Friday, February 25, 2011

A Treasure-Trove of Ephemeral Indian Films

The American Indian Film Gallery is an interesting project. The online collection includes hundreds of films about American Indians, the bulk of them "educational shorts used in American schools from the 1930s to the 1970s." The films are organized by tribe and you can view them online or download them.

These films are archival treasures long buried in obscure vaults, unused and forgotten. But, they are not in perfect. Some were educational shorts used in American schools from the 1930s to the 1970s. Several have abbreviated titles or missing endings. Some are spliced or scratched; others have faded color. But through the mistakes made long ago by schoolroom projectionists, and film stock programmed to lose its coloration, the historical importance of the movies remains compelling. These films are windows into the human past, stunning documents with much to tell us about our New World story.

The native peoples of the Pacific Northwest are well represented in these curious period pieces. Examples:

m Coeur D’Alene 1: Cataldo Mission, Indian play drawn from tribal legend
m Coeur D’Alene 2: more of Indian play based on legend
m Coeur D’Alene 3: dancing, more scenes from Indian play
 The Lord’s Prayer: Chief Shatka Bear-Step offers the sacred Christian prayer in Indian sign language
m Skokomish Fish Processing: inside a tribal industry in Washington state
w Nathan Jackson: interview in 1976 with world’s most famous totem carver
 People of the Potlatch: Haida and Tsimshian Indians of the Pacific coast of Canada (1936)
The films range from some fairly racist and exploitive "educational" films from the '30s and '40s to films made by the tribes themselves in the '70s. All are the sort of rare ephemera that can be so historically valuable and yet so hard to find. The site was created and is maintained by a retired history professor, J. Fred MacDonald. Thanks Fred!


Katrina said...

Thanks for posting this, it's fascinating!

Michael said...

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Larry Cebula said...

Michael: Yeah, the metadata is a little rough!