August 02, 2013

Ozomatli, gods of dance (music): On the band's name, a theme song for this museum, and other great ideas

Ozomatli, a two-time Grammy Award–winning band known for the musical mixing of Latin, hip hop, funk, reggae, jazz, rap, and other genres, visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian as part of the museum’s 2013 Living Earth Festival. The Los Angeles–based group played the headline performance at the festival’s Indian Summer Showcase concert Saturday night, July 20. If you missed the concert, or if you were there and want to relive it, video is available on the museum's YouTube channel.

NMAI caught up with Ulises (Uli) Bella, saxophone, clarinet, requinto jarocho, keyboard, and melodica player, and one of the founding members of Ozomatli.

  Ozomatli
Ozomatli in the Potomac Atrium of the National Museum of the American Indian. From left to right: Ulises Bella, Asdru Sierra, Raúl "El Bully" Pacheco, and Wil-Dog Abers; not shown: Justin "El Niño Porée, Jiro Yamaguchi, Walter Valdez. Washington, D.C., July 20, 2013. 


Ozomatli
is a Nahuatl word for monkey. Who actually thought of it, or was it collaborative effort?

When we first started we were called Todos somos Marcos [we are all Marcos], in honor of the Zapatista Movement in Mexico. But then our drummer [Anton Morales] said, “Yo, we should call ourselves Ozomatli.” We were, “What’s that all that about?” He’s like, “It’s a monkey on the Aztec calendar, the god of dance.” We were, “Wow, that is really, really hip.” He’s like, “The new harvest, the orchestrator of the jungle. . . .” Little did we know that it was his astrological sign the whole time. He basically named the band after himself. That is Anton from L.A. A big shout-out to Anton! We stuck with it. I don’t know too many bands that have a prehispanic name. It’s pretty crazy.

Do you have any pre-show rituals to pump you up?

Not really. People are pretty mellow in this band. We’ve been a band now for 18 years, so we don’t do too crazy, except we drink a lot of coffee usually and just start pumping ourselves up.  Most of our shows are pretty high energy. So you catch a sweat, no manner what. 

How did you start your own coffee?

We had this collaboration with a friend of ours who runs a coffee shop in L.A. called Zona Rosa. He does his own beans. One day he was like, “Yo, I want to do Ozomatli coffee, do an espresso thing.” I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah, let’s.” We are coffee-heads, so it worked out really well. Even though it’s kind of a small thing we do on the side, it’s really fun.

Ozomatli Ulises
Ozomatli at the National Museum of the American Indian. Foreground: Uli Bella; background, Walter Valdez on drums.
I know that you’re the go-to band for theme songs, since you did the Los Angeles Dodgers’ song. If you could assign a theme song for this museum, what would it be from your music?

Wow, it’s pretty heavy because you’re going to think, historically, what Natives or Americans Indians have gone through in their history. It would have to be a song that really resonates super, super, super deep, I think. To even try to grasp the magnitude of all the complex, complex issues that deal with that community.

So, if I was going to say one, just because it’s uplifting, beautiful, and hopeful, because that’s what I think the community needs, “Ya viene el sol,” which means, “Here comes the sun.” It’s all about seeing the sun come up. Obviously, the sun means so much to so many people around the world, such a heavy thing. Bringer of life. At the same time, the idea that tomorrow is going to be a better day through unity and helping each other out.

What projects are you currently working on?

We actually are recording an album. We just finished a kids’ album this last year. Now we are doing a full-length album this year.

Is there a particular reason why you did a kids’ album?

Part of it is because we realize that a lot of our fans are having kids. I think it was just a fun idea to try out. It ended being real liberating, because not all the songs have to be about heavy things. It could be about skateboarding, germs, and washing your hands.

Thank you so much for the interview.

Thank you.

—Maria E. Renteria, NMAI

Photos by Maria E. Renteria, NMAI

Maria Esmeralda Renteria is an intern with the National Museum of the American Indian’s Office of Public Affairs. She is pursuing an MA in Museum Studies from the San Francisco State University and received her BA in both Latin American Studies and Spanish at UCLA. 

Comments (13)

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LOVE!! the Dodgers theme song!! Had no idea Ozomatli were responsible for it..... and the Dodgers run from worst to first. ha!!
Like they say, you learn something new every day....

thanks again,
Lou

Amazing songs and music. You are always rocking. Really pleasant musics everybody loves it.

Great interview. I'm not real familiar with Ozomatti, but it sounds like they're a very unique and interesting group. The combination of instruments in their group is great, I love to see something different than your standard "play this guitar, those drums, and this guy will sing" kind of bands. Thanks for sharing

Great interview.

amazing group! love it..

Incredible music, never heard of Ozomatti until the other day, phenomenal sound! It has a certain... Ayahuascan quality to it. You might enjoy this... https://soundcloud.com/escape-by-night/ashesanddust - whenever I hear it, I imagine native American Indians for some reason, even though the instrumentation is a larger blend of world styles. Keep up the awesome work, guys.

Jake—We hear what you mean, especially when what could be an Andean flute enters the music a little less than two minutes in. Thanks for sharing that.

Awesome, really like their music as it's so unique.

Incredible music, music for life, colorful.

nice post i like music very much.

Amazing songs and music. You are always rocking.

Great article and helpful.

Thank you for this news article.

I'm not familiar with the Ozomatli band but your article made me looked for their music on Youtube.com and they blew me away. I love their music.

I have a small online coffee related business, and to know that this cool band also have a coffee named after them ... wow!

Regards,
Andrew

July 18, 2013

The 2013 Living Earth Festival—Friday, July 19, through Sunday, July 21

LEFestLogo2013The Living Earth Festival, a signature event of the National Museum of the American Indian, will take place this weekend, July 19 through 21. This annual festival celebrates indigenous contributions to environmental sustainability, knowledge, and activism. For a full listing of events, please see the online calendar or downloadable festival brochure. Here are some highlights for visitors of all ages and many different interests.

What activities can families do together? Adults and children in particular are invited to: 

Lisan wins at Santa Fe 2012 cor
Lisan Tiger Blair with the work that won him 1st place in youth sculpture at the 91st Santa Fe Indian Art Market, August 2012; photo by Dana Tiger, courtesy of the artist.
  • Help release lady bugs into the NMAI garden (outside the museum's South Entrance along Maryland Avenue) at 10 AM Friday.
  • Participate in a sculpting workshop led by award-winning young artist Lisan Tiger Blair (Mvskoke Creek) in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center. There are workshops several times each day. Please pick up free timed-entry tickets in advance at the Activity Center.
  • Join Victoria Mitchell (Cherokee Nation) for a pottery demonstration.
  • See amazing beadwork made by Peggy Fontenot (Potawatomi).
  • Enjoy an outdoor cooking demonstration by Patricia Alexander (Pawnee/Creek) or a cheesemaking demonstration by Nancy Coonridge of Pietown, New Mexico.

 

20100806_01a_eba_ps_002Farmers market and green-chile roasting, NMAI photo.

For organic gardeners, locavores, gourmet cooks, and just plain food-lovers: During the festival, representatives of tribally owned food cooperatives discuss sustainability, and local famers offer produce, meat, and traditional American Indian foods in an outdoor farmers market. The festival begins for foodies Friday morning at 10 AM with the opening of the farmer’s market and a green-chile roasting (both outdoors in the Welcome Plaza throughout the festival). Demonstrations of traditional Native dishes, including venison stew, corn soup, and grape dumplings (outdoors in the Akaloa Firepit), begin Friday at 1 PM and continue all weekend. Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 PM, Native chefs Freddie Bitsoie (Navajo) and Don McClellan (Cherokee) will compete in an Iron Chef-style cook off (outdoors in the Welcome Plaza). 

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Chefs Freddie Bitsoie (Navajo) and Don McClellan (Cherokee); photos courtesy of the chefs.


What would a Native festival be without music and dancing?
Live performances begin Friday at 1 PM with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians Drum and Dance Troupe. Hawaiian music and dance by Halau Ho'omau I ka Wai Ola O Hawai'i follows at 2 PM, and at 3:30, traditional Marimba music by Pequeña Marimba Internacional. 

Saturday afternoon singer and violinist Quetzal Guerrero (noon), contemporary Six Nations rocker Shawnee Talbot, aka She KIng (12:30 PM), and the LA fusion band Ozomatli (2 PM) join the roster of performers. Saturday evening at 5 PM, the three groups will present a longer concert as part of the museum's series Indian Summer Showcase. All music and dance performances take place in the air-conditioned Potomac Atrium.

 

Quetzal Guerrero miniShe King mini   

Ozomatli

Clockwise from upper left: Quetzal Guerrero; photo courtesy of the artist. She King; photo courtesy of the artist.Ozomatl; photo copyright 2012 Christian Lantry.


Are you looking for a Friday evening program? The film series Dinner and a Movie offers cuisine from our Zagat-rated Mitsitam Café, available for purchase from 5 to 6:30 PM, followed by the movie Watershed, showing from 7 to 8:30 PM in the museum's Rasmuson Theater. Watershed highlights people who live and work in the Colorado River Basin, including Jeff Ehlert, a fly fishing guide in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Navajo Council member Glojean Todacheene. These people convey their new water ethic by sharing stories that answer the question, How do we balance the competing interests of cities, agriculture, recreation, wildlife, and indigenous communities all with rights to water? 

Colorado-River-from-Nankoweap-in-Marble-Cnyn-NPS_M.-Quinn-hi-res
The Colorado River from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; photo by Michael Quinn, National Park Service.


At the heart of the festival each year is the Living Earth Symposium. For 2013, the symposium presents Tribal ecoAmbassadors Saturday July 20, from 2:30 to 4 PM, join us in the Rasmuson Theater to hear Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists, tribal college and university professors, and Native students describe how Native communities and individuals are developing innovative and locally relevant solutions to protect the environment and public health. Presenters include EcoAmbassadors from the Navajo Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation who will address grassroots efforts to reduce carbon on their reservations and provide housing in their local communities.

EcoAmbassador David Stone sharp
ecoAmbassador David Stone and students from Tohono O’odham Community College take a break on a bench made entirely on carbon-negative materials; photo courtesy of the EPA.

The symposium and several other events throughout the weekend will be webcast live on the museum's website. A complete schedule of webcasts from the festival, as well as events on the webcast calendar for later this summer, is available in a separate blog post.

All programs and activities are free and open to the public. As noted above, free timed-entry tickets to the sculpting workshop with Lisan Tiger Blair are avaiable in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center; it might be wise to begin your visit there. Indian Summer Showcase concerts are always very popular and Saturday's promises to be no exception. Seating in the Potomac Atrium is first come, first served. 

We hope to see you here!

—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI

Comments (18)

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I like the work of Shawnee SheKing, Lynn Talbot (Mirror me, This is me etc). I was trying to see if there was a connection in her work with Aboriginal music. It would be great to live close enough to visit the Living Earth Festival to see such energy and creativity. Living in Australia makes it difficult. I enjoy Rap and Hip Hop and I found one of Shawnee's creations sung in that genre. That such energy and creative minds are also involved in protecting the environment, not just here but also in other countries makes me have hope for humankind. I enjoyed reading about the activities planned, with a big sigh at not being able to be there..

In reply to my own comment I listened to Shawnee SheKing singing "She is King" (rap type). I hear drumming connections with Shawnee drumming and the Mohawk drums I have found on the Internet and the sounds made by Iriquois water drums. Of course this could be entirely in my own head. I also loved the haunting sounds of the Mohawk flute music from the smoke dance.

The music was AMAZING! Especially Ozomatl. I was lucky enough to see their first show back in 1995. I collect water drums- have 4 amazing ones and 1 that I am working to restore. Working on training my voice so I can do something similar like Ozomatl.

@William have you heard of a native american band called Apu?

I recently watched them whilst they were on tour of the UK the music they create is fantastic!

Many thanks
Karl

I must say - THIS WAS GREAT!
the world is so small, i watched them too on their uk tour!

really amazing and interesting!

Nice work! Keep going!

keep up the good work guys.... amazing....

The music was AMAZING! Especially Ozomatl. I was lucky enough to see their first show back in 1995. I collect water drums- have 4 amazing ones and 1 that I am working to restore. Working on training my voice so I can do something similar like Ozomatl.

I recently watched them whilst they were on tour of the UK the music they create is fantastic!

Many thanks

I collect water drums- have 4 amazing ones and 1 that I am working to restore.

Great guys! Keep on working :)

Amazing work! Keep going

really it is very interesting and amazing.thank you and good luck

good work keep it up.

Thank You for Sharing Valuable Information.i like this blog and this is very informative.

Really it is a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

The music was AMAZING! Especially Ozomatl. I was lucky enough to see their first show back in 1995. I collect water drums- have 4 amazing ones and 1 that I am working to restore.

July 17, 2013

2013 Living Earth Festival headlines the museum's summer webcast season


The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C., museum is hosting many excellent public programs this summer for audiences of all ages and a wide range of interests. Here is a schedule of upcoming programs available on the Internet via webcast. 

Live webcasts can be accessed though the NMAI webcast page.

Not free during a program you'd like to see? Wish you had seen an earlier program? Most webcasts are archived on the NMAI YouTube Channel within a few days of the event.

Please note: Times for live performances and webcasts are given as Eastern Daylight Time.

LEFestLogo2013mini
2013 LIVING EARTH FESTIVAL 
July 19 through 21

The museum’s annual Living Earth Festival celebrates Native contributions to protecting the environment, promoting sustainability, and using indigenous plants to improve health and nutrition. Such a celebration entails much fun with art, music, dance, and cooking, as well as reports from Indian County on how Native peoples are developing solutions to protect public health and the environment.

On Friday, July 19, at 1 pm and 2 pm, the museum will webcast a fun hands-on activity for children of all ages from the imagiNATIONS Activity Center.  Muscogee Creek sculptor Lisan Tiger Blair will lead a workshop in creating animal and human forms from clay and other materials.

Saturday, July 20, will be filled with music and dance. Enjoy these performances and mini-concerts broadcast from the Potomac Atrium:

11:15 AM | Ho`omau I Ka Wai Ola O Hawai`i, Hawaiian music and dance

Noon | Quetzal Guerrero, virtuoso violin and vocals

12:30 PM | She King (Six Nations Reserve), contemporary rock out of Toronto

1 PM | Pokagon Drum and Dance Troupe (Potawatomi), traditional and fancy dancing performed at many powwows throughout the United States

2 PM | Ozomatli, urban–Latin fusion from Los Angeles

 

Studying biotoxins in fish 07-16
Tribal ecoAmbassadors at work: A Northwest Indian College project studying biotoxins in fish. Photo courtesy of the EPA


Saturday from 2:30 to 4 PM
, the webcast will move to the Rasmuson Theater to present the Living Earth Symposium: Tribal ecoAmbassadors.  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists, tribal college and university professors, and Native students are conducting projects that help community residents become part of an environmentally conscious future. Learn how these Tribal ecoAmbassadors are developing innovative and locally relevant solutions to protect public healthand the environment—from creating carbon-negative and sustainable building materials to participatory air quality monitoring to exploring the impacts mercury and other toxics have on human health. 

Saturday from 5 to 8 PM,  the day concludes with an Indian Summer Showcase of musical concerts. If your musical appetite was whetted by the day's mini-concerts, be sure to tune in for the artists' feature performances. Quetzal Guerrero's music bridges many Latin and American cultures and styles. Pop artist She King from Six Nations Reserve captivates listeners with her power, passion, and seducing vocals. Ozomatli, a two-time Grammy Award–winning band, describes its sound as "urban-Latino-and-beyond collision of hip hop and salsa, dancehall and cumbia, samba and funk, merengue and comparsa, East LA R&B and New Orleans second line, Jamaican ragga and Indian raga."  

Quetzal Guerrero mini She King mini  

 

 

Ozomatli

Clockwise from upper left: Quetzal Guerrero; photo courtesy of the artist. She King; photo courtesy of the artist. Ozomatl; photo copyright 2012 Christian Lantry; used with permission.


On Sunday, July 21, from noon to 4:30 PM, the museum will webcast the Living Earth Festival’s iconic cooking face-off, Native Chef Cooking Competition. This year the competition puts the heat on Don McClellan (Cherokee) and Freddie Bitsoie (Navajo) as they cook up their gourmet entrées for the title of NMAI’s Top Chef. Like the menu of the museum’s Mitsitam Café, the chefs’ innovative recipes will be inspired by traditional Native American foods. 


INDIAN SUMMER SHOWCASE 
August 10 & September 21

Every summer the museum brings talented performers to the National Mall for free, public concerts. We webcast as many of these great evenings as we can. In addition to the triple-header during the Living Earth Festival mentioned above, the museum has two more concerts/concert webcasts coming up.

Rita_cooligde_flat mini+ C.J. Chenier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Rita Coolidge (left) and C.J. Chenier. Photos courtesy of the artists

On Saturday, August 10, at 5 PM, the legendary, multiple Grammy Award–winning singer Rita Coolidge (Cherokee) will perform some of her classic hits from the 1970s and '80s, as well as newer pieces.  

On Saturday, September 21, at 5 PM, just see if you can stay off your dancing feet as C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band perform their infectious Zydeco music. The band received a 2011 Grammy nomination for their album Can’t Sit Down


STORYTELLING FROM THE  imagiNATIONS ACTIVITY CENTER 
August 2, August 9 & September 21

The imagiNATIONS Activity Center is the museum’s space dedicated to interactive exhibits and fun activities for children of all ages. In addition to webcasting the sculpting workshop during the Living Earth Festival mentioned above, the museum will be bringing three talented Native storytellers to our webcast audience in the next few months.  


Mokihana Traditional Hula mini Gayle-ross tall

Mokihana (left) and Gail Ross. Photos courtesy of the artists

On Friday, August 2, at 11 AM and 1 PM, Mokihana (Missy Scalph), a graduate of Halau Mohala `Ilima, a traditional hula school in Kailua, Hawai`i, will share traditional hula, songs, and stories in an interactive program created to entertain and educate visitors about Native Hawaiian culture.  

On Friday, August 9, at 1 PM and 3 PM, the museum invites you to spend some time with Gail Ross, a direct descendent of John Ross, who was Principal Chief of the Cherokee during the Trail of Tears. Gail is the author of five critically acclaimed children’s books, a distinguished lecturer, and a master of the age-old art of storytelling. Traditional Cherokee stories will be the focus of these programs. 

Grayhawk Perkins 2On Saturday, September 21, at 11 AM, Grayhawk Perkins (Choctaw/Houma), the well-known Louisiana educator, musician, and expert on Native American and Colonial American history, will take on his role as a “tribal storyteller” and share tales of ancient cultures. 

Grayhawk Perkins.
Photo courtesy of the artist

 


SYMPOSIUM: REVEALING ANCESTRAL AMERICA
September 8 

6-1259
Ulúa River vessel depicting dancers (rollout detail), AD 750–850. Honduras. 6/1259

On Sunday, September 8, from 10:30 AM to 4:15 PM, the museum will present Revealing Ancestral Central America, a symposium co-sponsored by NMAI and the Smithsonian Latino Center. The symposium features leading voices in the interpretation of Central America’s rich cultural heritage as revealed in the archeaology of the region. The exhibitionCerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed is on view at the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C., through February 1, 2015.

 

Disappointed to Miss a Program?

The museum archives most webcasts within a few days of the live event. If you have to miss one of these programs and would like to view it later, look for it on the NMAI YouTube Channel. Programs archived recently include Wahzhazhe: An Osage Balletperformed on March 23; six programs from the 7th Annual Hawai`i Festival, celebrated May 25 and 26; and 13 programs from Choctaw Days 2013, a cultural festival that took place at the museum on June 21. 

—Mark Christal, NMAI

Comments (2)

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Nice blog and pics shared by you. It may be helpful.

Great Post you have in here nice to know all of this! more blogs to come keep up!

July 09, 2013

Native Sounds Downtown! Derek Miller (Thursday, August 1) and Rita Coolidge (Thursday, August 8) rock the museum in New York

 

Derek Miller 2 Rita Coolidge

Derek Miller (left) and Rita Coolidge. Photos courtesy of the artists


Derek Miller (Mohawk) and Rita Coolidge (Cherokee) will rock the stage this August at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. 

Songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Derek Miller, known for his amazing live performances and expressive lyrics, will perform on Thursday, August 1, at 6 PM in the Diker Pavilion of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Later this season, the museum will publish a CD of Derek Miller singing hits featured in the exhibition Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture. He will perform these songs along with his own music during the August 1 concert. 

Born and raised in the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario, Canada, Miller developed an interest in music during his early teenage years. His albums include Music Is the Medicine (2002), The Dirty Looks (2006), and Derek Miller with Double Trouble (2010). Miller has twice won the Juno Award for Best Aboriginal Recording of the Year, for his hit singles “Lovesick Blues” and “The Dirty Looks.” He performed with Eva Avila and Nikki Yanofsky at the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Grammy Award–winning artist Rita Coolidge will perform on Thursday, August 8, at 6 PM in the same venue—Diker Pavilion of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.

Coolidge was born in Lafayette, Tennessee. She got her start as a professional musician recording station identifications and commercial jingles for radio stations in Memphis. She went on to sing backup vocals for rock greats, including Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Graham Nash, and Duane Allman. Her duets with country singer Kris Kristofferson gained nationwide attention. Coolidge and Kristofferson twice won Grammy Awards for Best Country Vocal by a Duo or Group, for their hit single “From the Bottle to the Bottom” (1974) and “Lover Please” (1976). Coolidge’s solo album Anytime…Anywhere (1977) went platinum, selling over a million copies. Her single “All Time High” was the theme song for the James Bond movie Octopussy (1983).

In 1995, Coolidge teamed up with her sister Priscilla Coolidge and her niece Laura Satterfield to create the group Walela, which means hummingbird in Cherokee. Walela gave Coolidge an opportunity to foreground her Cherokee heritage in the lyrics of her songs, and the group released four albums, including Walela (1997) and Unbearable Love (2000). Coolidge has released 28 albums during her career. Her most recent solo album is A Rita Coolidge Christmas (2012). 

—Grant Moffitt, NMAI

To add Native Sounds Downtown 2013 directly to your digital calendar, visit the links below:

Derek Miller, Thursday, August 1, 6 PM

Rita Coolidge, Thursday, August 8, at 6 PM 

Grant Moffitt, a native of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, is a Marketing & Community Outreach intern at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. He works for the Museum Advancement group, on Public Affairs and Visitor Services projects. His internship is funded by Pace University, Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Grant is pursuing a BA in Marketing with a concentration in advertising and promotion from Pace.

The National Museum of the American Indian in New York  

Comments (3)

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A longtime fan of Rita Coolidge bought her albums in the 70s when she was a solo act... Would love to see her again...

wow very nice will Derek Miller (Mohawk) and Rita Coolidge (Cherokee) will rock the stage this August at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. so awesome

Very Good

June 14, 2013

Alanis Obomsawin: Documenting Native Canada

Interview by Patrick Watson, NMAI

AlanisObomsawin
Alanis Obomsawin is very passionate about her work.
Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin has been directing and producing documentaries for the past 46 years. In that time, she has made more than 40 films on the Indigenous peoples of Canada. From the Oka Crisis, during which a group of Mohawk engaged in a 78-day standoff with Canadian police and military in defense of their land, to the story of First Nations Vietnam War veteran Eugene Benedict, Obomsawin has been there documenting, educating, and fighting for the rights of her people. Her latest film, The People of the Kattawapiskak River, is about the 2011 housing crisis at Attawapiskat, a remote First Nation community in northern Ontario. Since the film's initial release, Obomsawin has added two epilogues dealing with fresh aid sent to Attawapiskat and a hearing on the handling of the crisis by the minister of aboriginal affairs.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian is hosting a free screening of the film tomorrow—Saturday, June 15—at 7 p.m. Obomsawin will be available for a question-and-answer session after the screening. This event is part of our ongoing series, Dinner and a Movie, and our Zagat-rated Mitsitam Cafe will stay open from 5 to 6:30 p.m. for visitors who would like to purchase contemporary and traditional Native American cuisine before the film.

Can you explain what made the housing situation at Attawapiskat so awful?

Alanis Obomsawin: Well, I think it's been going on for a very long time. The housing situation is not only very poor, but the houses coming in are multi-houses, and obviously they are not built for the northern weather. These are prefabricated houses, and they are good at first, but after five or ten years, it's finished. They're not strong enough to weather the kind of weather that there is over there, and a lot of them were in very poor condition and needed repairs.

They have a thousand people who are waiting for a house, a decent house, so you can imagine. It's a population that's growing very rapidly, so the houses are overcrowded. It's been like this for many years, and the system of housing and help, monetary help to be able to service the need, hasn't been adequate for many years.

When you were at Attawapiskat, was it difficult to visit the people and see how poor their housing conditions were?

It's always heartbreaking to see that and to see large families with all the children living in those kinds of conditions. I was there making another film, and the situation was so bad—I could see the young people and everybody getting so down with a lot of bad publicity and accusations of all sorts of things. So I put that film aside and made The People of the Kattawapiskak River. It proved to be very helpful because it sort of told it like it is.

Do you stay in touch with any of the people you film?

Yes, I went back. I'm just now finishing the first film I went there for, concerning the educational system and the school, and this is going to come out in the fall sometime. It's a different film, so I'm working with people from there all the time these days.

They're lucky to have you representing them.

Well, they're very special people. I'm very fond of them.

The last line of the original film was especially moving. When you're working on your films, do you recognize important things like that as you're filming, or do the poetics really emerge in the editing process?

I listen to people for many hours and visit them time and time again, so by the time I'm in the cutting room, I have to feel that the story is there and I understand what it is they're talking about. And they're poets themselves. I don't tell them what to say. It comes from them directly. It's a gift, really.

Do you think there's a bright future for Attawapiskat, or are they going to be facing housing crises like this in the future as well?

It's not going to be resolved overnight, but I am very hopeful, and I know that things are going to get better. There's such a strong movement going on now all over the country in terms of changes that people are going to make happen, and it really concerns a lot of our people.

A major theme in a lot of your films is the deceit and misdirection on the part of the national government that keeps Indigenous peoples at a disadvantage. How do you think First Nations might be able to combat those sorts of tactics?

We have a lot of very strong leadership, and the young people are just incredible. There's a very strong movement going on now about changes that are going to have to happen, so it's a very different time, I can tell you this. So I don't even call it hope. It's another word that I cannot find yet. It's so strong that it's very encouraging.

Why documentaries? There are lots of ways to present events and people, but what was it that drew you to documentary film in particular?

Documentary film, for me, is my world. I love documentary film because the voice comes directly from the people. I don't have to do drama. The drama is naturally there in their lives, and I never get tired of listening to them. Everywhere I go, I'm always amazed by how people have survived through so much, and I am very passionate about this kind of work.

 

PeopleOfTheKattawapiskakRiver
The film will screen this Saturday at NMAI.

 

Patrick Watson is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and an intern with the National Museum of the American Indian's Office of Public Affairs. He is pursuing a BA in Plan II Honors and English from the University of Texas at Austin and expects to graduate May 2015.

Comments (3)

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Hi, we love documentary too. It enrichs perception of the world and specificly background like the people of the kattawapiskak river.

thank you for the post

good article and this site has a high pagerank, salute to this website.