This course offers a historical overview and critical exploration of Indigenous media producers, writers, directors, and audiences around the globe. We will survey a wide range of mediums from film, radio, animation, video games, and new media and explore how they have been taken up by Indigenous media-makers to serve local needs and reach a wider audience. We will maintain a global perspective throughout the course, examining discourses about Indigenous peoples formulated from contact to the post-colonial era, highlighting issues of representation, modernity, and cultural continuity. In understanding how these discourses have been shaped through local assertions of cultural specificity and appeals to global Indigenous identity, the course maintains a critical interest in how Indigenous people have been defined and how they are now using media technologies to speak back and define themselves. We will also consider case studies while engaging with theoretical works that investigate the phenomenon of global Indigenous media movements. Through group presentations, we will also learn about many other Indigenous cultures, politics, and media efforts.
Overarching Learning Objectives
- Survey key foundational films and texts in Indigenous media studies
- Learn skills for analytical reading and discussion
- Apply readings and discussion to analyze and interpret media productions
- Analyze media production using theories and themes from readings in class discussion and in papers
- Understand Indigenous media production
Weekly Discussion Post 30%
You are required to write a reading response of about 250 words 10 times throughout the semester (you pick which 10 days you want to submit responses). These responses should have two paragraphs: in the first paragraph, you should summarize the readings and main points; in the second paragraph, you should reflect on the screening for the week and put it in conversation with the readings. The second part does not need to be a formal analysis but should not resort to merely saying what you liked or disliked. It should offer a sense of what was most interesting to you or surprising, and what questions you had about them. Paper copies only!
Group Presentation 10%
In groups of 2-3, sign up to give a 15- 20 minute presentation during one class of the semester. These presentations will inform the class on an Indigenous tribe/group around the world. Information that should be addressed in the presentation includes the region/nation where the tribe currently resides, current population, terminology, significant historical events associated with the tribe. You should also put this tribe in conversation with other Indigenous peoples we discuss throughout the semester and relate the local issues that seem important to this tribe to the global issues and aims of Indigenous peoples (i.e. modernity/technology, language, strategic traditionalism, land rights, globalization, environmental justice, intellectual property, etc.)
This assignment ensures that our conversations and generalizations about global Indigenous peoples consistently returns to and negotiates the specific histories and cultures of particular Indigenous communities. On a practical level, it also enables us to at least briefly discuss Indigenous communities we would not otherwise have time to include and are not as commonly discussed in Indigenous media studies. It provides opportunity to continue conversations early in the semester about who is Indigenous and what Indigenous media refers to. It also gives students experience with researching, navigating the communication and preparation of group work, and presenting.
Close Reading Assignments 30%
On four dates (detailed below in the syllabus) you will write a 500-word close reading of an assigned scene or sequence from that week’s screening. Your goal in these close-readings is to interpret, not to summarize what happens in the scene. A good close reading addresses the technical aspects of the medium as well as major thematic concerns. Links to clips will be sent out on Thursdays nights; and writing assignments will be due Monday night.
This assignment helps students practice writing a close reading/analysis that they will need to incorporate into their final papers. It is an opportunity to give feedback on student’s writing as well and ensures that there are scheduled occasions throughout the semester to return to the objective to develop students’ skills with research and writing about media, both through written feedback on these assignments and in class discussion about them.
Attendance and Participation 10%
Attendance both at screenings and in class sessions is mandatory.
Instructors who do not have the ability to schedule a separate screening time will need to consider if the screenings can be assigned as homework (many stream for free or cheaply online), or if some class time will be designated for screening/showing clips.
Final Paper 20%
Write a 6-8 page paper on a topic of your choice that explores a film or a theme that we have discussed in class. Should include close analysis and will require sources outside of what we read this semester.
This assignment gives students experience with research, developing an argument, and writing a longer paper that demonstrates what they have learned throughout the semester.
Loft, Steven and Kerry Swanson. Coded Territories: Tracing Indigenous Pathways in New Media Art. University of Calgary Press, 2014. [free e-book available through Calgary Press]
Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics. eds. Pamela Wilson and Michelle Stewart. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2008.
WEEKLY COURSE PLAN
All the readings not listed above will be available as PDFs or through links.
Week 1: Introductions
- Indigenous Media. Pamela Wilson, Joanna Hearne, Amalia Cordova, and Sabra Thornton. Oxford Bibliographies Online. .Oxford University Press, 2013.
This reading provides an accessible overview to the field of Indigenous media, introducing key themes of the semester that can be useful to build upon what students already know about Indigenous cultures, minority media production, etc.
Week 2: What is Global Indigenous Media?
- Introduction to Global Indigenous Media, “Indigeneity and Indigenous Media on the Global Stage.”
- Barclay, Barry. “Celebrating Fourth Cinema.” Illusions 35 (Winter 2003): 7-11.
Screening: short videos: Melissa Henry’s Horse You See (8 min.); Taika Waititi’s Two Cars, One Night (12 min.), Dustin Craig’s 4wheelwarpony (10 min.); Marcella Ernest Because of Who I Am (4 min.); excerpt from Tracey Moffatt’s BeDevil (90 min. total, but 3 chapters that an be viewed separately)
The readings this week are foundational works in Indigenous media studies and will be essential for forming the basis of their understanding about the context and history of Indigenous media, as well as the growing movement and aims of Indigenous media makers. The screenings this week should reinforce students’ understanding of the heterogeneity within Indigenous media.
Assignment Due: Reading Response 1
Week 3: Globalization, Media, and Indigenous Peoples
- Ginsburg. “Indigenous Media: Faustian Contract or Global Village?” Cultural Anthropology 6.1 (1991): 92–112.
- Ginsburg. “Native Intelligence: A Short History of Debates on Indigenous Media and Ethnographic Film.” Made to be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology. ed. Marcus Banks and Jay Ruby. University of Chicago Press, 2012.
- Chapter 15 Global Indigenous Media, “Rethinking the Digital Age.”
Screening: Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr’s Ten Canoes (2006); 92 min.
Assignment Due: Reading Response 2
Students will be introduced to the history of visual anthropology and its relationship to Indigenous peoples. This raises issues of commodification, cultural appropriation, and globalization that point to Indigenous media as a site for negotiating control over representation and knowledge. The Ginsburg readings also highlight issues of the digital divide and the stratified production of Indigenous media. The screening will introduce students to the modes of storytelling and appropriation of Western media conventions, as the film plays with ethnographic conventions and uses tropes such as the first person storyteller.
Week 4: Politics of Interrelation
- Barnouw, Erik. Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film. 2nd Edition. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. p. 34-51
- Rothman, “The Filmmaker as Hunter: Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North.”
Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video.
Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2014.
- Pack, Sam. “Reception, Identity, and the Global Village: Television in the Fourth World.” M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture. 3.1 (2000).
Screening: Flaherty, Nanook of the North (1922); 79 min. and excerpts from Massot, Nanook Revisited (1990); 60 min. this is a lot of screen time for one week!
Assignment Due: Reading Response 3 and Close Reading Assignment for Ten Canoes
The readings for this week should help students unpack and problematize the classic documentary Nanook of the North. It should generate discussion about whether Nanook is an Indigenous film because of Indigenous involvement, or if the exploitation of Indigenous peoples by a Western filmmaker keeps us from understanding it as an Indigenous film. What is at stake in this definition? The second film for the week, Nanook Revisited, also raises questions about intended audience and processes of recognition.
Week 5: Case Study – Native American Film and Media Production
- Singer, “Introduction: Thinking Indian Thoughts,” Chapter 4 “Native Filmmakers, Programs, and Institutions,” and Chapter 5 “On the Road to Smoke Signals.” Wiping the War Paint off the Lens: Native American Film and Video. University of Minnesota Press, 2001.
Screening: clips from Masayesva, Imagining Indians (1992) and Chris Eyre’s Smoke Signals (1998); 89 min.
Assignment Due: Reading Response 4
The readings and screening for this week demonstrate the range of styles and interests of Native American film and mediamakers. Smoke Signals is a more mainstream independent production where Imagining Indians is an experimental film. Both should lead to conversations about self-representation and negotiation with Hollywood stereotypes.
Week 6: Political Activism and Cultural Expression
Gaines, Jane. “Political Mimesis.” Collecting Visible Evidence. University of Minnesota Press, 1999. 84-102.
Leuthold, Steven. Introduction to Indigenous Aesthetics, University of Texas Press, 1998. 1-13.
Screening: Alanis Obomsawin, Kaneshatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993); 119 min.
Assignment Due: Reading Response 5
This week focuses on the relationship between Indigenous media and political activism. We will also consider the assumptions about documentary film and activism, and evaluate the efficacy of Indigenous documentaries as a global platform to inspire meaningful change.
Week 7: Case Study – Inuit Film and Media Production
- Raheja, “Visual Sovereignty, Indigenous Revisions of Ethnography, and Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner).” Reservation Reelism: Redfacing, Visual Sovereignty, and Representations of Native Americans on Film, University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
- excerpts from Evans, Isuma: Inuit Video Art, Mc-Gill-Queen’s University Press, 1998.
Screening: Kunuk, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) (2001); 172 min.
Assignment Due: Reading Response 6
By viewing one of the most written-about Indigenous films, students will be introduced to a case study that was critically successful even as it challenged Western conventions. We will talk about Indigenous storytelling, aesthetics, visual sovereignty (or the idea that representations stand in for discussions about sovereignty over land, knowledge, and culture), and cultural reenactment.
Week 8: Post-Colonial Identity and the Western Imaginary
- Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation.” Framework. 36 (1989). 68-81.
- Hall, Stuart, “Encoding/Decoding.” Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, 1972-79 London: Hutchinson, pp. 128-38.
- Huhndorf, Shari. Introduction to Going Native: Indians in the American Cultural Imagination. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001. 1-18.
Screening: Bowman, Navajo Talking Picture (1986); 40 min. 1491’s “I’m an Indian Too”
Assignment Due: Reading Response 7 and Close Reading Assignment for Atanarjuat
Bowman’s Navajo Talking Picture is viewed as one of the most problematic films because Bowman, an Indigenous woman, insists on filming her grandmother with whom she cannot communicate, but who apparently wants no part of the project. The film and reading highlight issues of Indigenous identity and appeals to authenticity. The readings, foundational works by Stuart Hall and Shari Huhndorf will invite students to grapple with the problems of self-representation and strategic traditionalism (the idea that Indigenous people strategically reclaim an essentialized traditional identity for political efforts), as well as the ways that Indigenous identity has been informed by the colonial imaginary, and to consider the relationship between Indigenous media and other minority representations.
Week 9: Case Study – Maori Film and Media Production
- Barclay, Barry. “A Fitting Companion”. Our Own Image: A Story of a Maori Filmmaker. University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 9–18.
- Chapter 2 Global Indigenous Media, “‘Lest Others Speak for Us’: The Neglected Roots and Uncertain Future of Maori Cinema in New Zealand”
Screening: Barclay, Ngati (1987); 92 min.
Assignment Due: Reading Response 8
This week will explore Maori cinema. It is a good moment to invite comparison with other films and case studies we have seen so far, and to think through questions of local specificity of media development and aims vs. the narrative of the global emergence of Indigenous media. Barclay is a prominent figure in Indigenous media, both as a filmmaker and theorist. Both of the readings and the film display Maori concerns for communicating with outsiders on their own terms.
Week 10: Case Study – Kayapo Film and Media Production
- Turner, “Defiant Images. The Kayapo appropriation of Video.”Anthropology Today, Vol.8.6 (1992), pp. 5-16.
- Carelli, Vincent, and Dominique Gallois. 1995. “Video in the Villages: The Waiapi Experience.” Center for Media, Culture and History, NYU. 7-11.
Screening: Selections from Carelli, Video in the Villages.
Assignment Due: Reading Response 9
This week, we will discuss Vincent Carelli’s project with the Kayapo people in Brazil. Some of the sequences are accusatory or even threatening to Western audiences. Discussion could focus on the politics of visibility, intended audience, and modes of address. The project highlights aspects of hybridity and collaboration, and invites discussion about the relationship between visual anthropology and media production. Although the readings pertain to Kayapo video production, it can be a good week to reference the Ginsburg readings from earlier in the semester.
Week 11: Radio, Podcasts, and Journalism
- Chapter 6 Global Indigenous Media, “Transistor Resistors: Native Women’s Radio in Canada and the Social Organization of Political Space from Below”
- Chapter 7 Global Indigenous Media, “Weaving a Communication Quilt in Colombia: Civil Conflict, Indigenous Resistance, and Community Radio in Northern Cuaca”
- Chapter 10 Global Indigenous Media, “‘To Breathe Two Airs’: Empowering Indigenous Sami Media”
Screening: Indian and Cowboy Network’s podcast Metis in Space (2015)
Assignment Due: Reading Response 10 and Close Reading Assignment (Boy)
This week offers a broad survey of radio, podcasts, and TV news productions. The readings and screening for this week show us local production practices as part of a global emergence of Indigenous broadcast media, and particularly sound across four communities in three countries. It is one of the few times throughout the semester that we talk about the Sami or Indigenous peoples of Colombia, so it is an opportunity to discuss regions where media production has not been as closely studied, factors preventing its growth compared to other communities, and background on why radio and local television is typically a more cost effective form of media production.
Week 12: Indigenous Animation
- Chapter 4 Global Indigenous Media, “Indigenous Animation: Educational Programming, Narrative Interventions, and Children’s Cultures”
- Twist, “Indigenous Animation Movement Rising, (available at: http://www.nativepeoples.com/Native-Peoples/November-December-2007/Indigenous-Animation-Movement-Rising/)
Screening: Carol Geddes’ Two Winters (2004); Joseph Erb’s Messenger (2004); episode of Raven Tales (2006); Kinnie Star’s Haida Raid 3: Save Our Waters (2014)
Assignment Due: Reading Response 11
Through the reading and screening this week, we will survey Indigenous animation from U.S. and Canada. The readings highlight the potential for children’s media to counter hegemonic, acculturating English language media with media presented in traditional languages. The screenings show the range of Indigenous animation from publicly broadcast morning cartoons like Raven Tales, experimental animation by Geddes, animations by Erb with Muscogee Creek children made in community youth and education programs, and political music videos like Star’s Haida Raid 3.
Week 13: Indigenous Video Games
- Chapter 3 Coded Territories, “A Better Dance and Better Prayers”
- Lewis and LaPensee, “Call it a Vision Quest: Machinima in a First Nations Context” from Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds. ed. Jenna Ng. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
- Guidelines for Game Analysis (available at: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/comparative-media-studies-writing/cms-300-introduction-to-videogame-studies-fall-2011/assignments/game-analysis/MITCMS_300F11_GameAnaGuide.pdf )
Screening: Upper One Game’s Never Alone (2014); Elizabeth LaPensee’s Invaders (2015); Spirits of Spring (2014); “Skins 2.0 Documentary” (available on vimeo)
Assignment Due: Reading Response 12
Drawing on conversations we have had throughout this semester, this week prepares students to extend their understanding of Indigenous media to video games. The readings introduce the goals and ideals of Indigenous video game development, strategies for “modding” and adapting current games and software to produce Indigenous content, and offers students experience with game analysis. The games we will play reflect commercial production, independent production, and community-based youth gaming programs. The readings also illustrate the gap between a tight knit community of game developers and scholars working as activists independent arenas compared to commercial production targeted to a mass global audience.
Week 14: New Media
- Chapter 13 Global Indigenous Media “Recollecting Indigenous Thinking in a CD-Rom”
- Nakamura, Lisa “Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronic Manufacture” American Quarterly 66.4 (December 2014): 919-941.
- Chapter 7 Coded Territories, “Mediacosmology”
Assignment Due: Reading Response 13 and Close Reading Assignment from Animation/Video Game
Readings look at how traditional art practices and communication technologies can be preserved and built into the structure of new media technologies. The reading by Nakamura illustrates a situation where Indigenous involvement in early media production is convincingly read as exploitative on the basis that it employs narratives of traditional knowledge and culture as a skill set that justifies their labor in the production of computer circuits. This contrasts with the other readings which call for an understanding of new media technologies as an extension of traditional culture. The websites provide access to Indigenous content on the web, with Isuma as the Indigenous equivalent of YouTube.
Week 15: Decolonizing Media Studies
- “Introduction” and Chapter 8 “Twenty-five Indigenous Projects” from Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Dunedin: University of Otego Press, 1999.
Screening: Selections from the 1491s.
Assignment Due: Reading Response 14
Smith’s book is a key work in the field that challenges the research methods and epistemological approaches to studying Indigenous peoples. She problematizes potential research agendas and illustrates what research that contributes to the larger project of decolonizing research and knowledge through work on Indigenous culture can look like. This will be useful in preparing students to write their final papers and to think about the ethics of engaging with and writing about Indigenous media production as an object of study. Previous discussions should clarify the stakes that Smith identifies. The screening provides an opportunity for a more lighthearted final note, with videos from the comedy group the 1491s on YouTube.
Final Paper Due: submit electronically by 5PM on the day of our scheduled final. No final exam.