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AMERICAN MOSAIC - November 29, 2002: Native American Music and Movies / Question About Thanksgiving - 2002-11-29


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.


This is Doug Johnson. To celebrate Native American Heritage Month on our program today:

We play some award-winning Native American music ...

Answer a question from two listeners about the holiday Thankgiving ...

And report about new movies written and directed by Native Americans.

Native American Movies


November is the month the United States celebrates Native American history and culture. One way people can learn about Native American Indian culture is through motion pictures. Shirley Griffith explains.


American Indians have been shown in American movies for many years. But they were often shown in false ways. They usually acted as the faithful friend to the white man, or as a fierce fighter threatening the white man or as a spiritual person guiding the white man. Native American Indians generally never wrote, directed or acted the leading part in movies. This, however, is changing.

Several Native American film directors have begun creating their own movies about their culture and traditions. Cheyenne-Arapaho filmmaker Chris Eyre is leading the movement. His nineteen-ninety-eight film called “Smoke Signals” received several honors at the Sundance Film Festival. The Miramax Film Company bought the movie and showed it widely around the country. The film has earned about six-million dollars.

“Smoke Signals” is the story of two Native American Indians who take a road trip to collect the remains of one character’s father who has died. The two men in the film wanted to show that Native American Indians are like other people. They are funny, sad, strange and interesting. The film is based on a short story written by Native American writer Sherman Alexie.

Mister Alexie also wrote and directed another Native American film released earlier this year. It is called “The Business of Fancydancing.” The film is about two boys who grow up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington state. The friends separate before leaving for college. Years later, they are reunited at the funeral of a friend.

Perhaps the most surprising film about Native people this year is one spoken almost completely in the Inuit Indian language. The three-hour movie is called “The Fast Runner.” First-time moviemaker Zac Kunuk filmed it in the Canadian Arctic. All the actors and crewmembers in the film are Inuit Indians.

Like recent Native American films, this one aims to change people’s ideas about Indians. Native American filmmakers are trying to educate people about their culture and customs. They want to change people’s ideas about the image of Indians created by filmmakers in Hollywood.



Our VOA question this week comes from listeners in India and Iran. Both Shan Sampath and Nima Faroud ask about the American holiday Thanksgiving.

Yesterday, November twenty-eighth, was Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Friends and family members across the country gathered to celebrate. They attended religious services or watched sports on television. Almost everyone ate a huge meal. On Thanksgiving, Americans eat some of the same foods eaten at the first Thankgiving hundreds of years ago. These include turkey, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, cranberries and pumpkin pie.

Settlers from England called Pilgrims are believed to have held the first Thanksgiving meal in sixteen-twenty-one. They had arrived in what is now the northeastern United States a year earlier. Soon, more than half had died from disease or lack of food.

Those who survived held a day of thanksgiving. They thanked God for protecting them. They also thanked the Native American Indians who lived in the area. These Indians were part of the Wampanoag tribe. The Wampanoags had helped save the Pilgrims by showing them how to fish and plant crops.

The Pilgrims celebrated for about three days. About ninety Wampanoag Indians joined the celebration. They ate deer, ducks, geese, turkeys and pumpkins. And the two groups made a peace and friendship agreement giving the Pilgrims an area in the forest to build their town.

This friendship did not continue for long. More English settlers came to America. Unlike the Pilgrims, they did not need help from the Indians. Many settlers forgot about the help the Indians had provided. Within a few years, the Indians and the English settlers were at war. Many of the Wampanoags were killed in battle or died from diseases brought by the white people.

Native Americans living today have criticized many of the happy stories that have been told through the years about the first Thanksgiving. They say everyone should learn the truth about what happened after the Europeans arrived in North America.

NAMA Awards


Earlier this year, the Native American Music Association held its fifth yearly awards ceremony. The awards honor musicians, singers and other Native American music makers. Mary Tillotson plays music by some of the winners.


The Native American Music Association named Joanne Shenandoah Artist of the Year. She is a member of the Oneida tribe in the northeastern state of New York. Joanne Shenandoah is known for mixing traditional songs of her tribe with modern folk music. Here she performs a traditional chant,”Kaluhyanu:Wes” from her album, “Matriarch.”


Each year, The Native American Music Association names an artist to the Native American Music Awards Hall of Fame. The winner this year was country and western singer Kitty Wells. Here is Kitty Wells singing her hit song from the nineteen-fifties, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”


The Native American Music Association honored Mary Youngblood with the Best New Age Recording Award. Mary Youngblood writes music and plays the Native American flute. Her award winning album is called “Beneath the Raven Moon.” We leave you now with the title song from that album.



This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. And I hope you will join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

This AMERICAN MOSAIC program was written by Jill Moss and Nancy Steinbach. Our studio engineer was Glen Matlock. And our producer was Paul Thompson.