This doc about “bomb trains” filled with crude oil will make your head explode

By Ted Alvarez, Grist


VICE News just released Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Raila 23-minute-long documentary investigating the explosive oil trains that regularly run from the Bakken shale to the Pacific Northwest. That might seem a bit long for web video, but you should watch it anyway — mostly because Thomas the Terror Engine is headed to your town, but also because Jerry Bruckheimer has nothing on the terrifying explosions at the 5:09 and 6:00 marks.


Oh, and you can find out if you live near a bomb-train blast zone right here. (Spoiler alert: You probably do.)

Get Ready to Cry: John T. Williams Documentary Calls for Healing, Not Anger


Frank Hopper, Indian Country Today


Deanna Sebring was the main witness to the murder. She crossed Howell Street at 4:12 p.m. on August 30, 2010, just as Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk opened fire on Ditidaht carver John T. Williams, who had been carving a board while walking. She stood behind Birk as he shot five bullets in about a second. The dash cam of his patrol car shows her recoiling from the sound. Deanna kept walking, then turned and saw John lying on the sidewalk, looking up at her. She continued walking. The horror took a moment to sink in. His eyes are what bothered her the most. Birk had just gunned down an unarmed man. Finally, after a block and a half, Deanna stopped and returned to report the crime.

I never expected to find a story like this in the documentary, titled “Honor Totem,” produced for the government access Seattle Channel and recently released on YouTube. As an Alaska Native who has also been homeless and incarcerated, I found it easy to seethe at the cops after the murder. But my outrage masked something else, something I had been hiding—something Deanna’s story brought out into the open.

Video of Community Stories: Honor Totem


Through her eyes I experienced John’s last moments of consciousness. I could see him in my imagination, pleading, then fading. The finality of his death gave me vertigo and I felt as if I might fly apart in a million pieces. Her story destroyed my shield of political outrage and made me see the raw horror of John’s death. And for some reason it haunted me.

Through interviews with family members, in particular John’s brother Rick, “Honor Totem” relates the story of John’s life and the causes of his downward spiral. After losing his father, who taught him to carve in the family style, and three brothers in just a few short years, John began drinking more. He sank into depression. By the time of his murder he was deaf in one ear and virtually blind. He was a broken man, displaced from his tribal homeland.

But to Seattle Police he was just another drunken Indian to be swept off the streets like confetti after a parade. If it hadn’t been for witnesses like Deanna Sebring, Officer Birk would have probably received a medal. Due in part to her testimony, the Firearms Review Board determined the shooting was unjustified and Officer Birk resigned.

Ian Devier, who wrote the documentary, at the foot of the John T. Williams Memorial Honor Totem that stands near the Space Needle at the Seattle Center.
Ian Devier, who wrote the documentary, at the foot of the John T. Williams Memorial Honor Totem that stands near the Space Needle at the Seattle Center.


Deanna relates in an interview during “Honor Totem” that she suffered nightmares after the shooting. She says she heard about John’s brother Rick and his plan to carve a memorial totem pole for John to promote healing. She and her son visited the carving site on Pier 57 several times. Rick even taught her son how to carve. As she spent time with the carvers, she absorbed the welcoming atmosphere and slowly began to heal.

Rick says in the documentary that the totem pole has healing energy. So the day after viewing “Honor Totem,” I take the light rail downtown and transfer to the monorail. I am nauseous and my head is spinning. I see the totem as we pull into the Seattle Center, standing at the end of a cool, moist lawn just east of the Space Needle. I stumble toward it. Vertigo makes every step a struggle. I reach the pole and close my eyes. I see John, his eyes pleading, then fading.

Then I realize they are not John’s eyes at all. They belong to my Aunt Judy, my mother’s twin sister, a full-blooded Tlingit. She looks at me from a bed in a nursing home, pleading, then fading. She took me in after I got out of prison years ago and I abandoned her at the end of her life. I let her die alone in a nursing home. I had so much anger inside. I don’t even know what it was about. I just hated.

Detail of the John T. Williams Memorial Totem Pole. An eagle stands on top, beneath that is a master carver, and beneath that is a Raven. (Ian Devier)
Detail of the John T. Williams Memorial Totem Pole. An eagle stands on top, beneath that is a master carver, and beneath that is a Raven. (Ian Devier)


I sit near the totem pole and my stomach starts to settle. My Aunt Judy passed away just two years before John’s murder. My political outrage about his assassination masked the guilt I felt about my aunt’s death. I feel just as guilty as Officer Birk, but until now I buried those feelings deep inside. John’s Honor Totem and the healing it represents help me face my guilt. I look at the master carver depicted in the middle of the pole. I shot you, John. It might as well have been me. I killed my Aunt Judy by abandoning her.

The wind makes the trees behind John’s Honor Totem rustle. The master carver listens. Kids play on the lawn and a breeze kisses my cheek. Part of healing is forgiveness. Part of healing is remembrance. My stomach settles and I suddenly feel hungry. Thank you, John. May we always remember what you taught us about acceptance, forgiveness and the healing power of our traditions.



Documentary About Hoopster Shoni Schimmel Among iTunes’ Top Downloads




Off the Rez, a 2011 documentary about Umatilla basketball star Shoni Schimmel, is putting up respectable download numbers at Apple’s iTunes store. As of this writing, the film is at no. 99 on the overall iTunes Top 100 list, and is the seventh-highest ranked documentary.

Click here to go to the Off the Rez page at iTunes.

Schimmel is now a force on the court for the University of Louisville (where her sister Jude is also on the team), and was recently spotlighted by ESPNW as the college player of the week. Off the Rez premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011, and aired on cable TV as Shoni’s Louisville Cardinals were making their run to the NCAA tournament finals in 2013.

Below are a few clips from Off the Rez; many more can be seen at director Jonathan Hock’s Youtube channel.





Documentary Explores Tensions Between Indigenous Cultures and Renewable Energy Development


By Aji, June 24, 2013, for New Day

Who Are My People?, documentary by Robert Lundahl, premiered on Saturday in San Diego, California. The film explores the disconnect that occurs when non-Indians assume that using sacred ground for renewable energy is an automatic benefit that must outweigh the rights of the land’s indigenous peoples to their ancestors’ history and ongoing traditional practices.

At the heart of the dispute is a contest between Native American traditions and developers and government officials who contend benefits from the projects such as greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy production outweigh their disturbance of cultural resources in the bleak desert terrain.Some of those resources, Lundahl said, seem “downright strange to Anglo-European eyes – like enormous geoglyphs, or earth drawings, visible from space, including giant human-like forms and complex geometries.”

“Stranger still,” he added, “international energy companies want to build their facilities right on top of these sacred communications from the distant past. In the process, they are tearing apart the social and cultural fabric of indigenous descendants.”

Mr. Lundahl is white. He has a history of making documentary films about Native subjects and issues, for which he has received a number of industry and academic awards. Those awards, however, are bestowed by the dominant culture, and are not themselves an indicator of whether he gets it right from an Indian perspective. That said, it appears that he makes an effort to showcase actual Native voices in his films, and this one appears to be no exception.

For those who wish to view the film, the release dates are listed on the film’s official Web site as “Coming Soon.” The site does, however, make it possible to view a trailer and read about Mr. Lundahl’s artistic vision and intent. Since the premiere occurred only two days ago, it’s worthwhile to keep tabs on future showings, particularly to see how it’s received in the portions of Indian Country that the film covers.