In Cannes, Scorsese and Dicaprio Turn Spotlight Toward Osage Nation
It was well into the process of making "Killers of the Flower Moon" that Martin Scorsese realized it wasn't a detective story.
Scorsese, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and screenwriter Eric Roth had many potential avenues in adapting David Grann's expansive nonfiction history, "Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI." The film that Scorsese and company premiered Saturday at the Cannes Film Festival, however, wasn't like the one they initially set out to make.
The film, which will open in theaters in October, chronicles the series of killings that took place throughout the Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma. The Osage were then enormously rich from oil on their land, and many white barons and gangsters alike sought to control and steal their money. Dozens of Osage Native Americans were killed before the FBI, in its infancy, began to investigate.
DiCaprio had originally been cast to star as FBI agent Tom White. But after mulling the project over, Scorsese decided to pivot.
"I said, 'I think the audience is ahead of us,’" Scorsese told reporters Sunday in Cannes. "They know it's not a whodunit. It's a who-didn't-do-it."
The shift, filmmakers said, was largely driven from collaboration with the Osage. Osage Nation Chief Standing Bear, who consulted on the film, praised the filmmakers for centering the story instead on Mollie (Lily Gladstone) and her husband Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), the tragic romance at the heart of Scorsese's epic of insidious American ethnic exploitation.
"Early on, I asked Mr. Scorsese, 'How are you going to approach the story? He said I'm going to tell a story about trust, trust between Mollie and Ernest, trust between the outside world and the Osage, and the betrayal of those trusts," said Chief Standing Bear. "My people suffered greatly and to this very day those effects are with us. But I can say on behalf of the Osage, Marty Scorsese and his team have restored trust and we know that trust will not be betrayed."
"Killers of the Flower Moon," the most anticipated film to debut at this year's Cannes, instead became about Ernest, who Scorsese called "the character the least is written about."
DiCaprio, who ceded the character of White to Jesse Plemons, said "Killers of the Flower Moon" reverberates with other only recently widely discussed dark chapters of American history.
"This story, much like the Tulsa massacre, has been something that people have started to learn about and started to understand is part of culture, part of our history," said DiCaprio. "After the screenplay, from almost an anthropological perspective — Marty was there every day — we were talking to the community, trying to hear the real stories and trying to incorporate the truth."
"Killers of the Flower Moon" premiered Saturday to largely rave reviews and thunderous applause nearly 50 years after Scorsese, as a young filmmaker, was a sensation at Cannes. His "Taxi Driver" won the Palme d'Or in 1976.
Among the most-praised performances has been that of Gladstone, the actor of Blackfeet and Nimíipuu heritage.
"These artistic souls on this stage here cared about telling a story that pierces the veil of what society tells us we're supposed to care about and not," said Gladstone, who singled out Scorsese. "Who else is going to challenge people to challenge their own complicity in white supremacy in such a platform except as this man here?"
"We're speaking of the 1920s Osage community. We're talking about Black Wall Street and Tulsa. We're talking about a lot in our film," she continued. "Why the hell does the world not know about these things? Our communities always have. It's so central to everything about how we understand our place in the world."
In the film, Robert De Niro plays a wealthy baron who's particularly adept at plundering the Osage. Speaking Sunday, De Niro was still mulling his character's motivations.
"There's a kind of feeling of entitlement," said De Niro. "It's the banality of evil. It's the thing that we have to watch out for. We see it today, of course. We all know who I'm going to talk about, but I won't say the name. Because that guy is stupid. Imagine if you're smart?"
A minute later, De Niro resumed: "I mean, look at Trump," referring to former President Donald Trump.
With a running time well over three hours and a budget from Apple of $200 million, "Killers of the Flower Moon" is one of Scorsese's largest undertakings. Asked where he gets the gumption for such risks, the 80-year-old director didn't hesitate.
"As far as taking risks at this age, what else can I do?" said Scorsese. "‘No, let's go do something comfortable.’ Are you kidding?"
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Native American News Roundup May 21-27, 2023
Here are some Native American-related news stories that made headlines this week:
Deb Haaland hears from Northern Arizona tribes
Deb Haaland on Monday became the first U.S. Secretary of the Interior to visit Supai, a remote Havasupai village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon that can only be reached on foot, by horseback or by helicopter.
She was there to discuss plans to connect more than 100 homes and other Havasupai institutions to broadband internet, a project made possible by more than $7 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Act funding.
It was part of a three-day visit to Arizona that included meeting with tribal leaders and environmental groups hoping the Biden administration will designate more than 400,000 hectares of land surrounding the Grand Canyon as a national monument.
Haaland also met with Hopi tribal leaders, announcing $6.6 million in federal infrastructure funding to replace an arsenic-contaminated water system in Keams Canyon, Arizona.
‘Pretendian’ Seattle artist sentenced for violating Indian Arts and Crafts Act
A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a Seattle artist to 18 months’ probation for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a law designed to stop the counterfeiting of Native American art.
Prosecutors say 67-year-old Jerry Chris Van Dyke falsely claimed to be a member of the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho for 10 years, carving and selling more than $1,000 worth of Aleut-style pendants.
“Prosecuting cases of fraud in the art world is a unique responsibility and part of our work to support Tribal Nations,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “I hope this case will make artists and gallery owners think twice about the consequences of falsely calling an artist Native and work Native-produced.”
US Border Patrol shoots, kills, Tohono O’odham Tribe member
Family, friends and investigators are demanding answers after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents shot dead a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation outside of his home in the Menagers Dam community near the U.S.-Mexico border.
An unnamed family member told Tucson’s KVOA TV that ceremony leader Raymond Mattia had called CBP for help, complaining that illegal immigrants had trespassed onto his property.
What happened next is unclear: Family members told the television station that CBP agents opened fire on Mattia as he stood outside his front door.
“Raymond lay in front of his home for seven hours before a coroner arrived from Tucson,” his family said in a statement posted online early Thursday morning.
A CBP statement says agents from the Ajo Border Patrol Station responded to a Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department request for assistance in responding to a call of shots fired west of the Menagers Dam Village. There, the statement says, an individual “threw an object toward the officer as they approached the structure which landed a few feet from the officer’s feet. Shortly after the individual threw the object, he abruptly extended his right arm away from his body and three agents fired their service weapons striking the individual several times.”
The CBP statement says officers requested emergency medical services and that the man was pronounced dead by a physician at St. Mary’s Hospital at 10:06 pm.
The Tohono O’odham Nation, the second-largest reservation in the U.S., straddles the border with Mexico. Tribe members have long complained of aggression and other abuses committed by agents operating in the area. Tribal police and the FBI are looking into the matter.
Historian: Was poisoning of Pamunkey Indians North America’s first war crime?
Smithsonian magazine this week recalls a grim chapter in U.S. colonial history. University of Southern California historian Peter C. Mancall writes about the Second Anglo-European War in which Powhatan Confederacy leader Opechancanough launched a set of surprise attacks on more than 30 English settlements in March 1622, killing nearly 350 settlers.
During the following months, English settlers repeatedly attacked tribal villages, burning crops and stealing food.
In May 1623, British soldiers met with Opechancanough in West Point, Virginia, supposedly to negotiate the release of war prisoners. Instead, they served poisoned wine to about 200 Indians. It is not known how many died; Opechancanough escaped the scene but was later captured and killed.
Google Doodle celebrates photographer, writer and Native activist Barbara May Cameron
Google Doodle this week honored Hunkpapa Lakota photographer, poet, writer and human rights activist Barbara May Cameron, who would have turned 69 on Monday.
Raised on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, Cameron studied photography and film at the American Indian Art Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1973, she moved to San Francisco, where she co-founded Gay American Indians, the first group ever dedicated to the rights of LGBTQIA+ Native Americans.
Cameron was also active with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the American Indian AIDS Institute, and she served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, helping with AIDS and childhood immunization programs.
Cameron died in 2002 at age 47.
New Mexican Spanish, a Unique American Dialect, Survives Mostly in Prayers
On a spring Saturday afternoon, two "hermanos" knelt to pray in the chapel of their Catholic brotherhood of St. Isidore the Farmer, nestled by the pine forest outside this hamlet in a high mountain valley.
Fidel Trujillo and Leo Paul Pacheco's words resounded in New Mexican Spanish, a unique dialect that evolved through the mixing of medieval Spanish and Indigenous forms. The historic, endangered dialect is as central to these communities as their iconic adobe churches, and its best chance of survival might be through faith, too.
"Prayers sung or recited are our sacred heritage," said Gabriel Meléndez, a professor emeritus of American Studies with the University of New Mexico who's also a hermano. "When prayers are said in Spanish, they're stronger. They connect us directly to people who came before us."
Preserved mostly in devotions, particularly in humble "moradas" – as the brotherhoods' chapels are called – built of mud and straw in rural communities across the northern reaches of the state, New Mexican Spanish is different from all other varieties of the language.
"Unlike most other forms of Spanish used in the U.S. today, it's not due to immigration in the last 100 years, but rooted back to the 1500s," said Israel Sanz-Sánchez, a professor of languages at West Chester University in Pennsylvania who has researched the dialect.
Spanish explorers and missionaries first reached these valleys isolated between mountains, deserts and plains at the end of the 16th century. Pushed back south by the Pueblo Native Americans, they resettled a century later – and their language evolved to incorporate not only words carried from medieval Spain but also a mixture of expressions derived from Mexican Spanish, Native forms and eventually some English after the territory became part of the United States.
Removed from the center of political and economic power for centuries, these villages preserved the dialect orally.
"You never heard English here," said Felix López of growing up in the 1950s in Truchas, a ridgetop village between Santa Fe and Taos, where this master "santero" – an artist specializing in devotional art – has been helping preserve the 1760s Holy Mission church.
But by the mid-20th century, the push to promote schooling in English led many educators to correct students who used New Mexican Spanish's idiosyncratic mix of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, said Damián Vergara Wilson, a professor of Spanish at the University of New Mexico.
He has been working on teaching Spanish not as foreign but as a heritage language that has developed into something uniquely New Mexican.
It contains some words from medieval Spanish, but it also includes pronunciations that developed in New Mexico's villages and words unique to its geographical and historical place at a crossroads of American civilizations. There are several words for turkey, for instance, including an anglicized one used in the context of Thanksgiving.
With such code-switching sometimes disparaged in education and among the public, younger generations often stick to English only or learn contemporary Spanish, especially as spoken in Mexico, with which the state shares a border. That leads many villagers to worry about being able to preserve New Mexican Spanish.
"The dialect we speak is dying out. We're the last generation that learned it as a first language," said Angelo Sandoval, 45, who serves as the "mayordomo" or caretaker of the 1830s San Antonio Church in Cordova, a village just down the valley from Truchas.
Its best chance for survival is prayer. Traditional devotions have been passed down through generations by hermanos, easily memorized because of their ballad-style rhyming. Sometimes they are transcribed into notebooks called "cuadernos." In an adobe niche in a chapel in Holman, some of the handwritten notebooks are 120 years old.
Even in larger cities, people often request prayers in New Mexican Spanish for special occasions, like rosaries for the deceased or novenas for the holidays.
In Santa Fe, the prayer to the widely venerated statue of Our Lady of Peace contains some of the original Spanish terminology, such as "Sacratisimo Hijo" for the "most holy Son," said Bernadette Lucero, director, curator and archivist for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
A nearly century-old women's folklore society — Sociedad Folklórica de Nuevo México — also regularly practices the dialect for their hymns and nine-day "novenas" prayers to baby Jesus, Lucero added.
In the small town of Bernalillo, where the outskirts of Albuquerque fade into vast mesas, the mayordomos of San Lorenzo also preserve the dialect in their prayers and annual celebrations.
"When we sing an old 'alabado,' we can trace who wrote that," said Santiago Montoya of the Catholic praise (in Spanish, "alabar") hymns that have been passed down through New Mexican brotherhoods.
For 23 years, Montoya and his sister have been the mayordomos of San Lorenzo, a church that was constructed in the mid-19th century with 4-foot-wide adobe walls. The community fought to save it when a bigger, modern church was built next door.
But he's also a "rezador," reciting or singing the rosary — a prayer consisting of sets of Hail Marys called "decades" — which he does in the community and particularly for the deceased. He insists on using New Mexican Spanish even if the families speak only English.
"I tell them, 'I'll do three 'decades' in English, but let's teach the kids,'" Montoya said.
At Graduations, Native American Students Seek Acceptance of Tribal Regalia
Yanchick settled for beaded earrings to represent her Native American identity at her 2018 graduation.
A bill vetoed earlier this month by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, would have allowed public school students to wear feathers, beaded caps, stoles or other objects of cultural and religious significance. Yanchick, a citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and descendent of the Muscogee Nation, said she hopes the legislature tries again.
Being able to "unapologetically express yourself and take pride in your culture at a celebration without having to ask a non-Native person for permission to do so is really significant," said Yanchick, who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.
For Native American students, tribal regalia is often passed down through generations and worn at graduations to signify connection with the community. Disputes over such attire have spurred laws making it illegal to prevent Indigenous students from wearing regalia in nearly a dozen states including Arizona, Oregon, South Dakota, North Dakota and Washington.
High schools, which often favor uniformity at commencement ceremonies, take a range of approaches toward policing sashes, flower leis and other forms of self-expression. Advocates argue the laws are needed to avoid leaving it up to individual administrators.
Groups like the Native American Rights Fund hear regularly from students blocked from wearing eagle feathers or other regalia. This week in Oklahoma, a Native American high school graduate sued a school district, claiming she was forced her to remove a feather from her cap at a ceremony last spring.
When Jade Roberson graduated from Edmond Santa Fe High School, the same school attended by Yanchick, she would have liked to wear a beaded cap and a large turquoise necklace above her gown. But it didn't seem worth asking. She said a friend was only able to wear an eagle feather because he spoke with several counselors, consulted the principal and received a letter from the Cherokee Nation on the feather's significance.
"It was such a hassle for him that my friends and I decided to just wear things under our gown," said Roberson, who is of Navajo descent. "I think it is such a metaphor for what it is like to be Native."
When Adriana Redbird graduates this week from Sovereign Community School, a charter school in Oklahoma City that allows regalia, she plans to wear a beaded cap and feather given by her father to signify her achievements.
"To pay tribute and take a small part of our culture and bring that with us on graduation day is meaningful," she said.
In his veto message, Stitt said allowing students to wear tribal regalia should be up to individual districts. He said the proposal could also lead other groups to "demand special favor to wear whatever they please" at graduations.
The bill's author, Republican state Rep. Trey Caldwell, represents a district in southwest Oklahoma that includes lands once controlled by Kiowa, Apache and Comanche tribes.
"It's just the right thing to do, especially with so much of Native American culture so centered around right of passage, becoming a man, becoming an adult," he said.
Several tribal nations have called for an override of the veto. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin said the bill would have helped foster a sense of pride among Native American students. Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill said students who "choose to express the culture and heritage of their respective Nations" are honoring their identity.
It means a lot that the bill was able to garner support and make it to the governor, Yanchick said, but she wishes it wasn't so controversial.
"Native American students shouldn't have to be forced to be activists to express themselves or feel celebrated," she said.
Native American News Roundup May 7-13, 2023
California professor confesses she is ‘a white person,’ not Native
Native Americans and non-Native allies are expressing outrage over a University of California Berkeley professor who has admitted she has no Mohawk or Mi’kmaq ancestry.
Associate professor Elizabeth Hoover posted a “Letter of Accountability and Apology” on her website Monday, admitting she is "a white person who has incorrectly identified as Native" her entire life.
She said she did not knowingly falsify her heritage but relied on family lore which she did not try to verify until 2022, when questions were raised about her identity.
“I have brought hurt, harm, and broken trust to the Native community at large, and to specific Native communities I have worked with and lived alongside, and for that, I am deeply sorry,” Hoover stated.
More than 380 students and educators have signed a statement calling for Hoover to resign from “all positions on boards and advisory committees and all grants, speaking engagements, and other paid opportunities she obtained with her false identity.”
UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore did not comment on what, if any, disciplinary action the university would take.
As VOA previously reported, Native and First Nations scholars say colleges and universities are “overrun” by academicians who falsely claim Indigenous identity. They not only rob legitimate Indigenous scholars of opportunities but inform public policy.
Study: Early humans in North America migrated from China
New research from China suggests that some ancient humans migrated to the Americas from northern coastal China in the region of the Bohai and Yellow seas.
Scientists examined modern and ancient mitochondrial DNA to trace a rare female lineage. They found 216 modern-day and 39 ancient individuals who share that prehistoric ancestry.
“In addition to previously described ancestral sources in Siberia, Australo-Melanesia, and Southeast Asia, we show that northern coastal China also contributed to the gene pool of Native Americans,” Yu-Chin Li, a molecular anthropologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement.
The research published this week in Cell Reports shows two separate migrations between China, Japan and North America during and after the Ice Age. Researchers say this would explain similarities between prehistoric arrowheads and spearheads found in China, Japan and the Americas.
Catholic groups ran nearly 90 Indian boarding schools in US
An independent collaboration of native tribe and Catholic Church members, historians and archivists this week published a list of Indian boarding schools that were run by the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Native Boarding School Accountability and Healing Project published an online list showing that Catholic dioceses, parishes and religious orders established and operated schools across 22 states; the majority were run by Catholic sisters representing 53 religious orders.
“We are under no pretense that our list is complete,” the group said. “We have done our best to offer the most accurate information possible, but we also anticipate future revisions as additional information is obtained.”
The list expands and corrects a May 2022 U.S. Interior Department report that followed a nine-month probe into federal Indian boarding schools.
The federal government once regarded Christianization to be key to assimilating Native Americans into mainstream American society. The Catholic Church was one of more than 14 denominations of Christians that ran Indian boarding schools between the 1820s and 1970s.
Alaska Federation of Native loses two of its largest members
The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) lost two members this week, sparking concerns about the future of an organization that represents the interests of more than 200 tribes and corporations in Alaska.
The Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, the largest federally recognized tribe in the state, announced Monday it would withdraw from the federation and pursue its political interests independently.
“The truth of the matter is our Executive Council has diverse areas of expertise and this has been a true strength in the governance of our Tribe,” Tlingit and Haida President Richard Chalyee Eesh Peterson said in a written statement Monday.
Separately, the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) also decided to quit the AFN.
“Over the past few years, over 40 resolutions were passed by the full board at AFN that support a subsistence way of life, but no significant action has been taken on those directives,” the group said on its website.
TCC represents 39 villages and 37 federally recognized tribes across more than 608,000 square kilometers (235,000 square miles).
Since 2019, five organizations have withdrawn their AFN memberships.