Native American Day at the Movies: The Dark Zeitgeist Rises

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Native American Day offers the perfect opportunity to get back at Hollywood for creating-literally creating, not merely recreating-the image of the Indian that permeates the conscience of America like a series of terrorist bombs. Americans found out that we reap what we sow on September 11 and it is important to keep in mind that Muslim heritage in the United States has no connection to concentration camps constructed on the land they previously owned. So just take a moment to imagine what the reaping may be like when the architects are those whose legacy is connected to a genocidal crusade conducted not by knights in armor in cavalrymen in blue.

The Silent Enemy

The silent movie era was the glory period for Native Americans in cinema. Some of the first footage ever shot by those filmmakers from Thomas Edison grabbed all the credit were images of dancing tribesmen. This high point peaked just before the introduction of sound would forever undermine the image of the Native American as an inferior savage unable to communicate. "The Silent Enemy" is a silent movie in fact and in philosophy. The title refers to starvation and the film is about Canadian tribes, but the subtext is clearly that the starvation is caused by Caucasian incursion into every quarter of the New World. Genocide is the result not natural loss of food sources, but a quite unnatural one.

Smoke Signals

Another film that touches upon American repression of its own psychopathy. "Smoke Signals" is a comedy built upon a tragic layer. Don't let the darkness scare you away because you will find yourself laughing all the way through. It is only upon reflection of the satire of John Wayne movies and the stereotypes of the shaman, warrior and drunken Indian that the full nature of the historical documentation of "Smoke Signals" is revealed.

Little Big Man

The crusade becomes concrete. Just as only Nixon could have gone to China, only a comedy could have pulled off the achingly horrific realization of American genocide that pushed it up from subtext. Everything in "Little Big Man" leads to the Battle of Little Bighorn, but that emotional turning point of the film is the devastating assault of the Human Being camp by the Custer and his men. This sequence is the first time in mainstream Hollywood history that the United States institutionalized genocide of the native tribes is portrayed in full and with all the vicious savagery that had, until that moment, belonged solely to the Indians.

Keep these films and others in mind when during those occasional moments of lucidity when what America has collectively repressed manages to temporarily burst through the line separating the subconscious from the conscious mind. The great film analyst Robin Wood observes that everything that is repressed continually struggles to emerge back into the consciousness and that when it does so successfully, it usually arrives in monstrous form that produces a fear of equivalent primordiality.

No wonder Native American Day takes place October.

For more from Timothy Sexton, 1/4th Cherokee, check out:

American Genocide and the National Repression of Guilt

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