PBS series tells 300 years of Native history

By Cason Walker
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) 4-09

PBS started airing the first of a five-part series on during April covering 300 years of American Indian history – from the arrival of the pilgrims in 1620 to the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.

The documentary called “We Shall Remain” was produced by the history show “American Experience.” It shows how Native people responded to circumstance as “neither ferocious warriors or hapless victims” and the decisions they made, good and bad, said Sharon Grimberg of WGBH-TV in Boston, executive producer.

“I think this is a chance to rethink what our history is and to realize how central the native experience has been to the country,” she said.

America is viewed as a nation of immigrants, but millions of Native people were living here long before, Grimberg said.

“We’re sort of going back to the beginning and saying, ‘You can’t understand the United States if you leave this part out,”’ she said.

The 90-minute episodes air Mondays through May 11 and are entitled: After the Mayflower, Tecumseh’s Vision, Trail of Tears, Geronimo and Wounded Knee.

Native American filmmaker Chris Eyre – whose credits include “Smoke Signals,” “Skins” and “Edge Of America” – directed the first three.

“This is not about nobles and this is not about savages. It’s about Native American leaders that need to be recognized in the pantheon of American Indian heroes. If we’re a collective of a melting pot we need to recognize leaders of different complexions that are also part of the American pantheon of heroes,” he said.

“I normally see Indians in loincloths running from tree to tree and rock to rock. In this case we’ve created Indians into people.”

Eyre said it’s the first project he has done that’s a period piece, and it allowed him to expand on people’s understanding of historical figures such as Tecumseh and Major Ridge.

For example, Major Ridge led the Cherokee Nation and “has always been the villain who signed away the homeland,” for moving his people out of Georgia to Oklahoma, but he did so to keep the tribe alive, he said.

“There was no good choice. When you think about women and children and grandparents, it’s romantic to fight until everybody’s been annihilated. But as a leader you have to ask yourself if that’s the best way to preserve your way of life,” Eyre said.

“I wanted to create three-dimensional characters who were flawed but were put into extraordinary circumstances and had to make decisions for their people that made them people who should be acknowledged as Native American heroes.”

Grimberg said that besides the TV series, the “We Shall Remain” Web site includes sections called Native Now and Reelnative that give viewers a look at contemporary native life.

“Our feeling was many Americans, particularly on the East Coast, don’t have any idea who native people are,” she said.

“In this project we felt a responsibility to connect the past with the present.”

On the Net:

We Shall Remain: weshallremain/

Director Chris Eyre: chriseyre.org/

See Also: Wounded Knee Veteran takes Exception with Segment V