DER Documentary

Indian Self-Rule: A Problem of History

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by Selma Thomas
color, 58 min, 1985

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“When the 20th century began, most Americans who thought about Indians at all did so in the past tense. Like a photograph, the image and culture of Indian people were frozen in time. Yet for Indians, the 20th century was a time of recovery. Instead of a photograph, Indian life and culture was more like a motion picture, and the story line or plot moved on...” — Roger Buffalohead, Historian

After centuries of struggle, the Indians of North America own less than 2% of the land settled by their ancestors. Indian Self-Rule traces the history of white-Indian relations from nineteenth century treaties through the present, as tribal leaders, historians, teachers, and other Indians gather at a 1983 conference organized to reevaluate the significance of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

The experiences of the Flathead Nation of Montana, the Navajo Nation of the Southwest, and the Quinault people of the Olympic Peninsula illustrate some of the ways Indians have dealt with shifting demands imposed upon them, from allotment to reorganization to termination and relocation. Particularly eloquent are Indian reflections upon the difficulties of maintaining cultural identities in a changing world and within a larger society that views Indians with ambivalence.

"Society wants...Indians to be like everyone else; and yet...wants Indians to be Indians." — Sam Deloria, Director of the American Indian Law Center

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