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WE ARE NOT YOUR SAVAGES

What comes to mind when you hear "Native American"? Is it feathers? Headdresses? War paint? Cowboys, horses, and shootouts? Powwows and frybread? If you responded "Yes" to any of these questions, you might be suffering from a highly narrow perception of Native American people. Please consult a Native right away.

 

For many Native American individuals, daily life hardly resembles that depicted in media and popular culture. When depicting Native Americans in media and popular culture, non-Natives present American Indians as savages, “vanishing” Indians, and impediments to American progress. These representations have established a model for depicting Native Americans, one which has become the standard for how non-Native Americans view indigenous people: horse-riding, feather-wearing, tee-pee-dwelling, mystical people of wild, unconquered territories.

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Similarly, recent films and television shows created by Native American filmmakers, though more authentic than depictions of Native Americans by non-Natives, fail to account for the diversity and variety of Native American experiences. These stories are set almost exclusively on Native American reservations, yet only 22% of our country’s 5.2 million Native Americans live on tribal and trust lands (U.S. Census). In other words, the overwhelming majority of Native American people in this country do not live on reservations. Of course, Native American self-representation in media and popular culture is always a cause for celebration, and clearly, the reservation experience is one of many valid Native experiences — but it is not the only one, nor is it the standard for Native American authenticity. There is a continuum of Native American identities and experiences.

 

Daily life for the subjects of We Are Not Your Savages includes making custom cowboy hats, riding Arabian horses English style, working as a convenience store clerk, being a father, and being a rap musician. We Are Not Your Savages seeks both to expand our definition of Native Americans to include non-reservation Natives and obliterate constraining constructs created by non-Native Americans that define and limit who Native people are and can be.

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For Native Americans in Montana, a state that is often hostile in nature — geographically, climatically, and culturally — survival is paramount. The subjects of this documentary film and photography project are focused on staying safe, staying sober, staying out of jail, providing for their families, being parents, being creative, being entrepreneurs, being scholars, and navigating, negotiating, and maintaining their connection to their cultural heritage and ancestry.