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American Indian Film Festival Blog January 2005 Planning for the American Indian Film Festival started sometime in January when Zandra Apple, Mario Fulmer, Judy Woo, Phil Lucas, Diane Harrison, and I began to talk about what should happen. Juggling the event with our other work and studies was difficult and we gravitate between knowing that this is incredibly important for our college and the enormity of the task of arranging films and relevant speakers and promoting the event throughout the college. We are organized enough to have worked with Terri Halsey to book the rooms and she is amazingly efficient in getting it all done. February 2005 I’m just learning about American Indian culture and still make the typical mistakes of a neophyte. In the early days of planning and in keeping with my corporate management training, I try to solicit a collaboration with the Muckleshoot, now the largest employer in South King County with their casino, amphitheatre, Emerald Downs, and several shopping malls. Managing to get an invite to a community appreciate dinner, I “pitch” to Chairman John Daniels, and couldn’t fall flatter on my face. It’s obvious that he doesn’t trust me and— why should he? I’m just another organization (which has had no relationship with the Muckleshoot) asking for a contribution. It’s frustrating because I think our cause is noble. The media has ravaged the image of the American Indian (continues to do so on channels like Nickledeon which recycle old movies and television shows) and we know how much exposure good films on American Indians get. We have visions of a major regional film festival to counter all the damage that’s been done. Later we manage to have dinner Rion Ramirez, general counsel, and Russ Steele, CEO, of Clearwater Casino. Rion spoke at EarthWeek last year and came to see Charlotte Black Elk at the 2004 American Indian Film Festival. This meeting is much more promising and they tell us about the Appendix X application where the tribes with gaming give a proportion of their revenues to non-Indian charities. March 2005 We rush to put in four applications but find out later that the decisions won’t be made until late April or May after the film festival is over. Last year the American Indian Film Festival was a world-class event. We had the luminaries of the luminaries from Indian Country—The American Indian Dance Theatre, Hanay Geiogamah, and Charlotte Black Elk. The sad thing was, until Phil told me, I had no idea who they were. My job is to put together the promotion for the film festival and, unlike most mainstream luminaries, there is no information on the web about people (no matter how important) in Indian Country. They don’t like to talk, let alone boast, about themselves. It’s not in their culture. It was not until I spent thirty minutes with Charlotte Black Elk and heard her talk for two hours that I understood how important she was. This is a person who served at high levels in the UN, the National Science Foundation, and who represents the Sioux Nation at world religious councils. Yet, when a student asked her of all the people she met, who taught her the most, she said that she learned just as much from street children as she did from world leaders. She said that anyone can teach you something if you’re open to it. Talking about Charlotte Black Elk brings me back to Zandra Apple. Zandra is a video production student at BCC. She’s been a leader in our First Nations Student Association for a few years. About three years ago she organized a forum around Cobell vs Norton held here at BCC. Zandra managed to persuade Eloise Cobell to come to speak at BCC. Any law school would have a packed house if Eloise Cobell came to talk about how she sued the government for mismanagement of American Indian assets. Through Cobell’s perserverance, she has obtained several court rulings against the government. It’s estimated that $5 billion is due individual Indians in this case, although the exact amount may be significantly larger. It was also Zandra who brought Charlotte Black Elk (her childhood friend) on campus. Zandra was disappointed at the college’s response to the Cobell forum she had worked long and hard to put together. The First Nations Club organized the entire event including raising money by selling beading and trinkets in the cafeteria. Turnout of was not high and the Jibsheet didn’t cover it. Compounding her frustration, BCC Reads! chose On the Rez (a book written by a white guy about Indians from the Pine Ridge reservation) as the book for 2003/4. Zandra was appalled at the choice because she felt that it gave an incorrect and negative depiction of her home. Rossie Norris brought her into our Courageous Conversations group. That was when I first met Zandra. Zandra was the only person on campus who came from the Pine Ridge reservation and certainly should have been listened to. (She is not alone in her outrage. Sherman Alexie also gave a searing review of the book in the LA Times.) Zandra wanted to counter the damage done by On the Rez, so she talked Charlotte Black Elk into coming to speak at the American Indian Film Festival. Having worked with Zandra over the past two years, I have immense respect for her. Her goal is to go back to Pine Ridge and start a television station. I have no doubt that she will do that. She also doesn’t need a degree to do that but she wants to get a degree to show her children that they should pursue an education. When I have conversations with Zandra, even the simple questions that we ask of each other in polite conversation evoke incredibly complex answers and feelings. She also has her own set of direct questions of me like “Why aren’t you helping your own people?” Organizing events like the Cobell forum causes her grades to fall precipitously and Zandra worries about staying in school. There is obvious irony to this when you consider what events like the Cobell forum bring to all of us. Zandra also worries about the First Nations Student Association. Earlier in this academic year, Zandra had put out a call for the Diversity Caucus to help with recruiting. Washington State has the eighth highest population of American Indians. American Indians face a burgeoning younger population. About a third of their youth drop out before high school graduation or one and a half times the rate of other minorities. Indian youth are 17 times more likely to die due to alcohol. The suicide rate is 130% the national average and teen pregnancies are 180% the national average. It seems that an educational institution with all the resources we have should be doing something, yet our native student population is dwindling. Zandra wanted to use the American Indian Film Festival to give more visibility to the First Nations Student Association and therefore draw more native students. She also wanted to raise money by selling Indian tacos she would make. It was a lot to take on. Just before the festival, Zandra’s life got even more complex and she was worried about her ability to stay in school again. We had big plans for the festival this year. Phil had talked to Hanay about bringing the full dance troupe up. The new film “Trudell” was a possibility. John Trudell is an actor featured in the film “Thunderheart.” ''Trudell'' begins in the late '60s when Trudell and a community group, Indians of All Tribes, occupied Alcatraz Island for 21 months, giving birth to American Indian Movement. As AIM spokesman, Trudell became one of the most volatile figures of the 1970s with one of the longest FBI files (17,000 pages) in history. While protesting the U.S. government's policy on American Indians in 1979, Trudell burned an American flag on the steps of FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. Within a matter of hours his pregnant wife, three children and mother-in-law were killed in a suspicious fire on a Nevada reservation. From that devastating time, John Trudell has rebuilt his life and become a performing artist and actor. We were hoping to bring John Trudell up to speak with the film. This program meant a budget of $25,000. By mid-March we knew that we couldn’t put this program together. For me, it was panic time. Even Zandra was a little taken aback and suggested that we should pray at the beginning of all our planning meetings. Judy Woo thought that was a good idea just to calm us down. Phil’s philosophy (as it was the year before) was that the festival will be what it is meant to be. This seemingly mystical approach was counter to every type-A bone in my body, but the miracle of AIFF 2004 has shown that he was right. Just when all seems lost, Phil appears with the film “Zapatista.” I often wonder how we lucked out with getting Phil Lucas at our college. He is a genius filmmaker. I’ve seen about eight of his films and they are incredible. He’s made over 100 films and won many, many awards. He’s also a musician, a singer, and he makes a mean buffalo chili. He has this encyclopedic grasp of American Indian film and can put together incredibly complex programs that are, for the most part, way above our heads. He also knows everybody and they all have this respect for him that borders on reverence. Whatever he proposes, he can deliver. Last year, we were on the edge of the abyss many times before we pulled off the world-class event. Phil made me a believer. He is also an amazingly generous person who tells the corniest (Indians invented corn) jokes. April 2005 We head into the break and this is the first time I had time to work on the film festival poster. Thank goodness for James Torrance’s great logo which can be used every year. The poster is done the Friday before the spring quarter starts and Mario Fulmer comes to the rescue to get the posters up. The first week of spring quarter and we have a program but no audience. We work hard to get emails out to the college and especially sympathetic faculty. Day 1 It’s 9:45 am on Wednesday and the festival starts in fifteen minutes. We are in the Carlson Theatre and there is no one in the audience. We are devastated. There were no classes scheduled for this first session. The Snoqualmie Drum Group gets ready on stage. Slowly members of the Diversity Caucus and Courageous Conversations filter in. I am grateful to those who are there to honor the performers and our festival. Just after ten o’clock, the entire President’s Cabinet files into the theatre. They had taken a break from their sequestered budget meeting to attend the opening. We can’t tell you what a boost that gave us. A native drum performance is an incredible experience and I can’t begin to explain what little I know. Jesse Lucas (Phil’s son) shows incredible poise and leadership with the group. I am amazed and proud. Later Ray Mullen (the Snoqualmie drum bearer who had to give it up to focus on economic development for the Snoqualmie) tells me that Jesse knows more songs than anyone. Jay Strevey works his usual magic with lighting. We almost take it for granted that anything we spring on Jay will be done in the most professional manner. The opening film is “Broken Chain” produced by Hanay and Phil. Although more than a decade old, it is a remarkable film with great historical accuracy including the influence of the Iroquois confederacy on the American Constitution. Ron Taplin remarked that every kid in school should see the film. Phil tells me later that he was unable to get funding for a documentary he wanted to make about the Iroquois confederacy and the US Constitution. “Healing the Hurts” is Phil’s profoundly moving film about termination, the governmental policy (aptly named termination) that took American Indian children away from their families and placed them into boarding schools where they underwent all manner of abuse. To understand American Indians, you have to understand how boarding schools devastated American Indian families and culture. According to the Museum of the American Indian, almost 200 American Indian tribes have disappeared. I get a kick out of sitting next to Zandra when “Hidalgo” is playing. She translates Frank Hopkin’s Lakota prayer just before the end of the race. I ask her how Viggo Mortensen speaks Lakota and she says that he does it with a bad accent. That evening, we arrive at the Carlson at 7 pm for the Leengit Kusti Dance Troupe performance of Native Alaskan dance. Mario Fulmer, a Leengit/Tlingit, is a first-year student at Bellevue Community College and President of the First Nations Student Association. He is working towards his associate degree so that he can transfer to a chiropractic university in California. He has been involved in tribal dancing for the last 13 years and will be dancing tonight. We are worried about the performance being scheduled in the evening. We’ve had poor success with evening events in the past. The dance troupe has brought in their own community and there are many families in the audience. I can see that the performance had to be in the evening so that their families could come. The gratifying thing is that many BCC people (Maureen Little, Adam Burke, and Agnes Figueroa, among others) have stayed to attend the performance. It is a wonderful performance and the dance troupe brings us to our feet and into their clans. Brian does a great job on lighting and sound. We are so spoiled with our stage managers. Throughout the first day, Mori Kurose Rothman is helping us at the request of his mother, Ruthann Kurose, who is in Washington DC for the week. He continues to do this over the three days of the festival, giving up his high school spring break to video speakers, performances, and cook fried bread. What an incredible kid! Day 2 Zandra is dressed beautifully for the second day of the film festival. She gives the blessing and the introductions for the Tribal Gaming Forum, which for the first session features Russ Steele and Bernice Delorme. Russell C. Steele, Chief Executive Officer, joined Port Madison Enterprises (Suquamish Tribe) in 2001 bringing with him 30 years of experience in all phases of the hospitality industry. In the last year, Port Madison Enterprises has successfully opened a new casino operation and just recently acquired Kiana Lodge, a popular facility for weddings, company parties, and conventions. More growth plans are in the offing. Bernice Delorme is a Turtle Mountain Chippewa from Belcourt, North Dakota with deep black hair and a dramatic white streak at her forehead. Her Indian name is Megezee Equay (Bald Eagle Woman). She holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, an MSW from the University of Washington, a J.D. with an Indian Law Certification from the University of New Mexico and an L.L.M. in Taxation from the University of Washington (the first Native American to hold this degree). She is a Tribal Attorney for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. Bernice starts by telling us that she was put in a boarding school. As she speaks, I think of the power of American Indian women. Many tribes are matriarchal and matrilineal. As of 2001, 22% of native nations are led by women as compared to 3.4% of the world’s other nations. In Washington state, 27 tribes with a combined population of 91,000 contributed $1 billion to the state’s economy. Gaming revenues totaled $440 million and are a relatively new phenomenon, having risen in the past 10 years. Bernice explained that gaming is a traditional activity of the tribes and the success of gaming varies vastly across the tribes and is dependent on location. Some tribes like the Pequot and Mohegan have been extremely successful while others have not. Profits from gaming are used predominantly for social, health and educational purposes. As a result of gaming profits, many tribes are losing their federal benefits. There is no doubt that gaming has raised the well-being of many tribes. These are summarized in studies available at the Harvard American Indian Project. Russ Steele talks about the progress made by the Suquamish Tribe and how Port Madison Enterprises is expanding its operations to other hospitality ventures. Russ (not an American Indian but married to one) finds his work much more gratifying than when he worked in the mainstream private sector. His goal is to train tribal members to take over key management positions and they already have two members in college. Ray Mullen, economic director for the Snoqualmie, joins the panel for the 12:30 pm session. Before he leaves, Russ Steele commits to having our American Indian Film Festival at the new 3,000-person outdoor theatre that will be finished in 2006. Phil arrives at 3 pm with Benjamin Eichert. “Zapatista” is a film about the indigenous people of Chiapas. When the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented in 1994, the Mexican government moved to divide the land among the indigenous people of Chiapas, a region in the southeast of Mexico. A similar policy of allotment in the US (implemented in 1887 and repealed in 1934) or taking land that belong to tribes and dividing it among the individual members of the tribe resulted in 90 million acres of the best lands in the 134 million acres held in trust for American Indians to be passed onto non-Indian owners. . Armed with sticks and words, eight thousand Zapatistas (named after the legendary revolutionary Zapata) fought 75,000 Federal troops to a stand-still. Ignored by a mainstream press that cannot and will not cover them, the Zapatistas used poems and children’s stories smuggled on horseback and distributed on the internet to inform the nation of their struggle. In 1996, Benjamin Eichert and two of his friends decided to go down to Mexico and create a film about the struggle. They had just completed their first year of college (the same age as many of our students) and had never done a film before. With much naïveté and ingenuity, they managed to get enough money to buy two digital cameras (which had just come out and turned out to be exactly right for the forests of Mexico) and with credit cards proceeded to Mexico. They make their way deep into the Lacandon jungle. The light-weight, inconspicuous equipment get them into places where they meet with Dominican Priests and Mayan elders; peasant soldiers and warrior poets; radical students from the city; indigenous men, women and children; and even the elusive spokesperson for the movement Subcommandante Marcos. It took them two years and a tremendous amount of luck to complete the film. “Zapatista” premiered internationally at screenings in London, Mexico City, Oslo, Norway, Havanah, Cuba, and Hollywood and has toured North American. It won First Place for Documentaries at the NEXTFRAME festival and Best of the Festival at the Smithsonian Institute’s Latino Film Festival. “Zapatistia” is a great example of how important film is in communicating political and social messages. Shouldn’t we be think about the language of film a gen ed? Benjamin talked about the incredible directness of the people of the Chiapas (descendants of the Mayans), most of whom have only a second grade education and very little financial resources. The village pools money together to send promising children for further education. Once educated, they are expected to come back and teach others. In recent years, the people of the Chiapas have implemented their own government which they call the “good government” as opposed to the “bad government” of the official Mexican government. Under this system, leaders are rotated every three months such that every person is given the opportunity to learn how to lead. (Isn’t this the model we adopted for the Diversity Caucus?) Women play an important role in the military and in leading their struggle. Day 3 It is 7 am and I am waiting for Zandra to show up. I promised to help her make fried bread. The phone rings and she is late because she stayed up until 2 am to cook. It is the last day of the festival and Eduardo Gomes will be presenting the film “Raoni” about a Brazilian chief who fought for the indigenous people and for the Amazon rainforests. The festival has given me the chance to have dinner with Eduardo and Benjamin the night before. He is a delightful and modest person. The indigenous people in Brazil once numbered 4 million and are now down to a few hundred thousand. It’s no wonder the struggles of indigenous people are tied so closely to environmental concerns. The incredible Tom Pritchard has secured the last day of the festival by getting Helen Taylor’s, Michael Righi’s and Denise Johnson’s Skin Deep” and Aslam Khan’s political science classes to the session. I get there in time to find Larry Boykin already there checking the equipment. Adam Burke and Larry Boykin have been phenomenal in making sure that the equipment ran without a glitch the whole three days. The room is packed with students. Steve McLaine and Pheng Moua of Food Services double check the room setups with me and rearrange the Garden Room for the potluck. They have been great, catching every miscommunication and making it right. Judy Woo is the miracle worker behind the festival. I’ve asked Judy for so many favors that my accounts with her are totally unbalanced. Anyone who has worked with Judy knows that she is a true (and unrecognized) leader on our campus. She inspires fierce loyalty. She does what the best leaders do--she encourages and supports you in going after the most impossible goals. No matter how massive the project, Judy will take it on and deliver. Carol McKee is our event planner extraordinaire and she single-handedly sets up the potluck. This is all the more incredible because I only give Carol a week’s lead time that I need her help. By noon, the Pejuta Drum Group is already there for the closing ceremony. I panic that there is not enough food. The group begins their performance and when they are finished, the food is there and laid out. Gloria Tacardon, Phil Lucas, Ron Taplin, Diane Harrison, Judith Paquette, and Louis Watanabe have brought food. We have a feast for fifty. More Diversity Caucus and Courageous Conversation members turn up for the closing ceremony including Casey Spence, who managed all the paperwork for the festival. She is an incredibly efficient person who can decipher my three-word emails and get everything straight. They leave as soon as their allotted time for lunch is over even though there is plenty of food waiting for them at the potluck. I feel bad that BCC still doesn’t consider the tremendous education that the festival brings part of people’s work. The Pejuta Drum Group are Plains Indians and include Lakota and Dakota. During lunch I speak to two of the members and they explain the songs to me. The first was their national anthem. Many tribes have national anthems (we should have stood for it). The other songs are to honor things. One was to honor Highway 18, a road on which the federal aid comes to the reservation. They tell me that the song says the aid is coming but they are better than that. We talk about how Lakota warriors were before they were moved to reservations. Charlotte Black Elk had mentioned that even the women were six feet tall and towered over the Europeans. They tell me that it is the same with everything. Sage used to grow over ten feet tall and now it only grows about two to three feet. I estimate that about 500 people attended the events of the festival. We’ve put it together on a shoestring again. I hope that we achieved our goal of giving more visibility to the First Nations Student Association and I hope that we have attracted more native students. For us, it’s a labor of love. We do it for each other and for the unbelievable learning that we receive.
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