Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics

Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics

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Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics by Pamela Wilson

In this exciting interdisciplinary collection, scholars, activists, and media producers explore the emergence of Indigenous media: forms of media expression conceptualized, produced, and created by Indigenous peoples around the globe. Whether discussing Maori cinema in New Zealand or activist community radio in Colombia, the contributors describe how native peoples use both traditional and new media to combat discrimination, advocate for resources and rights, and preserve their cultures, languages, and aesthetic traditions. By representing themselves in a variety of media, Indigenous peoples are also challenging misleading mainstream and official state narratives, forging international solidarity movements, and bringing human rights violations to international attention.

Global Indigenous Media addresses Indigenous self-representation across many media forms, including feature film, documentary, animation, video art, television and radio, the Internet, digital archiving, and journalism. The volume’s sixteen essays reflect the dynamism of Indigenous media-making around the world. One contributor examines animated films for children produced by Indigenous-owned companies in the United States and Canada. Another explains how Indigenous media producers in Burma (Myanmar) work with NGOs and outsiders against the country’s brutal regime. Still another considers how the Ticuna Indians of Brazil are positioning themselves in relation to the international community as they collaborate in creating a CD-ROM about Ticuna knowledge and rituals. In the volume’s closing essay, Faye Ginsburg points out some of the problematic assumptions about globalization, media, and culture underlying the term “digital age” and claims that the age has arrived. Together the essays reveal the crucial role of Indigenous media in contemporary media at every level: local, regional, national, and international.

Contributors: Lisa Brooten, Kathleen Buddle, Cache Collective, Michael Christie, Amalia Córdova,
Galina Diatchkova, Priscila Faulhaber, Louis Forline, Jennifer Gauthier, Faye Ginsburg, Alexandra Halkin, Joanna Hearne, Ruth McElroy, Mario A. Murillo, Sari Pietikäinen, Juan Francisco Salazar,
Laurel Smith, Michelle Stewart, Pamela Wilson

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822388692
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 08/06/2008
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Pamela Wilson is Associate Professor of Communication at Reinhardt College in Waleska, Georgia.

Michelle Stewart is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at Purchase College, State University of New York.

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Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4291-5

Chapter One


Juan Francisco Salazar and Amalia Córdova

In May 1998 the Eighth International Congress on Mental Health, Alcohol, and Drugs, held in Santiago, Chile, promoted its agenda with artwork featuring the image of a Mapuche woman superimposed on that of a brain. The woman's image had been grossly recontextualized, cut and pasted from a classic ethnographic photograph taken in the early 1920s. The Coordinadora Nacional Indianista de Chile (CONACIN, National Indigenous Corporation of Chile) delivered a strong public response to the organizers of the conference: "We were stripped out of our land. We were deprived of our gods and language. We were brought alcohol and venereal diseases. And after all the plunder, now they want to appropriate our images and treat us like drunks, criminals, and drug addicts. Our faces and ways of seeing have been taken away. Besides negating our images and usurping our archives of dreams, they have colonized our imagination through the mass media."

While cases like this are commonplace in the region, the colonization of an Indigenous imaginary only recently became an issue of debate among scholars and media activists in Latin America. In fact, at a panel on Indigenous media at the Second International Film Festival of Morelia, Mexico (October 10, 2004), the Purehepecha director Dante Cerano distinguished Indigenous video or "Indigenous audiovisual artists" from the work of what he called "indigenist" Western documentary filmmakers. His comment sparked huge controversy among attending filmmakers who have been involved in collaborative projects for Indigenous communities in Mexico, yet it indicates the current push by many Indigenous filmmakers for independence and autonomy. Cerano was pointing specifically to the need to consider Indigenous media as an autonomous and independent field of media production distinct from non-Indigenous documentary or ethnographic film.

Over the past twenty-five years, Indigenous videomakers from Latin America have been "making culture visible" from their own perspective. In creating, imagining, and reinventing traditional social relationships through the moving image, Indigenous organizations are finding new forms of cultural resistance and revitalization. At the heart of this emerging Indigenous video movement in Latin America, we see a process grounded in local struggles for political self-determination, cultural and linguistic autonomy, and legal recognition, with potentially transnational and pan-American implications. This social embeddedness of textual practices-what Faye Ginsburg (1994) calls "embedded aesthetics"-is one of the critical aspects to consider when looking at the development of Indigenous video in Latin America.

We call these deep-rooted cultural aesthetics the poetics of Indigenous media. At the center of a poetics of Indigenous media, we locate socially embedded self-representation, or the active process of making culture visible. "Poetics" originates in the Greek notion of poiesis, meaning active making or the process of making. Our examination of media poetics draws from earlier conceptualizations of the notion as applied in film studies (Bordwell 1989; Ruiz 1995; Renov 1993) and expands it to encompass a notion of the poetics of Indigenous media that considers the social practices involved in making (Indigenous) culture visible through video media. The poiesis, or making, of media refers both to the processes and the products of representation, in what may be regarded as a particular cultural logic of Indigenous media-specifically, the way media practices become effective strategies for Indigenous peoples to shape counter-discourses and engender alternative public spheres.

Just as notions of Indigeneity and Aboriginality should be challenged in terms of how these categories are socially constructed, Latin American notions of Indigeniety should also be critically approached. In English, the terms indigenist and indigeneity do not convey the same degree of difference as is implied by the corresponding Spanish words. Indigenismo in Latin American history refers to a political and cultural movement that swept across most of Latin America during much of the twentieth century. Its origins may be traced back to the 1910s in the Mexican Revolution, when Latin American societies in ethnically diverse countries such as Mexico and Peru began to "look in the mirror" and construct themselves as mestizo societies. This non-Indigenous ideology crossed the fields of art, culture, literature, politics, and socioeconomics as an attempt to rescue the Indigenous subject from oblivion and oppression, acknowledge a rich and suppressed Indigenous heritage, assimilate Indigenous cultures as a key to social development, and ultimately rearm the complexities of Latin American modern identities. Across the continent, it influenced government policies that were applied to Indigenous peoples without consultation. The fundamental criticism of the ideological construct of Indigenismo as it emerged in the 1970s was that it assumed a passive Indigenous subject that needed to be represented, rescued, and constructed from the enlightenment of Western values.

Latin American notions of cine indígena (Indigenous film), video indígena (Indigenous video), or audiovisual indígena (Indigenous media) also carry distinct social meanings. Much like the terms native, indigenous, and aboriginal, as Erica Wortham (2004: 366) asserts, "Video indígena has been appropriated and self-consciously resignified as a postura or political position vital to indigenous struggles for self-determination." Therefore, by tracing a genealogy of Indigenous video in Latin America, we endeavor to do more than map the origins of the Indigenous video movement per se; we also wish to attest to the "unveiling of the silencing, exclusion, and violence which are always, the genealogist contends, the condition of possibility of the origin, the origin of the origin, so to speak" (Avelar n.d.).

Based on our involvement with different organizations, festivals, and media makers in the past few years, we believe that Indigenous video in Latin America can be characterized as imperfect media that respond in a constructive way to calls for unthinking the Eurocentric foundations implicit in many of the Latin American cultural and creative industries (see Shohat and Stam 1994). In the larger picture, Indigenous video calls for the decolonization of media practice from the dominant industry's film and videomaking conventions to the sometimes overshadowing involvement of non-Indigenous producers, funding agencies, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). While contemporary mainstream Latin American cinema has moved away from many of the ideologies of the Latin America Cinema movement of the 1960s and 1970s (i.e., Third Cinema, imperfect cinema, cinema of underdevelopment, revolutionary cinema, aesthetics of hunger, etc.), Indigenous media embody and enact a much more radical and sustainable model of such community-based media. This movement challenges not only the dominant politicolegal structures of the Latin American states but also their cultural foundations. Indigenous organizations and individuals in Latin America are creating distinctive media projects, structures, and networks that demonstrate how effective and coordinated local mobilization and transnational networking might allow indigenous peoples to challenge the "indigenist" rhetoric of development, modernization, and citizenship perpetuated by laws, treaties, and constitutions across all Latin American nation-states. What we see happening today across the region is not only the emergence of new Indigenous videomakers but the formation and shaping of a whole new wave of communicators who are taking the question of media democracy to the next level.


By updating and recontextualizing Julio García Espinosa's notion of imperfect cinema, we hope to illuminate contemporary Indigenous media practice in Latin America and its arrested development through the past twenty years. García Espinosa's manifesto "For an Imperfect Cinema" (1983 [1970]), along with Glauber Rocha's "An Aesthetics of Hunger" (1965) and Fernando Solanas's and Octavio Getino's "Towards a Third Cinema" (1966), laid out the polemical goals of the New Latin American Cinema. This loose movement of (mainly male) filmmakers established the political and aesthetics foundations of "Third Cinema," emphasizing an ideal of social change beginning with the subversion and overthrow of the hegemonic structures of film production, distribution, and consumption dictated by the Hollywood system. These strategies reimagined what a national cinema might be-envisioning a national-popular cinema. To a much lesser extent, this position or postura also explored alternative forms of storytelling. Imperfect cinema, for example, warned against the illusion of technical perfection fostered by hegemonic cinema. For García Espinosa, any attempt to match the perfection of commercial films contradicted the implicit objective of a revolutionary cinema-that is, the call for an active and participatory audience. García Espinosa was interested in a new poetics of cinema and a different mode of film practice based on a consciously and resolutely "committed" cinema.

By no means should we assume that Indigenous filmmakers cannot pursue more creative aesthetics or industrial modes of production, or that political documentaries are the only route ahead. As Antoni Castells i Talens (2003) suggests, mixed modes of production might work on several levels. Political denunciation videos play a key role in Indigenous mobilization, he rearms, "yet a culture that only represents itself as activist cannot achieve normalization." This realization is perhaps the greatest strength of a new wave of Aboriginal and Indigenous filmmakers coming out of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Indigenous media have forced the discussion of political production to move beyond the well-worn poles of the debate: mass cinema versus auteur cinema, or a cinema of naive liberation versus one that destroys tradition. In fact, these polarities continue to obscure the complexities of community media production (Rodríguez 2001: 6). On a similar note, discussing Indigenous media in Australia and the South Pacific, Helen Molnar and Michael Meadows (2001: xi) have demonstrated that Indigenous people throughout the world "do not necessarily see themselves as imprisoned by the dominant culture of the mass media and, in fact, find their own 'spaces' in which to produce alternative viewpoints and cultures."

Indigenous video production in Latin America, in other words, is positioning itself as a distinct field of cultural production-as a signifying practice separate from national cinemas, popular and community video, and tactical media practices. It inhabits its own representational space and is starting to create parallel circuits of production, dissemination, and reception of cultural materials, which for some indicates the end of the hegemony of the literate and the beginning of a decolonization of the intellect (Ticona and Sanjinés 2004).

We must note, however, that many obstacles remain. Indigenous producers work in a landscape that differs considerably from other forms of audiovisual production. They often work collectively, without training, infrastructure, or equipment. What training is available must be compressed into short workshops, and the dearth of funding opportunities usually means that there are long gaps between productions. Finally, unlike commercial media, Indigenous production stresses the producers' ties and accountability to communities.

In the following pages, we describe some of these projects and cases in more detail and offer a genealogy of Indigenous video in Latin America. Based on our participation in the process during the last few years, we map the contemporary Indigenous media landscape in the region by tracing the development of the Consejo Latinoamericano de Cine y Comunicación de los Pueblos Indígenas (CLACPI, Latin American Council of Indigenous Film and Communication).


However paradoxical as it may seem, the force of the New Latin American Cinema started to wane quite rapidly sometime in the mid-1980s, coinciding with the rise of grassroots and independent video collectives in many Latin American countries (see, e.g., Festa and Santoro 1991; Aufderheide 1995; and Roncagliolo 1991). Perhaps not coincidentally, the formal beginnings of Indigenous video production in Latin America may be traced back to the booklet Toward an Indigenous Video, first published in Mexico in 1983 by the government's Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI, National Indigenous Institute) (INI 1990). In a sense, this rather official launch of Indigenous video in Mexico also came to redefine the use of video popular in the political and cultural agenda of several video collectives of the time. The context in which Indigenous video in Latin America surfaces is not just intimately tied to exemplary cases of participatory media beginning with the indirect legacy of "Third Cinema" in the 1960s and 1970s, but it is also linked to more direct experiences of video popular and radical community video in the 1980s (Thede and Ambrosi 1991) and video collectives organized in the 1990s. We think the surge of Indigenous video in Latin America in the last twenty years is not confined either to the sympathetic legacy of participatory methods in ethnographic film or to the interests of ethnographic filmmakers in the Indigenous struggle for cultural survival. This first impulse stemmed from the concern of applied anthropologists working in the early 1980s in NGOs-and not just from ethnographic filmmakers working at the community level-who perceived the particular interests and demands of Indigenous activists turning to radio and video as instruments of political action.

The beginnings of the 1980s were marked by severe economic crises sweeping a region already affected by political nationalism, right-wing military dictatorships, social inequality, and cultural paternalism (i.e., misleading policies) toward Indigenous populations. Until the early 1990s, Indigenous peoples were not constitutionally recognized in any Latin American country, and it has only been in the last decade or so that some countries, such as Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, have reformed their national constitutions to include their respective Native peoples. Other countries have legally recognized the existence of ethnic minorities but not of Indigenous nations, and, until recently, the legacies of indigenismo have still been felt strongly across a wide range of fields.

Responding to generations of invading ethnographic, documentary, and commercial film crews, Indigenous communities began to take up the means of audiovisual production and to generate their own narratives and images of themselves. Against this backdrop CLACPI was created in 1985 by a group of committed media makers, anthropologists, and Indigenous activists in Mexico, launching a festival to strengthen the training, development, production, and exposure of Indigenous film and video by, about, and for Indigenous peoples. CLACPI surfaced to gather the scattered but emerging audiovisual efforts (mainly film and video) in Latin America, with the aim of channeling the growing demands for more valid, vetted means of communication among and emanating from, by, and for Indigenous communities.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Indigeneity and Indigenous Media on the Global Stage / Pamela Wilson and Michelle Stewart 1

Part I: From Poetics and Politics: Indigenous Media Aesthetics and Style

1. Imperfect Media and the Politics of Indulgence Video in Latin America / Juan Francisco Salazar and Amalia Cordova 39

2. "Lest Others Speak for Us": The Neglected Roots and Uncertain Future of Maori Cinema in New Zealand / Jennifer Gautheir 58

3. Cache: Provisions and Productions in Contemporary Igloolik Video / Cache Collective 74

4. Indigenous Animation: Educational Programming, Narrative Interventions, and Children's Cultures / Joanne Hearne 89

Part II: Indigenous Activism, Advocacy, and Empowerment Through Media

5. Media as our Mirror: Indigenous Media of Burma (Myanmar) / Lisa Brooten 111

6. Transistor Resistors: Native Women's Radio in Canada and the Social Organization of Political Space from Below / Kathleen Buddle 128

7. Weaving a Communication Quilt in Colombia: Civil Conflict, Indigenous Resistance, and Community Radio in Northern Cauca / Mario A. Murillo 145

8. Outside the Indigenous Lens: Zapatistas and Autonomous Videomaking / Alexander Halkin 160

Part III: Cultural Identity, Preservation, and Community-Building Through Media

9. The Search for Well-Being: Placing Development with Indigenous Identity / Laurel Smith 183

10. "To Breathe Two Airs": Empowering Indigenous Sami Media / Sari Pietikainen 197

11. Indigenous Media as an Important Resource for Russia's Indigenous Peoples / Galina Diatchkova 214

12. Indigenous Minority-Language Media: S4C, Cultural Identity, and the Welsh-Language Televisual Community / Ruth McElroy 232

Part IV: New Technologies, Timeless Knowledges: Digital and Interactive Media

13. Recollecting Indigenous Thinking in a CD-ROM / Priscila Faulhaber and Louis Forline 253

14. Digital Tools and the Management of Australian Aboriginal Desert Knowledge / Michael Christie 270

15. Rethinking the Digital Age / Faye Ginsburg 287

References 307

About the Contributors 335

Index 341

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