Native Issues in the Halls of Government


Native stories on film

I’m a big film fan, and I have a special regard for documentaries that deal with edgy political issues and recent history. Film is a great pathway for engaging with controversial topics and exploring the nuances of events that touch our lives.

A new film about the contemporary Indian rights movement, Native Nations: Standing Together for Civil Rights, will be shown as part of the “Native Voices Program” on Wednesday, March 25, the opening evening of the Beyond Borders Film Festival at the Parkway Theater (4814 Chicago Ave. So., Minneapolis).

Native Nations sketches the movement for Indian sovereignty that picked up steam with the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island, the site of the infamous maximum security U.S. prison, by a group of 80 mostly young Indian activists; and then gained global attention with the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee, which ended after 73 days and the loss of some lives. (Actually, the fish-ins in the Pacific Northwest preceded the Alcatraz action by several years; they are briefly mentioned in the documentary.)

The focus of the one-hour film – co-produced by Syd Beane (Mdewankanton Dakota/Flandreau Santee Sioux), Michelle Danforth (Oneida) and Frank Blythe (Eastern Cherokee Dakota) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – is the formation of the National Indian Lutheran Board (NILB) and the campaign to get the Lutheran churches involved in efforts to uplift Indian communities.

Native Nations looks at events across the country and in Minneapolis, the birthplace of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Clyde Bellecourt mentions that the “movement began in prison,” which was part of the school of hard knocks for local leaders Bellecourt, Eddie Benton Banai, Dennis Banks and others. Bellecourt also explains that AIM got its name from Alberta Downwind (Ojibwe), who is quoted in the film: “‘Indian” is what they used to oppress us and ‘Indian’ is what we’ll use to gain our freedom.”

Among the many engaging Indian leaders profiled in Native Nations are Eugene Crawford, the first NILB director; activist, singer and actor Floyd Red Crow Westerman; preeminent scholar and author Vine Deloria, Jr.; and LaDonna Harris (Commanche), who was married to former Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris and played a key role in the passage of federal legislation, such as the 1976 Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Also, local photographer Dick Bancroft’s photos add a lot to the movement history depicted.

Syd Beane will introduce Native Nations at 9:15 p.m. The opening night activities will kick off at 6:30 with a drumming circle and dancers. Winona LaDuke, activist and former vice-presidential candidate, will speak at 7 p.m., followed by a 7:30 p.m. screening of Before Tomorrow, a beautiful and timeless film from the far north about an Inuit woman and her grandson, directed by Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu. The film’s producers include Norman Cohn and Zacharias Kunuk, who created the remarkable 2001 film Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner).

The festival continues its Indian-themed films on Thursday, March 26, with screenings of Mohawk Girls, Club Native and Older than America, and a panel discussion with Native American women filmmakers. For the schedule and information on the films, go to: .

Finally on the film front, I want to mention that the Walker Art Center’s film series, Women with Vision 2009, will screen Stop the Re-Route: Taking a Stand on Native Land at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 21. Director Ann Follett will be present to discuss the film, which chronicles the controversial 1998 re-route of Hwy. 55 through homes on Riverview Road, green space, and the Coldwater Spring area, a site held sacred by the Indian people who preceded the European settlers. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDoT) were confronted by the determined direct action folks from Earth First!, the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, and neighborhood activists who wanted to preserve homes and the natural environment from the despoliation of highway construction.

The film also will have its community premiere at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 28 at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis.

RNC aftermath-Part 2

I’ve mentioned that my son Max, 19, is a charter member of the “RNC 8,” the local political activists charged with “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism.” Their group, which organized protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, was infiltrated by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.

In an interesting development, the FBI informant, Andrew “Panda” Darst, is now facing his own felony burglary and misdemeanor assault charges, after he allegedly broke into a Minnetrista home on Jan. 11 and knocked people around. Of course, we should give this snitch the same presumption of innocence that we give to Max and his codefendants, who never hurt anybody or even broke a window. For updates, click on: .