Author Topic: If Only I Were an Indian  (Read 5731 times)

Offline Mo

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If Only I Were an Indian
« on: February 09, 2007, 08:23:50 pm »
http://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/vol2/no4/indian.html

i came across this while looking for another movie and it caught my eye. just thought i would put it out there if anyone cared to comment. i'd like to see it ..just because.

"A group of Czechs and Slovaks, disenchanted with both communism and its aftermath, gathers in a field to build and live in teepees, create and smoke peace pipes -- to get in touch with the North American aboriginal way of life and live it. When three aboriginal elders from Manitoba go to visit them, a film crew documents the trip and thus If Only I Were an Indian is born.


At the start of the film (which kicks off its commercial distribution with a launch at the Winnipeg Art Gallery November 10th), the sight of 150 pale, pasty Eastern Europeans -- clad only in thongs, whooping and dancing around in a pastoral valley -- is amusing to say the least. But director John Paskievich's sensitive handling of the situation turns it from a joke to a deeply touching tribute to aboriginal culture. "

He begins the film from the perspective of a Cree couple and an Ojibway woman, all from Manitoba. They are, naturally, shocked by the sight of these Europeans mimicking their culture. But, focussing on the teepees (and not the Europeans) that dot the hillsides, the man remarks on how real the setting appears.
 

Paskievich quickly takes us to a series of up-close interviews with the Czechs. They discuss, without irony, how Russian communism left them lacking any sense of community, able to trust no one but their immediate family. One man describes how the "Indian" way of life has given him trusted friends and taught him that "human beings exist as part of a larger whole and only then does life have meaning." As the film moves along, their clothing and near-nakedness become less and less absurd.

Paskievich gives some historical perspective to their situation: well known throughout Europe are the novels of Karl Mays, which portray a cowboy hero who is helped by aboriginal peoples. And even more popular are the works of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton (many of whose stories were set in Manitoba's Carberry Hills, where he once lived). Seton predicted ecological disaster if Westerners did not adopt a harmonic acceptance of nature, and he even encouraged children to attend camps teaching aboriginal ways of life. One of the Czech "Indians" delivers a touching speech:
As a child, I didn't want to be an astronaut . . . but neither did I want to be a world record breaking potato sorter . . . we had no role models except from the Indians of those stories.
 

By the end of the film, when Paskievich returns to the perspective of the aboriginals, the humour of the movie becomes touching rather than mocking: the Czechs demonstrate their version of aboriginal dance for one of the elders but it is so sloppy and a-rhythmic that he can't join in. But he doesn't laugh. Instead he says, "it must be hard to learn traditional dances from a book . . . you need a teacher. That's not something these people have access to." He even discusses raising funds so he can fly some of the Czechs to his reserve in Manitoba to teach them. His comments reveal the film's greatest irony -- that the Europeans who once crossed the ocean to conquer a culture, now see that same culture as their only salvation.


Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

frederica

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Re: If Only I Were an Indian
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2007, 08:42:47 pm »
I wonder. I know little of European politics, but I think I have to hear what Ingeborg has to say about something like this. Aside from the ideology of Communism it sounds more of a situtation here. frerderica

Offline Ingeborg

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Re: If Only I Were an Indian
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2007, 10:42:21 pm »
Paskievich quickly takes us to a series of up-close interviews with the Czechs. They discuss, without irony, how Russian communism left them lacking any sense of community, able to trust no one but their immediate family. One man describes how the "Indian" way of life has given him trusted friends and taught him that "human beings exist as part of a larger whole and only then does life have meaning."

I'd put that down as a not very successful attempt of a justification, probably said this way because these people knew that they were talking to persons from 'America'. In fact, from what I heard in discussions with people who lived in former GDR, there was more of a community in those times. Many people will tell you there was more solidarity between people, families stuck together more than they do now, people were much more prepared to help each other. Another point is that the planned economy in the East relied on collectives ('brigades') in the workplace, so there was not only the community in private life, but also a formal structure of community in a sense.

I don't think the situation differed that much between GDR and Czechia. Of course they may have the impression that this way of life has given them trusted friends, but then again any other fad would have done the same for them.

frederica

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Re: If Only I Were an Indian
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2007, 05:31:13 am »
Thanks. Aside from the ideology it sounded much like the reasoning here in some of the social groups or clubs. Some here do have heritage, but other do not. I guess a fad is a fad whereever you go. frederica

A.R.

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Re: If Only I Were an Indian
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2007, 01:30:50 am »
"His comments reveal the film's greatest irony -- that the Europeans who once crossed the ocean to conquer a culture, now see that same culture as their only salvation".

Would like to see this film too.

Don't know.  Maybe these Europeans are now, after all this time, finally starting to wonder just "who" these people were/are exactly, that they conquered or tried to conquer ....

But will "possessing knowledge" about Native Americans and Native American beliefs (and then mimicking them), - bring this understanding any closer ?

Would this understanding be better achieved by these Europeans, if they came to an insightful understanding of the colonial mind and attitudes first ?
As far as I can see, times have changed, but in general the same colonial attitudes persist, they have now only become more covert and sometimes  "well meaning" even.

There is this book called "Edge of The Sacred" by David J. Tacey, a book which deals with relationships between black and white Australians.   
Even though the book has been written for white Australians and from the white European (descendant) perspective, still to me what he says in it rings valid, and shows rare understanding. 
Maybe it relates to Americas as well ?

Quote:
"What is needed is spiritual revolution in Euro Australian consciousness.   We cannot merely tack on Aboriginal spirituality to our own overly-rational consciousness, but must change our consciousness from within by burrowing down into our feared and previously walled-in unconscious in order to find, or create an answering image to Aboriginal spirituality.    The direction we need to take is downward, into our own depths, to see what could be happening there, rather than remain the same and move sideways appropriating another culture's dreaming.    Jung wrote that "People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls".    It is far easier, he said, to take on spirituality of a foreign cosmology, than it is to face the apparent poverty of our own souls and to begin a real dialogue with unconscious inner life of which we are at present oblivious".

A.R.

Offline czech

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Re: If Only I Were an Indian
« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2010, 03:06:44 pm »
I know this is a very outdated post but being Czech, and being new to this forum, I would still like to react from my point of view, should someone still be interested. Without wanting to sound defensive, I believe some of the points discussed here need a bit of clarification. I would like to explain a little bit about these people's fascination with what they believed to be "Indian ways".

Paskievich quickly takes us to a series of up-close interviews with the Czechs. They discuss, without irony, how Russian communism left them lacking any sense of community, able to trust no one but their immediate family. One man describes how the "Indian" way of life has given him trusted friends and taught him that "human beings exist as part of a larger whole and only then does life have meaning."

I'd put that down as a not very successful attempt of a justification, probably said this way because these people knew that they were talking to persons from 'America'.
It may not be a very succesfull attempt of a justification, but what is quoted there is no pretense. Although it may seem bizarre, I know many many people for whom the "Indian ways" were the only ideal where they found refuge that gave some real meaning to their life. Unfortunately, it is also part of the reason why anything "Indian" that comes to our country is welcomed with an open heart, sometimes without critical judgment (e.g. the Rainbow movement, or now the Little Grandmother videos :-\ and others). So I believe that this is genuine, even if based on the limited (mis?)information these people had access to.

In fact, from what I heard in discussions with people who lived in former GDR, there was more of a community in those times. Many people will tell you there was more solidarity between people, families stuck together more than they do now, people were much more prepared to help each other.
As the original quote says, you could trust no one but the immediate family. People led double-lives. Officially no religion was allowed and was practiced in secret.

Another point is that the planned economy in the East relied on collectives ('brigades') in the workplace, so there was not only the community in private life, but also a formal structure of community in a sense.
This sounds rather like a joke to someone who actually lived here. These collectives were centered around the Communist party and were forced upon people - they were part of the life that was lived "on the outside", nothing to do with a real feeling of community! The word collectivization itself leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth - collective farming originated in 1948 when people's land and animals were stolen from them and proclaimed "national".

"The final phase of collectivization was carried out in April 1948, two months after Communists took power by force. Farms started to be collectivized, mostly under the threat of sanctions. The most obstinate farmers were persecuted and imprisoned. The most common form of collectivization was agricultural cooperative. The collectivization was implemented in three stages (1949–1952, 1953–1956, 1956–1969) and officially ended with implementation of the constitution establishing the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, which made private ownership illegal."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_farming#Czechoslovakia_.281948-90.29

Although the histories are of course incomparable as to the magnitude and severity, I think this is actually one of the reasons why Czech people resonated with the stories they heard about the Indian history. They too were robbed of what was once theirs. They too had once been a sovereign nation, a kingdom, later ruled over by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Germany in World War II, and from 1948 to 1989 they were a satellite country to the U.S.S.R.

Also I would like to point out that the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia) is landlocked and we never had any colonies as did countries with marines. Yes, we are white Europeans, but historically, rather than the experience of colonizers we are more familiar with the feeling of being colonized.

So much about history and the above posts.

To counter this, I know that nowadays there are some resorts called "Western Towns" and they are very bad taste and purely commercial. And of course, New Age is also popular in our country...

I am thankful that I can learn more about the First Nations from this forum and how in our times the New Age movement has continued to colonize and distort their culture and even religion for financial gains. I had never thought of it this way.

Offline Ingeborg

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Re: If Only I Were an Indian
« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2010, 06:44:49 pm »
I'd put that down as a not very successful attempt of a justification, probably said this way because these people knew that they were talking to persons from 'America'.
It may not be a very succesfull attempt of a justification, but what is quoted there is no pretense. Although it may seem bizarre, I know many many people for whom the "Indian ways" were the only ideal where they found refuge that gave some real meaning to their life. Unfortunately, it is also part of the reason why anything "Indian" that comes to our country is welcomed with an open heart, sometimes without critical judgment (e.g. the Rainbow movement, or now the Little Grandmother videos :-\ and others). So I believe that this is genuine, even if based on the limited (mis?)information these people had access to.

This argument (as voiced in the film) is also brought forward by part of those people in GDR who organised in hobbyist groups. It seems these groups were a possibility to seek refuge with, while at the same time being 'ideologically correct' and concentrate on a suppressed ethnicity, although in GDR, these groups were eyed with some mistrust by officials and party. Although it was a refuge, and probably escapism, the groups did use the image of taking an interest in peoples who were suppressed by *the* ideological foe, the USA.
Interestingly, the situation brought about a huge difference between hobbyist groups in East and West Germany, as the Eastern groups tended to give far more attention to today's living conditions of ndn nations, while this was largely neglected by Western groups (who, at least in earlier decades, often used to organise both persons interested in ndns as those with an interest in cowboys or trappers). And many Eastern groups used to go out of their way to find information on the nations they took an interest in (while in earlier decades, some of the Western groups came across rather as Hollywood ndns, or probably as the Hang-About-Forts), including reading ethnological/ anthropological literature obtained via university libraries.

Quote
Another point is that the planned economy in the East relied on collectives ('brigades') in the workplace, so there was not only the community in private life, but also a formal structure of community in a sense.
This sounds rather like a joke to someone who actually lived here. These collectives were centered around the Communist party and were forced upon people - they were part of the life that was lived "on the outside", nothing to do with a real feeling of community! The word collectivization itself leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth - collective farming originated in 1948 when people's land and animals were stolen from them and proclaimed "national".

I was asked for an opinion since I'm European and I'm sorry if I did not get across that I wasn't speaking from the inside, therefore relying on assumptions and interpretations. I do see that I used an incorrect term, as I did not mean to speak about the collectivization - which BTW also happened in GDR where it was as unwelcome. But brigades also existed in factories and other places, and as people spent eight hours a workday, this is in fact a sort of community, whether it is one they chose or not. (At least in GDR, some brigades would do 'private' work, too, as so-called after-work brigades.) However, my point was meant to be that people who grew up in former GDR tend to remember the higher degree of solidarity among family and friends (although many later had to realize some of their trusted friends were reporting to the Stasi, the secret service), as compared to a Western dominated society in which competition is a higher value and must be applied to persons who formerly were among the trusted ones one met with solidarity.

However, it is not easy to get this across in a foreign language and in a limited reply in a forum, and I apologize for not explaining in due detail, for my misinterpretations, and for having caused misunderstandings.


Offline czech

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Re: If Only I Were an Indian
« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2010, 07:05:57 pm »
Thank you Ingeborg for taking the time to read and reply to my post. You do not need to apologize.
I only wanted to clarify some of the motivations of the people that were portrayed in the movie and their attitude to what they considered the "Indian ways". The rest really exceeds the scope of this forum.
I appreciate your reply though, especially the interesting info about the difference between the "Easterners" and "Westerners" of your country.

Offline Defend the Sacred

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Re: If Only I Were an Indian
« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2022, 06:53:52 pm »
As Ska just posted here: http://www.newagefraud.org/smf/index.php?topic=5603,

this article tells what happened with these pretendians. One of these hobbyists went on to try to own the Lakota language, and sell it back to the Lakota:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/native-american-language-preservation-rcna31396

Lakota elders helped a white man preserve their language. Then he tried to sell it back to them.


The "Lakota" Language Consortium is a Euro owned and run group that has now been banished from multiple Native communities.

"Ullrich, who is now the head linguist at the Lakota Language Consortium...

"Ullrich grew up in the Czech Republic, and in the 1980s he joined a group of white hobbyists who appropriated Indigenous culture by dressing up as Native Americans, living in tipis and smoking peace pipes, which was captured in a 1995 documentary."

The video, linked in the above article, is also on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/24033319