of the NMAI, presented the films.

Yumakwaxa/The Drum Celebration is a claymation made by young Wixaritari students in their native language, Wixárika, with English subtitles. The film documents how this celebration is carried out. While anyone can enjoy the animation, it seemed possibly geared toward Huichol viewers since I don’t remember the purpose of the celebration being clearly described. And although the animation was very nicely done, I was even more impressed by the humor and sophistication the students displayed during the animation’s closing credits. (If you are interested in animation and Wixaritari/Huichol culture, you may also enjoy this animation I posted a while back which I appreciated even more after the benefit of having watched the three films screened on Thursday.)

Flores en el desierto (Flowers of the Desert) is a beautifully shot documentary about the Wixaritari of the town of San José who make a pilgrimage to the sacred space called Wirikuta in order to hunt for peyote. During the Q&A discussion after the film, one audience member commented that he felt  transported into the film, as if the camera had disappeared. One of the screening organizers, Carlos Gutierrez of Cinema Tropical, responded by praising the film’s director of photography, Pedro González Rubio (who directed the films Toro Negro and Alamar), who has a real talent for allowing the viewer to feel like an insider. This discussion was interesting to me because, although I, too, felt transported by the beautiful cinematography, I was also very conscious of the camera. I was mostly conscious of it not on a technical level, but on an interpretive one. At several points in the film, community members ask what the film should be called, what should be included in it, and they also note that the film is for their children – all indicating that they were actively consulted on how they were portrayed. Noting that indigenous Latin American filmmakers tend to work as collectives and that they seek training after actual experiences working on a film set, Córdova noted that a Huichol collective may not be far off. That said, certain sequences in the film are clearly shot by the community members. I say “clearly” because you hear them being instructed in how to record footage and the footage itself is shot in a different size frame and in a grainy way with a color scheme that is reminiscent of 1970s photography. At first I thought this may have been due to the use of a video camera or lack of training, but these shots were beautiful in their own way, and possibly used to evoke shared memory among the community members.

The film’s main theme was Huichol religion and spirituality. Flowers in the Desert included animal sacrifice and explained how it is used to establish balance in the Huichol world (a lamb, bull, and deer are sacrificed in this movie).1 The hunt for peyote and deer in particular, which are sacred to the Huichol, was contextualized by noting the complications which the community encounters as a result of hunting in other people’s property and their use of rifles and peyote. I was reminded of a scene in The Border Crossed Us, when a young man makes a strong comparison between how native and western religions are perceived, when a woman compares peyote to the bible, noting that eating it helps the Huichol gain wisdom and learn about their history. In fact, community members must confess before eating it because it may make them sick otherwise. And, a wife notes that she fasts while her husband hunts deer as a sacrifice because she knows the difficulty involved in the hunt.

The activist documentary In Defense of Wirikuta and the Sierra de Catorce deals with a Canadian mining company that is trespassing into Wirikuta despite the fact that the government has officially protected it since 1994. During the Q&A, Jennifer Weston (Hunkpapa Lakota) of Cultural Survival said that  at the Huichol’s request, Cultural Survival initated a Global Response Campaign Alert so that the public could protest the mining and ask that this sacred space be protected. There is currently a court injunction against the mining.

Another strong theme during the Q&A was the revitalization of native languages. One audience member noted that she was pleased to be able to hear the Wixárika language spoken but concerned that one of the Huichol children sang an entire song in Spanish might indicate a loss of native language. Córdova provided the necessary context and nuance in her reply, indicating that while loss of native language fluency is an issue, there are also areas where indigenous people feel disenfranchised by not knowing or being able to learn Spanish, which allows them to get by in the world. Commenting on the future of native languages, Gutierrez noted with optimism that last week in Mexico, he saw television ads in several different native languages. Weston noted that in Mexico, court interpretation is provided in 18 different languages. Another audience member who works with Mixtec children as well as children from other Mexican indigenous communities who currently live in the Bronx said that these children experience the added difficulty of having to learn two colonial languages: Spanish in order to communicate with fellow Mexicans and then English to exist here in the U.S. This process has led to difficulty with self identification. Both Hortensia Colorado of Coatlicue Theater Company (who I recognized in the audience from an event I put together way back in 1997) and Weston noted that many people lose their language as a result of the historical shame they were made to feel when speaking their native tongue and have later had to re-learn it. Weston’s advice to the man from the Bronx was that he encourage the children to live their cultures through their languages and not via translation from English. This discussion on language was very timely as the NMAI in NYC will host several language-related screenings on May 31 and June 1 (I don’t see them on their calendar but when I do, I will post the information here)..

(On a side note, I also learned about other films and events that I look forward to checking out: one is the Rarámuri film Cochochi and the other is the Maori film Boy from New Zealand, recently reviewed in the New York Times.)

1 Cuando Córdova nos avisó que veríamos sacrificios de animales, me puse a pensar en la delicadez de conversar sobre los temas de religión, cultura y los derechos animales especialmente cuando se trata de etnias minoritarias que han perdido tanto durante el proceso traumatizante de la colonialización. / This is somewhat off topic, but when Córdova let the audience know that the film contained animal sacrifice, I started to think of the complexity of commenting on the intersecting issues of religion, culture and animal rights, especially in regard to ethnic minorities which have already been made to lose so much as a result of colonization.