August 30, 2001
UW-RF Workshop Addresses Native American Images
By Molly Montag
UW-RF News Bureau
They came from across the country, New York to New Mexico, ambitious educators committed to bringing their students into todayıs world of ethnic awareness.
The University of Wisconsin-River Falls hosted teachers from 14 states for a summer film institute sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities titled, "Picturing America: Cinematic Representations of Americaıs Ethnic Diversity." This is the second year UW-RF has hosted the five-week seminar.
The institute featured four speakers over a three-day period who addressed the issue of representations of Native Americans in film, and the use of film as a classroom teaching tool on issues of racial diversity.
UW-River Falls English Professor Laura Zlogar said the institute is designed to facilitate the use of ethnic films in the classroom.
"Itıs about giving our teachers exposure to scholars interested in ethnic film," Zlogar said. "To teach students to be creative viewers of their films; to be more critical viewers of the images we have on our screens."
"The idea is how they can use film, such as documentary types, as educational tools in the classroom," Zlogar said.
Zlogar said there is a shift today to be more critical of media representations and to teach that skill in the classroom.
"Itıs clearly important now that students are not only able to read written text, but these kinds of film images that are all around us," she said.
Leo Boughton, a history teacher at Harlan High School in Chicago, felt the Institute was very beneficial.
"There is no place else that does this and this is something I think every teacher should be a part in, if the opportunity presents itself," he said.
Paula Grossman of Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb, said the speakers provided an educational experience. "I find itıs really enlightening for me as a way of starting to deal with many of the misconceptions many students have of different cultures," Grossman said.
Speaker Rayna Green, who is of Cherokee descent, wrote scripts for 30 years and got involved in filming. Her next project is a film on American winemaking.
Greenıs work with the Smithsonian Institution has taken her into a new forum.
"Into a more public forum," she said. "I reach a much wider audience." Her work has also allowed her to give Native Americans a voice in films about themselves, a different perspective from many other filmmakers. All footage shot in Native American communities and research gathered is shown to the people who are subjects of the film. Everything, including the music that is chosen, is shared.
"It gives me the chance to tell real history from a native point of view," Green said.
Green said many filmmakers over the years have shot footage of Native Americans and then taken that footage back to the studio with them, leaving the community without a true voice in the final product.
Green says that leaves the community without a sense of control over how they are represented in a world with a long history of misrepresentation of Native American values and concerns.
"Itıs offensive," Green said. "Itıs an assault on native language and culture."
"I want teachers to have something they can use in classrooms," Green said. "To give them some materials to use."
Another speaker, Charlene Teters, stressed to the educators that it is important to view Native Americans in a modern context, not simply emphasizing history 100 years old. As a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Teeters gained national attention in her efforts to depose Chief Illiniwek as the university's mascot.
While other speakers stressed subject involvement in the editorial process of the films, filmaker Jay Rosenstein said he adopted a more journalistic perspective. Rosenstein, a documentary film maker, is recognized for his film, "In Whose Honor?" that documented Teters efforts to end the use of Native American names and symbols for sports mascots.
"Filmmaking is seen as this glamorous thing, but documentary filmmaking isnıt profitable and can have consequences," Rosenstein said.
Jacquelyn Kilpatrick, author of "Celluloid Indians," shared that at least two myths persisted into modern media, with both focusing on putting Native Americans in the past.
"Over time, itıs the assumption that they were either disappearing or were gone," she said. "And that it was OK to use Indians as villainsIt didnıt matter because theyıre gone."
This attitude may be changing soon, Kilpatrick said. "Native American filmmakers are trying to make films their own communities can relate to," she said.
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