|Ofelia Rivas, founder O'odham Solidarity Project for justice|
at the US/Mexico border, with Arista LaRusso, Navajo doctoral
student in Indigenous Studies from Sand Springs, Ariz,
and Gary Farmer in Tucson on Dec. 1, 2012.
Photo Brenda Norrell.
'Native people don't have any access to any form of media that reflects them. I think its quite significant in terms of our own self esteem and why we have such a high rate of suicide.' --Gary Farmer
By Brenda Norrell
TUCSON -- Native actor and blues man Gary Farmer was welcomed to Tucson, the ancestral territory of the O'odham, by Ofelia Rivas, who sang a traditional O'odham blessing for Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers, and Pomo film director Tim Ramos.
Between the screenings of Ramos' new film California Indian and Depp and Farmer's Dead Man, Gary spoke of the lack of free press in Indian country and the potential for empowerment through media.
Gary said the United States and Native governments are failing to recognize the importance of Native Americans and their vital place in the media. He described the lack of free press within Indian communities, and the lack of access to electronic media in the US and Canada, during the Native Eyes Film Showcase at the Loft Cinema.
During questions from the audience, Gary said there is a lack of vision by Native leadership to bring about change.
"Native people don't have any access to any form of media that reflects them. I think its quite significant in terms of our own self esteem and why we have such a high rate of suicide."
Describing his life long efforts in radio and television, he said, "I find radio is the more honest form."
"Radio is a way to re-language the people," he said, adding that small radio stations provide for Native languages, and urban radio stations have a great deal of information to share, like AIDS education.
Referring to APTN, Gary said the television network has made a great deal of difference in Canada, in socializing non-Native people to Native issues and stories.
However, he said there's been very little interest in authentic Native media in the US.
"We haven't been able to spark any interest in the US."
Silencing Native voices in the US
Describing the ongoing censorship and manipulation of the press in Indian communities, Gary explained that corruption -- and fear of the truth -- is at the core.
"The Native governments are structured like the American government, which is naturally corrupt. Then, they don't want media, because it is on their case, that's how media is looked at right, rather than socializing and education."
Gary, who was the well loved Philbert in the classic Powwow Highway, was asked if he sees himself more as an activist or actor.
"I've gone back and forth my whole life, but I go to ensuring that Native people have a voice in my own community. I've worked hard to do that here in the United States as well, but I've had no success."
Gary joined Tim Ramos, Pomo producer/writer and actor in the new film California Indian, which screened, along with Dead Man.
Gary pointed out that Native films could be distributed in an alternative distribution system in Indian country, but there is a lack of theaters in Native communities.
"If everyone had a movie theater, we really could have an impact."
Media as a means of empowerment
While casinos continue to expand in Indian country, Native talent is not being widely promoted. Gary said even the National Congress of American Indians in the US has not supported Native talent.
"I tried to get the National Congress of American Indians to pass even a 25 percent commitment to Native talent, to develop Native American talent in the casinos, you know best efforts, but I can't even get that through."
"There's very little support, I just think they're afraid of artists, because we speak out."
Now living in Santa Fe, Gary said in New Mexico young people are suppressed and prevented from opening up, especially on the subject of teenage pregnancy. New Mexico youths have been shut down who attempt to organize and deal with teenage pregnancy at their own level.
"A lot of young people don't have a voice. It is all about empowerment, but there's got to be trust."
Native media in US: Bad first examples
Describing the failed media in the US, he said, "It is because there's so much bad first example, because of the way things have worked out here in the United States, in terms of media and its power in terms of influence, it is profound."
When asked whether he is Canadian, Gary said he is neither Canadian or US. "They are both young and foolish countries." Gary said he is Cayuga. He is Haudenosaunee.
During the evening of blues and films, Gary and filmmaker Tim Ramos were asked for advice for struggling Native filmmakers. Ramos encouraged filmmakers to keep pushing and believing in their dreams.
"No matter what happens, you've got to stick to it, just keep pushing, and your film will get seen."
Although some say there's no audience for it, Ramos said at the Loft in Tucson, look around there is an audience.
Gary urged Natives to work for the protection of Mother Earth, and follow the lead of Indigenous and the governments in South America, who are upholding the rights of nature. He also urged Native governments to return to that way of life. As for the New York Times, he said this should be there editorial policy: Mother Earth first.
Gary also spoke of the Kit Carson era, Navajos forced on the Longest Walk, and how genocide reduced the Dine' to 2,000 people. Now, there are 350,000 Navajos. Because of this genocide there is now a new genetic disease. XP, a rare and fatal genetic disease that causes skin cancer from any exposure to sunlight, is revealed in the new film Sun Kissed . Describing it as a "beautiful film," he said is showed recently on PBS.
Dispelling the myth that Sundance and Cannes are screening this type of cutting edge filmmaking about Native people, Gary said, "You only get those at alternative film festivals. You're not going to see that at Sundance or Cannes."
Dead Man and Johnny Depp
During an evening of incredible blues with Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers, and the screening of the new film California Indian, Gary also introduced the film 'Dead Man,' which Gary, as the medicine man Nobody, starred in with Johnny Depp.
Gary said Dead Man was never released in the US, but won the European Best Foreign Film Award, which Gary and others accepted in Berlin. He joke about spending his time searching for the best weinersnitchel in East Berlin.
As for Depp, Gary said they share a lot of love, but he never saw Depp after the film. He said it was sort of like Depp married his wife or something, just didn't see him again.
"We have this distant love, haven't seen him since," Gary said, adding that Depp is a great "human person."
"He's a great guy." Gary said he was glad the Comanche sort of adopted Depp.
When asked about his own experiences in film with Indian stereotypes, Gary said, "Well they're not ever going to hire me to be Geronimo. You've always got to be a starving Indian, I'm never going to get that work."
With joking aside, Gary talked of the onslaught of gold mining and materialism. He said it was good that some Native people still have their ceremonies.
Born on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, and raised in Buffalo, New York, Gary later found that being on stage was a way to tell stories. "I realized I had power, especially on the stage."
"I'm still working at it."
Receiving laughter and applause, Gary received special thanks from the audience for his support of those resisting the injustice at the US/Mexico border, and those protecting Mother Earth.
Gary sang, "We're all equal, no matter what color you are. We got to look to the south man, we gotta help that out. Three quarters of the world starving to death, man, come on. We gotta make a change."
Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 30 years, beginning with Navajo Times during the 18 years she lived on the Navajo Nation. After serving as a longtime staff reporter for Indian Country Today, she was censored, then terminated, and began Censored News as a result. Now in its seventh year with more than 1.7 million views, Censored News is published without advertising or sponsors.
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