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Explore Native American History With These Six Documentaries

N. Scott Momaday: Word From A Bear

November 19, 2019

By: Beatrice Alvarez

Native American Heritage Month lasts all of November so this week in Documentary Fix, we share with you two new films and a few documentaries you may have seen before⏤but certainly worth revisiting⏤about Native Americans. Even after November ends, count on us to bring you more Indigenous voices onscreen and behind the camera.

N. Scott Momaday: Words From A Bear

You may know N. Scott Momaday's writings, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet, but you may not be familiar with Momaday himself. American Masters has resolved this issue. As Momaday talks about his life and his drive to create, his voice carries audiences across time and place.

American Masters brings us yet another great talent via their podcast. The current Poet Laureate of the United States is Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet to hold the position. In this episode, Harjo talks about the importance of hearing Native voices and the lessons she learned from one of her inspirations, N. Scott Momaday.

Conscience Point

The Hamptons in New York's Long Island have gained popularity as a magnet for the wealthy every summer. On that very land, the original inhabitants of the Shinnecock Indian Nation lived before being displaced. This documentary from Independent Lens follows a Shinnecock activist named Becky Hill-Genia as she battles to protect her tribe's heritage and land from further development.

Return of Indian Island

The Wiyot tribe's spiritual universe is centered on Indian Island, in northern California. Settlers took the island by force in 1860 and displaced the surviving members of the tribe. The city of Eureka voted in December 2018 to formally return the island to the Wiyot people.

Retro Report partnered with local station KEET in Eureka, California to bring us this installment of Retro Local.

The Dig: Accohannock

Maryland Public Television's The Dig introduces us to Accohannock tribal elder Mike Hinman. He takes us on the water as he tells his personal history as well as his tribe's history.

Dawnland

Independent Lens brought back this incredible film for streaming this month (available until December 1). The film is a space for Wabanaki people to tell stories of being separated from their families as part of a truth commission in Maine. When we watched the broadcast premiere in 2018, we learned about the tribe's history, but we also gained an understanding of the intergenerational trauma occurring as a result of the past. We must also congratulate the filmmakers on their win at the 40th annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards: Dawnland was awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Research this year.

Water Warriors

This short film from POV follows a group of Indigenous and white families who unite to protect their water and way of life from an energy company looking to profit from their land.

We also want to mention two other highlights: one is a special feature from American Experience's The Swamp called "A Place To Remember: Indigenous Stories from the Everglades." Explore the landscape with people from Seminole and Miccosukee tribes and learn about traditions going back hundreds of years in the Florida's Everglades.

The other highlight is Indie Alaska, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media and Digital Studios. The series offers new and authentic views of what life is like in Alaska. Here's a little taste of the series: the latest episode features a woman who is reviving the art of making traditional Inupiat mukluks.

We would be remiss if we didn't mention one of the newest additions to the PBS Kids lineup: Molly of Denali. The animated series follows a 10-year-old Alaska Native, Molly Mabray, who helps her parents run a trading post and navigates life in the fictional village of Qyah, Alaska. The production team makes sure to positively and authentically represent all the Alaskan Native cultural values. Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets'aii Gwich'in), a creative producer of the series, explains: “These values will be woven into each storyline and provide important learning moments. I’m especially excited that Alaska Native children will get to see themselves in Molly, who’s such an inspiring role model for all kids. The project’s Alaska Native advisors worked hard to ensure that our children will get to see our beautiful cultures in a respectful light.”

We hope you enjoyed our recommended films this Native American Heritage month, and that you continue learning about the diversity of cultures with us and our programming.

Documentary Fix brings you a curated collection of documentaries you can watch on PBS.org and PBS Video App.

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