“Working for the River: Restoring The Dungeness” is a new film from Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe about the tribe and landowners’ collaborative work on Dungeness River in Sequim. It was produced by the tribe and Mountainstone Productions and funded by the U.S. EPA.
TULALIP — When it came to healing the rift between local Indian tribes and the white world that once stripped Snohomish County’s original inhabitants of much of their culture, there has been no more important figure than William Shelton.
Early in the 20th century, Shelton worked hard to restore and preserve early tribal traditions that had been banned on the Tulalip Indian Reservation for decades.
At the same time, he offered an olive branch to the non-tribal community, reaching out to speak at club meetings and schools. He attended fairs and gave radio interviews.
He served as an ambassador, a liaison between the two worlds.
A Tulalip tribal member, a historian and a filmmaker recently joined forces in hopes of making a documentary to spotlight Shelton’s effect on local tribal and non-tribal culture alike.
“I really think that people need to know about William Shelton,” said Lita Sheldon, the tribal member spearheading the project.
Her goal, she said, is to make an hour-long documentary to air on the History channel, Biography channel or PBS.
Sheldon, along with Everett-based historian David Dilgard and Bellingham video producer Jeff Boice, started the project in 2012 with a short video overview of Shelton’s life.
The 11-minute video, supplemented with historical photos and footage, features an interview with Dilgard in which he describes how Shelton revived tribal art on the Tulalip reservation by carving his “sklaletut” pole in 1912.
Shelton interviewed tribal elders about their encounters with spirit helpers, including animals, birds and people, and depicted them in carvings on both sides of a 60-foot pole.
Sklaletut is the word for spirit helpers in Lushootseed, the language of Puget Sound-area Indian tribes.
“There is a broken link between my race and the white people,” Shelton wrote in “Indian Totem Legends of the Northwest Coast Country” in 1913, an article originally printed for an Indian school in Oklahoma and later in The Herald.
“So I thought I better look back and talk to the older people that are living and try to explain our history by getting their totems and carve them out on the pole like the way it used to be years ago,” Shelton wrote.
The pole has deteriorated over the years, but part of it still stands in front of Tulalip Elementary School on the reservation.
Shelton carved several other poles, including one that stood for decades at 44th Street SE and Evergreen Way in Everett — for which the Totem restaurant was named.
The pole deteriorated and was taken down in the late ’80s or early ’90s. It’s now being preserved in a warehouse on the Tulalip reservation.
About 200 of the 1,000 items in the collection of the recently built Hibulb Cultural Center either were made by Shelton or came from among other items stored on his family’s property, assistant curator Tessa Campbell has said.
Shelton ran the sawmill on the reservation and served as a translator for tribal elders who did not speak English. He supervised timber sales, served for a time as police chief and sold war bonds during World War I.
He spoke at the dedication of Legion Park in Everett shortly before his death from pneumonia in 1938 at age 70, according to the city.
In the 1990s, Lita Sheldon worked with Boice, the filmmaker, on short historical and Lushootseed language videos on the reservation.
Boice, a former videographer, editor and producer at KVOS-TV in Bellingham, did freelance video work for the Tulalips for several years, including recording tribal events.
Sheldon said she needs to raise about $60,000 to fully fund the documentary. The cost would include travel to locations in the East and Midwest where William Shelton sent some of his poles, she said.
The film project had a “kickstarter” web page last summer but received only a little more than $2,800 in pledges, so the idea was shelved temporarily.
Sheldon hasn’t given up, though. She said she hasn’t asked the Tulalip Tribes for funds.
Niki Cleary, a spokeswoman for the tribes, said the project could be eligible for funding as a tribal endeavor, but Sheldon’s group would have to apply. The group also could gain nonprofit status and apply through the tribes’ annual charitable contribution program, she said.
Lita Sheldon, 61, works as the librarian at the Hibulb center but stressed that she is doing this project on her own.
She said it’s not just a matter of money but also of gathering more information about the former tribal leader.
Much of the history about Shelton came through his daughter, Harriette Dover, who died in 1991, as well as from other surviving relatives.
Sheldon is hoping more people with knowledge of William Shelton come forward.
“There’s not a definitive tribal history written,” she said. “This is the closest thing to a tribal history.”
Anyone interested in the William Shelton documentary project may contact Lita Sheldon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roseanne Supernault is an award-winning Metis Cree actress whose recent work includes the acclaimed series Blackstone — and with Rhymes for Young Girls, she’s again featured in a gritty drama set on a First Nations reserve. Yet Rhymes for Young Ghouls, a revenge-fantasy story that tackles the legacy of residential schools and takes place on the fictional Red Crow Mi’kmaq Reserve in 1976, is quite different. On the website of the Toronto International Film Festival, where Rhymes for Young Ghouls had its premiere on September 9, the film is described as “an S.E. Hinton novel … re-imagined as a righteously furious, surreal thriller.” Supernault shared her thoughts on the film with ICTMN.
Can you describe your character in Rhymes for Young Ghouls?
I play Anna in the film — the mother of the main character Aila. I’m an artist, I am very in love with Aila’s father Joseph, and I am very sad at the state of our life on the rez. Through most the film I am present in a haunting capacity.
Did you grow up knowing anyone like Anna growing up?
I was inspired by many women, but specifically my sister, who raised me for most my life. She’s one of the strongest women I know. Anna has rules for Aila, on surviving the rez, and I’m pretty sure my sister could write that very same book.
What elements of this film will resonate with a Native audience?
The climax of this film is quite extraordinary. After reading the script I was reminded of a quote by actress Melanie Laurent about Inglourious Basterds. She said how important it was for her as a Jewish woman to be a part of that movie for the sake of her family, because of the fantastical revenge that the main characters get. Relatives of mine whom I love very much went to residential school and I can’t help but feel a sense of redemption and empowerment by being a part of this story. I imagine it will resonate with most Native people who watch it. They’re also going to see more humorous characters and a very powerful heroine, Aila, played by Kawennahere Devery Jacobs, who is a remarkable up-and-coming actress.
Do you think it will appeal to the larger filmgoing public?
[Filmmaker] Jeff Barnaby’s story and vision will appeal to a mainstream audience as well, simply for the fact that it’s just good film. If you take away the contextualization of reservation life, Jeff has really done a terrific job of basing this story on universal elements that you can relate to as a human being. It’s raw, it’s gritty, and it’s beautiful.
There are certain common elements between Rhymes for Young Ghouls and the TV series Blackstone. Both deal with a dark side of rez life; with corruption and crime. How deep do the similarities run, and where do they end?
They’re both strong stories set on a reservation and have elements of corruption, but otherwise, the similarities end there. Jeff looks at reserve life with a different set of eyes. When have we ever really seen what it was like to have Indian Agents breathing down our necks — day in and day out — on the rez? And especially to execute it with this unique ghoulish motif! Every once in a while when reading the script, I would think: “Did he just say that?! Did he just do that?! This is amazing! I have to be a part of this.” And I’m so glad I am! I think the world’s about to find out that Natives are some of the most powerful storytellers on earth. It’s in our blood.
How do you respond to criticism that entertainment like Blackstone and Rhymes for Young Ghouls can be bad for the image of Natives?
What’s important here is that we be patient with our storytellers. Contrasting and challenging Hollywood’s hundred-year depiction of Natives is going to take some time. I carry the same message straight across for all audiences: we can’t base the perceived vision of Native People on ONE Film or TV show about Native People, and then make judgements. Please be patient with us. I’ve never met such a hard-working generation of people! We’re really on our way.
Director Jeff Barnaby is one of the most interesting young filmmakers (Native or otherwise) in Canada today. Were you previously familiar with his work?
He’s definitely going to be doing big things and I would love nothing more than to work with him again. I watched “File Under Miscellaneous” before meeting him, and was instantly a fan. He also showed Devery and me “The Colony” during pre-production. I think we both knew then that we were in safe hands.
What it was like working with him on Rhymes for Young Girls?
Jeff is a visionary. And what’s great is that his Nativeness is still very much intact. He doesn’t have that phoney telephone voice many of us have adapted as a sort of as a survival mechanism. He’s Native through and through. He’s real, he’s talented, and he’s got a crazy awesome sense of humor!
WASHINGTON – Join the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in celebrating its fourth annual Living Earth Festival Friday, July 19, through Sunday, July 21. This year’s festival features live music and dance performances, a Native cooking competition, a film screening, hands on crafts and storytelling for families, an outdoor farmers’ market with local produce and game, a discussion of tribal environmental activism, as well as beading demonstrations and workshops on cheese making and sculpture.
Living Earth Festival Friday, July 19, thru Sunday, July 21
Indian Summer Showcase Concert
On Saturday at 5:00 pm, this concert in the Potomac Atrium will feature the talents of Quetzal Guerrero, a Latin soul singer, violinist, guitarist, and percussionist, She King, an indie rock outfit from Toronto fronted by Six Nations vocalist Shawnee Talbot, and a performance by GRAMMY award winning artist Ozomatli, a “culture mashing” group whose music embraces influences from hip-hop, salsa, dancehall, cumbia, samba, and funk.
Dinner and a Movie
On Friday evening, the museum’s Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe will offer an a la carte menu from 5 pm to 6:30 pm before the 7 pm screening of Watershed: Exploring a New Water Ethic for the New West in the Rasmuson Theater. Narrated by Robert Redford, the film highlights the lives and thoughts of six individuals living and working in the Colorado River basin and examines the issue of balancing the interests and rights of cities, agriculture, the environment, and Native communities when it comes to water rights. The screening is free, but registration through the NMAI website, is required. Registration does not ensure a seat; seating is on a first come, first served basis. Limited walk up seats will be available on the night of the show.
On Sunday from 10 pm to pm, a farmers market will be open on the museum’s outdoor Welcome Plaza. Local produce and game will be available from Common Good, Coonridge Organic Cheese Farm, Chuck’s Butcher Shop, and more.
On Saturday at 2 pm, Tribal ecoAmbassadors will host a discussion in the Rasmuson Theater on the roles of Native professors and students in addressing environmental issues with a focus on work toward local solutions to preserve public health, reduce carbon footprints, and increase sustainability.
On Friday at 1 pm and 2 pm and Saturday and Sunday at 11 am, 1 pm and 2 pm in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center, Muscogee Creek artist Lisan Tiger Blaire is hosting a sculpture workshop. Free tickets are available at the Activity Center. The workshops are first come, first served.
WHAT: Living Earth Festival
Friday, July 19 – 1:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Saturday & Sunday, July 20 & 21st – 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
WHERE: Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian
4th Street and Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20560
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.
VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA – During the early 1980s, the small rural community of Bell, Oklahoma gained national attention when Wilma Mankiller led the struggle to build an 18 mile waterline to bring fresh drinking water to the small town.
This story is now on film in “The Cherokee Word for Water.” Filmed in Oklahoma in 2011, the film will have its Virginia premiere Sunday, June 9, at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. The Virginia premiere is part of the SkyFest Native American Festival taking place at the 17th Street Park at the Virginia Beach oceanfront.
“The Cherokee concept of “gadugi” means working together to solve a problem. That’s just what happened in the tiny town of Bell 30 years ago. Cherokee Wilma Mankiller, along with Charlie Soap, led an all volunteer workforce which had endured a legacy of being dehumanized and dispossessed of their land and identity in creating a nearly 20 mile long waterline to provide, for the first time for most, fresh running water and indoor plumbing to homes in Bell”
said group spokeswoman and head female dancer for SkyFest, Emelie Jeffries.
“The success of this project inspired the Cherokee nation as a whole and gave Native people the inspiration to take back control of their lives and life circumstances. It sparked a movement of similar self help projects that continues across the Cherokee nation to this day and led to Wilma Mankiller becoming the first female principle chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985. The film highlights cultural assets of courage, resiliency and determination of Native people and seeks to reshape public perception of them. It’s an important film for those of all ages to see,”
Mankiller served as Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985-1995. During her administration, the tribe constructed several health clinics and re-established its judicial system, tribal marshal service and a tax commission. She met with Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. She was married to Charlie Soap, her partner in leading the waterline project and the film’s director and a producer, from 1986 until her death from cancer in 2010.
Kimberly Norris Guerrero plays Wilma Mankiller. Moses J. Brings Plenty portrays Charlie Soap. Guerrero, a veteran of many television shows and films, is perhaps best known as a girlfriend of Jerry Seinfeld from the “Seinfeld” episode “The Cigar Store Indian.” Brings Plenty is also a veteran of both mediums, having appeared recently in “Cowboys vs. Aliens.” Deanna Dunagan, the Tony Award-winning actress from the play “August: Osage County” portrays Mankiller’s mother in the film.
“I’d like people to know more about Wilma and the hope and resilience in the Indian community,”
Soap said of the message that he hopes “The Cherokee Word for Water” will convey.
“Wilma thought then that too many people would come out to Cherokee Nation lands and only see poor people and bad conditions, and not that there were people ready to change their situations if just given the opportunity. That’s what she did. I think it’s important to leave a legacy for her. I never realized the importance of a legacy until she was gone and so many people told me how they looked up to her and that she made them believe, “If she can do it, we can too.” It’s a powerful feeling that she’s left with us, and plenty of people tell me that they still feel her presence here today,”