It would be a very sad thought to imagine anyone living within the United States–and particularly enjoying all the rights and privileges of citizenship–to go the whole of their life without ever taking the opportunity to discover the rich fabric of tradition, folklore and time-honored spirituality practiced by the many different tribes that together comprise the entire Native American Tribal Nation. This land upon which we’ve erected a sea of cities, sprawl and new age culture was once exclusively inhabited by and owned by the people now known as the Native, or Original Americans. There has been an eternal debate regarding the manner in which the English colonists invaded the Natives’ territories and shamelessly occupied, taking over anything and everything as they saw fit, by hook or by crook, as the old expression went. Where would we be now, if our nation’s intruders had taken up residence more from a visitor’s standpoint, and rather than the “winner takes all” mentality by which the U.S. was established by the English, these colonists had tried to pick up the local culture a little?
Colonial Change vs Native American Customs
Local culture of those first Colonial days would have been exclusively directed by the traditions, ceremonies and survival methods in practice by the people who were living here before the arrival of marauding boats, ferrying people from what would eventually be many other far away lands. There seems to be a certain brand of chronic intervening practiced by the English–and surely many other cultures of the world that is just not a part of the Native American more laissez-faire style of existence. These people have dedicated their lives to following established traditions, rituals and beliefs that have successfully sustained the member tribes, for hundreds of years. These customs are so deeply embedded in the culture of the Native American Nation that even with the explosion of invading cultures from every direction, it’s been the Native Americans who have faithfully upheld their traditions, spirituality and medical practices. There is surely something gravely overlooked by non-Natives that simply missed out on the chance to experience the contrasting existence once being the full extent of American existence.
The good news is that there are some not-to-miss movies for discovering the passion, folklore and fair representation of the articulate specter of life practiced by Natives.
- Reel Injun, 2009: In this documentary by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond (not the singer,) the manner in which Hollywood has portrayed Native Americans is examined. Insightful and poignantly executed, with a balanced interjection of well-timed humor, it’s surely a must-catch.
- Smoke Signals, 1998: Certainly a groundbreaking cinematic feat under the direction of Cheyenne-Arapaho Native Chris Eyre, this collection of Sherman Alexie’s short story collection entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven paved the way for other Native American artists to bring authentically represented Native American life the public distinction and respect it had long deserved. This humorous and heartwarming story appeals to a wide range of tastes and audiences, in asking universally experienced questions.
- Dead Man, 1995: Johnny Depp stars in this anti-Western production that seeks to demolish stereotypically-encoded representation of Native Americans as a whole. Director Jim Jarmusch successfully uses the medium of B&W to blast the floor away from a previously Hollywood-choreographed rendition of the Wild West. Surely John Wayne’s been rolling in his grave, ever since.
- Winter in the Blood, 2013: With a hard-hitting expose aimed at all of the problems Natives have with alcoholism on today’s modern reservation, brother-directors Alex and Andrew Smith took childhood pal –Great Plains Indian James Welch’s 1974 novel and turned it into an effective vehicle for sharing the deep pain of Virgil, who as a Native of half Blackfoot heritage, and makes you care deeply about him and the struggles of this basically good man with loneliness and troubles.