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American Indian Film Festival Blog by huanghengdong


									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
                                         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

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

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

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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