Press Release: DER Launches Indigenous Studies Initiative

DER Indigenous Studies Initiative - Still Image from SMOKIN' FISH (2011)

Documentary Educational Resources has embarked on an exciting initiative in support of our commitment to decolonize and indigenize the DER film collection and improve access to our catalogue for Indigenous audiences. The yearlong project will introduce and implement Indigenous Studies Subject Categories that increase the findability of relevant titles addressing issues such as cultural sovereignty, land loss, and language revitalization; apply reparative descriptive practices to film descriptions and other text on the DER website; and expand outreach to Indigenous museums, archives, educational institutions, and filmmakers.

Leading DER’s efforts will be Seth Kurke (Blackfeet heritage), our newly hired Indigenous Outreach Coordinator and Archivist. Seth comes to DER with a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. His Capstone project examined the lack of representation in subject headings for Indigenous patrons of the University of Montana’s Mansfield Library. In addition to his skills in research and cataloguing, Seth has experience in institutional outreach, database management, and video editing. He is deeply committed to the success of this project and its potential impact on Indigenous communities and our wider society.

DER stewards a world-renowned collection of ethnographic and indigenous-made films addressing a wide range of topics including belief systems, healing practices, land rights, language, subsistence, relationship to the environment, and cultural change and revitalization efforts of Native Americans and Indigenous people around the globe – from the Amazon to the Andes, Oceania to Siberia, and beyond. The collection includes the films of DER founder John Marshall documenting the Ju/hoansi community in southern Africa. These films have been recognized by UNESCO’s Memory of the World program as an unparalleled record of the subsistence and healing practices, kinship relations, oppression under apartheid, and struggles to gain an economic foothold and cultural sovereignty of the former hunter-gatherer community in contemporary Namibia.

DER recognizes the unique value of film for understanding the experiences of Indigenous communities, as a resource for the historical documentation of Native communities, and as support for contemporary efforts related to cultural survival and sovereignty.  We are acutely aware that many of the films and textual descriptions on the DER website embody documentary and descriptive practices of an earlier time and specific cultural space and do not reflect contemporary cultural sensibilities. DER is committed to updating how the films are presented while maintaining the authenticity of these historical documents, with an eye to their value for source communities and other Indigenous groups that may be struggling with similar concerns. We welcome your feedback and any questions or concerns you may want to share.

This project is supported by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit


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