By Melannie Wurm
North Idaho, like much of the United States, is a place with two histories: 200 years of white exploration and settlement, with which most are familiar, and thousands of years of Native American culture, about which the vast majority of people know little.
This winter, the East Bonner County Library District is partnering with The Idaho Mythweaver in an effort to rectify this, to educate the people of Sandpoint on Native American history and culture.
Together, they will be presenting a film made from the viewpoint of indigenous peoples each weekend at the Sandpoint library. The second film in the series, “Reel Injun,” by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge, and Jeremiah Hayes, will be featured this Saturday. It will be screened at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m., both followed with conversation and discussion lead by Mythweaver Director Jane Fritz. She spoke with me about her goals for the film series.
The Idaho Mythweaver is a nonprofit organization that has been educating cross-culturally for the past 26 years. Over that time, the group has done a great deal to expand our understanding of North Idaho’s indigenous peoples. They have brought speakers to public radio and performers to the Panida Theater.
For the last two years they organized events across the school district, bringing members of the Kalispel tribe to fourth grade classrooms. The students experience a cultural immersion in the tribal culture and their teachers receive a lesson plan designed by Fritz to help teach even more over time.
This spring, the Mythweavers will also host a boat tour of Lake Pend Oreille, again in conjunction with the Kalispel tribe. This will be an opportunity for locals to reimagine the lake not as their watersport playground, but as the traditional Kalispel homeland.
The East Bonner County Library District has often offered free film screenings to the public, from popular new releases to educational documentaries. Their primary purchaser of new material is a former Mythweaver board member and as a result, the library carries a large collection of films by Native American filmmakers.
A few months ago, the library approached Fritz about working together. She was excited and grateful.
“It’s a wonderful partnership,” she says. “It is not often enough that people have the opportunity to learn about these important topics.”
The library film series will “use the arts and humanities to educate about the authentic and accurate portrayal of native people.”
It will allow viewers to connect with different perspectives and to experience a culture deeply and spiritually connected to the natural world. This week’s film, “Reel Injun,” focuses on the portrayal of indigenous people in Hollywood. It delves into the many ways that the film industry has misrepresented and stereotyped Native Americans.
From “the noble savage” to “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” from John Wayne to Vietnam, “Reel Injun” examines 100 years of cinematic history with humor and insight. It is, Fritz says, the Mythweaver’s answer to Hollywood’s push for holiday movies.
Not all of the upcoming films, which will run through March, have yet been confirmed. However, future showings may include “Seasoned with Spirit,” a cooking show about family culture and traditional foods, and another film documenting the Native American boarding school experience. Whatever the Mythweavers ultimately choose to show, they will be providing the opportunity to learn about an important aspect of local history. Fritz cites the 10,000-year-old Kalispel culture as one motivation for the project.
“It’s exciting to go into their language schools and to see teachers in their 20s giving the lessons,” said Fritz. “The language is experiencing a renaissance.”
Too often, we forget that this was the home of indigenous peoples long before the white man arrived.
“It’s time,” said Fritz, “to learn their story.”
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