You don’t have to look far to see why it’s needed. Natives—Indians, aboriginals, indigenous Americans—are virtually invisible in film and media unless they’re fighting the 7th Cavalry. Even today; even in 2008 when the lead Native character in the upcoming film based on Stephenie Meyer’s book series is cast with a white actor.
Which is why so many in Native America are pumped about the prospect of establishing their own media and entertainment voice; a voice that is uniquely, completely Indigenous. A voice that, despite the chatter that it would further isolate Natives from the mainstream, would alter entrenched perceptions as well as build unity among seemingly disparate Indian nations.
Enter Native American Television (NATV).
“The question looms for some that having our own multi-media network will only marginalize, cut us off or pigeonhole us further,” says Tara J. Ryan (Chickasaw/Choctaw)NATV’s Public Affairs Officer and Liaison to the Entertainment Community. “…but it doesn’t marginalize us at all—it actually causes us to be a unified voice in the competitive force in media and culture. Native America is not there right now. We’re not anywhere.”
NATV, a multi-media network providing totally indigenous programming, news content and a media training facility based in Washington D.C., has ambitious goals only matched by its mojo.
A lot of work still has to be done. Absolutely. The network’s news and programming content is being developed by folks who understand and appreciate Native culture; keeping it professional, authentically Indian and infinitely watchable. The small but well-connected NATV team is maximizing their access to Washington and media power brokers and collaborating with other organizations, such as the National Congress of American Indians and the Columbia School of Broadcasting, just for starters. Likewise, leaders in the Native community as diverse as renowned scholar Dr. James May, John Echo Hawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, and the Navajo punk rockers Blackfire are lending their support.
They get it. The driving forces behind NATV don’t want it to turn into another screamingly bad network filled with hours of turgid documentaries or insipid infotainment drek. Think expansively—think news magazines; movies. Cooking and music and comedy and culture. Think Native. Native television developed, written, performed, produced and filmed by…Natives.
In addition to the Washington-based educational program which will train aspiring journalists, producers, editors and more, NATV's objective is to have a dedicated cable channel up and running within the next two years, but not, as Ryan insists, relegated to the far reaches of cable Neverland.
“We are not going to settle for station 10,936. This is one of the many things we’re working on, and yes, it is that important.”
As to why it is that important, we need not look any further than this fall’s upcoming release of Twilight. The role of a major character, a member of the Quileute tribe, was not filled by a capable and attractive young Native actor. The teen heartthrob Jacob Black is being portrayed by a winsome white teen bedecked in an Indian wig and brown makeup. No lie.
And this is in 2008.
“We’ve gone backwards,” Ryan notes. “The fact is the number of roles offered to Native Americans in the mainstream has diminished. The (Native) community was doing better as far as roles years ago—the numbers are out there—after Dances with Wolves. It took a non-Native to make us popular.”
…Little wonder there’s so much excitement, skepticism, resistance, and even fear at the idea of Natives defining their own image for the first time.
For the first time.
NATV is more than a nice idea. It has to be. Too many decades have drifted aloft where our only concept of "Native Americans" has been an Indian princess, preferably played by Natalie Wood, or a whooping savage fighting the 7th Cavalry. It is high time for Natives to climb down from their pintos, scrape off the war paint and let a proud Indian woman (not a princess thank you) have the screen and sit in the director's chair. That won't happen without a coherent voice and hundreds of well-trained professionals from tribal communities to grab the podium.
NATV is that podium.
Check out the NATV psa at: www.youtube.com/natvonline and visit their MySpace site: www.myspace.com/natvonline