Chief Seattle. Bullfrog Films.
In the Light of Reverence: Protecting America's Sacred Lands. Sacred Land Film Project.
Reviewed by Todd Leahy
Published on H-AmIndian (June, 2002)
Multi-media presentations are often necessary in the classroom. In the past, the lack of adequate audio-visual materials forced instructors into the standard lecture format. In recent years, numerous projects have been created in an effort to facilitate media assisted instruction. Both the videos reviewed are representative of this new direction in teaching. <p> <cite>Chief Seattle</cite> examines the life and times of one of the most famous Indian leaders. Prepared in the manner of an A&E Biography, the video explores both the myth and history surrounding this renowned leader. The film would be useful in a high school course and would be of considerable interest to the public. Historians provide rather basic insights and context, and Indian people (represented by two members of the Dawamish tribe) provide the cultural context for the exploration into the life of Seattle. <p> Seattle rose to prominence within his tribe as a war leader. He led numerous attacks on neighboring villages and seldom lost any men. As a result of his successful military action, Seattle became one of the leading men in the tribe. As an important person, Seattle dealt with the first white men who ventured into his territory. These first whites were traders for the Hudson's Bay Company, and through their writings revealed that they believed Seattle to be a bully and standing in the way of their operations. By 1851, Seattle was portrayed in rather different terms. The first Americans arrived in his territory that year, and Seattle established good relations with the settlers. Seattle even asked some of the Americans to move to his village. Thus began the career of Seattle as the intermediary between his tribe's people and the United States. Seattle was made even more important by the United States government whose policy of "chief-making" benefited Seattle. Seattle retained cordial relations with the Americans even as they appropriated the tribe's lands. When land alienation led to violence, Seattle was the voice of accommodation and helped the settlers. Seattle recognized the precariousness of his situation and rather than resort to violence sought to negotiate a settlement that would be acceptable to both the United States and his tribe. <p> Changing from the life of Seattle, the video investigates the controversy surrounding his famous speech. Henry Smith published the speech thirty years after it was reportedly given. Analogies to John Muir and James Fennimore Cooper are obvious in the speech and many questioned, both then and now, the authenticity. The video considers all possible angles, and argues that some of the speech is authentic, and other parts are embellished or completely fabricated by Smith. <p> The story of Seattle is one that should not be missed by students. Seattle was a man who sought accommodation rather than war and suffered greater losses than the tribes that chose the latter. Seattle's people lost their entire reservation, as mentioned time and again in the film; tribes that cooperated were often left with nothing while those that went to war have large reservations. Seattle's life must be understood and provides another method of cultural survival. Regardless of what people today think of his actions, Seattle ensured the survival of his people. <p> Differing totally from <cite>Seattle</cite> was Christopher McLeod's <cite>In the Light of Reverence</cite>. Designed for college undergraduates, this film examines the struggles of the Lakotas, Hopis, and Wintus to protect their sacred spaces from settlement, industry, misuse, and other encroachments by white America. The film also takes a brief look at the damage caused by recreational use such as rock climbing, tourism, and New Age religious pilgrims. <p> The video is rather timely. Numerous tribes around the country are currently appealing to the federal government to protect places they hold sacred. Corporate America has seldom heeded the calls of Indian people to respect their religions and thereby their sacred places. Even those who believe that they are respecting the sacredness of a site, the New Agers, are in actuality desecrating the site with their very presence. Recreational users, the groups that often have the smallest impact on the environment, are also destroying the sacredness of these areas. In its final analysis, the video calls for the repatriation of sacred areas to the tribes. Often, as shown in the video, sacred places lie outside reservation borders where tribes have little or no voice. Respect for these sacred places then falls within the jurisdiction of the federal government for only it can return the land to the tribes or enforce legislation respecting the religious rights of Indian people. <p> Narrated by Peter Coyote and Tantoo Cardinal, and the recipient of Best Documentary Film honors at the American Indian Film Festival, <cite>Reverence</cite> equates sacred sites with the great cathedrals of Europe. In addition to its academic importance, the film has a larger importance. Environmental and human rights activists would benefit from viewing this film. Only with the assistance of high-profile activist groups will Indian people be able to receive the attention on this issue they so desperately need. Only by raising a larger voice will the sacred lands be protected. <p> Both videos explore issues of importance to Indian people, relations with America, and land issues. Through biography, a larger audience learns the complex issues of colonization and settlement. Through the struggle for land, the audience will see that Indian people are still fighting for their very existence and remain locked in a colonial relationship with the United States.
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Todd Leahy. Review of , Chief Seattle and
, In the Light of Reverence: Protecting America's Sacred Lands.
H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews.
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