"I" Is Not For Indianreprinted with permission
"I" Is Not For Indian
A 56-minute documentary proposal for Public Television
Film Synopsis By
James M. Fortier and Dr. Joely De La Torre
with the support of Oyate, Berkeley, CA
Education Documentary Now in Development
Download Complete Proposal
This 56-minute documentary will explore the social, cultural, political, and personal ramifications of how Native American histories, cultures, stories, and issues are "taught" in California public schools. Presented from a Native American perspective, we will explore the roots of appropriation and objectification of Native cultures and stories as a tool to oppress, assimilate, and acculturate Native peoples. Using personal and dramatic first hand accounts, we will reveal how Californian Indigenous cultures are still presented in California public schools in a way that homogenizes, caricatures, and stereotypes those cultures with damaging results for both Native and non-Native school children. Fundamentally, this is a film about storytelling, who gets to tell indigenous stories and at what cost to our children and communities? Although we are focusing on stories and issues pertinent to California Indians and schools, echoes of this story can be found in schools across the
country with historical roots and national implications leading us to believe that this documentary will have strong national audience appeal.
Introduction and Need
For decades, public education has led the way in producing generations of Native children with historically the highest dropout rates and lowest academic achievement levels nationwide. Low self-esteem, a lack of positive role models and little cultural validation in the curricula are a result of centuries of social, political, and cultural appropriation of Native peoples-particularl y in our public schools. This issue has never been adequately addressed on public television.
Every October in public schools across the country, children are taught that America was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus. "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blueâ€¦." or so the lesson goes. Paper replicas of the NiÃ±a, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria adorn classroom walls everywhere. In November, children make paper "war bonnets" and they learn the "story" of Squanto the "friendly Indian," and stage elaborate re-enactments of the so-called "First Thanksgiving. " In fourth grade California classrooms, students are required to make replicas of the Spanish Missions that enslaved Native people, and in schools across the country our children are taught that the westward migration and "sacrifices" of frontier "pioneers" were not only necessary to forge a new nation, but were honorable and preordained by "Manifest Destiny." The Native peoples who occupied those lands are presented merely as obstacles to be overcome for the greater good of the majority--primarily white
Euro-Americans. While these "lessons" attempt to paint a noble picture of American history from a predominantly white perspective, many Native American parents, educators, tribal leaders, and most importantly, American Indian children experience these lessons as yet more painful reminders that our cultures, histories, and issues continue to be reinterpreted and marginalized by the dominant society. The perpetuation of these myths as truths in the public school system has churned out generations of Native children growing up with the emotional and psychological scars of low self-esteem, and diminished cultural identity and helplessness; as well as generations of misinformed non-Native students leading to latent and overt anti-Indian racism.
Themes and Issues
We live in an era when as a society we preach tolerance, and on the surface we try not to condone the misrepresentations, inaccuracies, nor harmful stereotypes of a given culture when presented in our public institutions- particularly in our schools. Unfortunately, while it is generally agreed upon that our schools must deal more honestly with America's sometimes-painful past; the histories, cultures, and issues of Native Americans are still being presented through textbooks, children's literature, films and lesson plans that disregard accurate Native American perspectives, our interpretation of history and our input regarding what is culturally appropriate to be taught to non-Native children.
California, like many states, mandates a specific Native American curriculum that routinely sidesteps Native American input, brushes off Native objections, and continues in every grade a presentation of Eurocentric, one-dimensional, offensive stereotypes of Native histories and cultures. This curriculum, along with a never-ending stream of biased textbooks continues to embarrass, shame, and belittle California's Indigenous people, especially children. Furthermore, non-Native authors "retelling" Native American stories predominantly write the thousands of non-fiction and fiction books presenting Native American cultures and histories. Although our stories belong to us, they are seen by the dominant society as "public domain." This mining of our stories is nothing less than cultural theft on a massive scale, leading to cultural genocide. This denial of our right to self-determine who we are has led to an estrangement of tribal identity for many of our people.
Why do professional educators continue to allow, and in many cases condone, the offensive and inaccurate way all of our children are still taught Native American histories, cultures and issues? This 56-minute documentary will explore that question. We will begin with a close examination of the roots of these negative stereotypes, the history of objectifying and marginalizing Native American cultures, and the historic use of presenting a biased history of Indian-white relations as a tool of repression and assimilation of Native peoples-specificall y in our schools. We will provide emotional first hand accounts from California Native children and their parents who have struggled within our public schools in an attempt to shed light on these issues-and the often- hostile reception they receive.
"I was in my daughter's classroomâ€¦the class was reading The Courage of Sarah Noble, and I saw my daughter squirming in her seat. So I picked up the book and saw why. As she was heading out for recess, she started to cry and told me that the kids were making fun of her and no one wanted to play with her because she was Indianâ€¦ All I could do was hold my daughter. I remembered reading books like this when I was her age, and I remembered my own pain. The teacher's response was, "I can't believe you're taking this so seriously." She said, "Lighten up, it's only a book."â€¦ The principalâ€¦started hollering at me, said I was implying that his staff was unprofessional, that the book would not be on the state's recommended reading list if it were not acceptable." --Native American Parent
Our film will demonstrate that this story, sadly, is not an isolated incident, but rather the norm. Historically, American education has been used as a tool to destroy Native cultures, and not a means to celebrate our rich diversity and positive contributions.
We are working closely with a core group of academic advisors whose background and knowledge in the fields of Native American education, mental health, culture, history, and social science will provide the necessary expertise to present the complexities of these issues and stories in a compelling and engaging manner suitable for public television audiences, (see Project Personnel attachment). Furthermore, we will rely heavily on the guidance and input provided by or non-profit fiscal sponsor, The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, whose community and educational work in the area of California Indian history, education, and cultural interpretation will be essential in expressing the views and perspectives of California Indians throughout this project.
We began developing this program five years ago as a PBS documentary. Initially we were going to include profiles and stories from across the country. Budget and logistical considerations have impressed upon us the need to narrow our scope to California Indians and curricula. However, we are confident that the fundamental issues will have a broad national appeal. Some research and development has already been accomplished by James Fortier and Dr. De La Torre at our own expense. A pending grant request from the Community Technology Foundation of California would provide funding to continue research and development of the companion interactive website, as well as to begin videotaping personal testimonials and story profiles. These video clips would be streamed on the interactive website, and will eventually be used to produce an 8-10 minute "clip" or sample tape used for further fundraising for the documentary. We have already identified some stories and profiles that will be
included in the documentary and on the website. Additional money is needed to complete this research, which will include travel expenses, archival research, story development, interviews, and consultation fees. The next step would be to go into full production.
Fundamentally, this project seeks to foster social discourse through various avenues of storytelling, leading to community and self-empowerment. This program, via a national PBS broadcast, as well as the ancillary interactive website and print material, serves to inform, enlighten and inspire change through honest interpretation from a historically underrepresented segment of society, California Indians and Native Americans in general. This "call to action" will empower the American Indian community, and California Indians and educators in particular to become more actively involved in the education process from a local to national level. Parents, teachers, students, and grassroots advocates will be encouraged to get involved to make a positive change in their communities. This project will provide easy to access, yet powerful communications tools for them to bring about enormous beneficial changes in the ways all of our children learn about Native American histories,
cultures, and issues.
Through the tragedy of 9/11 the world has once again witnessed the best and the worst of mankind. It is now more important than ever to foster a society built upon human dignity, tolerance and mutual respect for all our diverse voices. When a single white author (Tony Hellerman) sells more books "about" the American Indian experience than all Native authors combined we are robbed of our authentic Native American voice. The same holds true for textbooks and children's literature, and as a result our children suffer when it is time to teach about "Indians." Native communities suffer from the related social ills of a poorly educated people. Furthermore, society suffers because as long as Native peoples do not control the dissemination of their own stories, histories and cultures, then the authentic voice of Indigenous peoples will remain quiet and what we as Native peoples have to offer to the larger society, to the world even, will remain solely with us. In the absence of our
authentic voice the children of this country will continue to be taught half- truths and outright lies. They will continue to make paper war bonnets, plaster adobes and Spanish Missions. They will perpetuate the myths of Columbus, the First Thanksgiving, and of Manifest Destiny, and they will grow up thinking "I" is for Indian when it really stands for ignorance.
You can download the complete proposal as a PDF document.
You can contact us for more information at 650-738-1834.
Edward Omahkataayo, Esq.
74 Albion Vale Rd.
Glen Eden, Auckland
New Zealand 0602
E-mail: cougarmaster2001@ yahoo.com
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