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February 11, 2011

Telling It the Right Way: Chiricahua Apache Prisoners of War

This month, I’m going to talk a little bit about a six-minute video I produced in 2007 on the Chiricahua Apache for NMAI’s Our Peoples gallery. One of the key challenges the museum has is to distill complicated histories and stories into bite-sized pieces. Telling this particular story in a manner acceptable to the tribe represented a substantial test.  

  Chiricahua Apache main title
 

The Chiricahua Apache, the last tribe to resist U.S. government control of the American Southwest, were held as prisoners of war at a number of locations for more than twenty-five years. The story of their incarceration was of central importance to the tribe and had to be included prominently in the small gallery exhibit. This history could have been explored in an hour-long media piece or even a series of videos, but we had space for only a wall-mounted monitor with no seating. This usually indicates that I’ll need to boil down the essential facts to a couple of minutes. The more I learned about this dramatic story the more it seemed almost impossible to accomplish well.

When curator Emil Her Many Horses and I met with the community, I expressed my anxiety about simplifying the story into a very short video. Lynette Kanseah, one of the Chiricahua elders, told me that it would be fine as long as I did it in the right way. That was followed by a long and meaningful look!

Believe me, those words and the way Lynette looked at me stayed with me as the project took shape.

 
Lynett green screen Lynette with back

The video was put together around a series of interviews, one in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the rest on the Mescalero reservation in south-central New Mexico. I decided that we would shoot the interviews on green screen so that I could layer archival images from the NMAI collection behind the speakers as they told the story. The images and the words of the people together were very powerful, but I wanted to heighten the visitor’s experience of this tragic history by adding music. I turned to Laura Ortman, a White Mountain Apache, whose music has a sense of longing and heartbreak that was a perfect fit for the project. This was an unusual move for the museum at the time, as we generally had not used music in our storytelling. Laura, who performs solo as the Dust Dive Flash, allowed us to use music from her album Tens of Thousands. We owe her a debt of gratitude for her contribution to this video.

When the Chiricahua community came to Washington for the opening of the exhibition, they watched the video many times. I could see by their faces that emotional story was being told in a respectful way. Lynette saw me and slowly nodded.

Watching the video now, I see mostly the technical flaws. Still, I am happy that this difficult but important story is being told at our museum. I think I must have found the right way.

 

This video highlights some of the amazing photographic resources of the National Museum of the American Indian. Our long-time photo archivist, Lou Stancari recently passed away. I will always be reminded of his great contribution to this museum whenever I see the NMAI’s archival photo collection. I will miss you Lou, but your memory lives on.

 

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Comments

thanks, wery good informaitons.

"Well written"

www.nationaldocumentaries.com

Thank you, nice documentary
I may include this documentary to my collection on my site. Which I'm trying to gather good documentaries.

Thank you again

A story that has to be told! To Emil Her Many Horses a big Thank You!
"...held as prisoners of war at a number of locations for more than twenty-five years." just for OUR right to be human! another way to put, "The Telling of Genocide in INDIANLAND-usa"
mescalero

Thank you National Museum of the American Indian, Lynette Kanseah, one of the Chiricahua elders, Laura Ortman, a White Mountain Apache for your gift of music: Tens of Thousands. Photo Archivist, Lou Stancari, just to name a few. Things not taught in public school 'history books.' Thank You, for real His-story. I am honored to sit at your fire.
mescalero

It is a really good feeling that these people were able to tell their tale the way they saw it.

It will go a long way to boost the confidence of their culture.

Often, the importance of self confidence and self esteem are overlooked. I cannot recall how many times I’ve spoken with someone who seemed to accept their own low self confidence or low self esteem. It is as if many people believe that it is physical or mental defect that cannot be helped. They fail to realize that they are in control to change it and improve their lives whenever they are ready to make the effort.

Sometimes they just need a little support. If you know someone who has low confidence, do your part. Help them realize their greatness and when their fears get in the way, give them a little extra push. The world wants to accept them.

Nice post Amazing, I found your site on Bing looking around for something completely unrelated and I really enjoyed your site. I will stop by again to read some more posts.

I've never heard the story of the chiricahua apache before, and was quite shocked about the 25 year imprisonment, awful.

As far as video production goes, I think it was a great use of green screen and enabled to see quite a lot of nice relevant images rather than just a studio!

Very interesting. thank you very much

I don't think the technical flaws of the video matter, the Chiricahua stories are powerful enough in themselves.

Amy

Thank you National Museum of the American Indian, Lynette Kanseah, one of the Chiricahua elders, Laura Ortman, a White Mountain Apache for your gift of music: Tens of Thousands. Photo Archivist, Lou Stancari, just to name a few. Things not taught in public school 'history books.' Thank You, for real His-story. I am honored to sit at your fire.

The story of the chiricahua apache was quite shocked about the 25 year imprisonment, awful.

I think the video was a great use of green screen and enabled to see quite a lot of nice relevant images rather than just a studio!

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Nice blog! More people should read it. If you want, you can register your blog. It is free and and it automatically updates when you do an update, so visitors of our site can see when you updated your blog. The big advantage is that it will attract much more visitors to your blog.

The green screen approach worked really well. One of the first documentaries I ever made was an oral history of people in my hometown Gettysburg.

My dad's side of the family is from Pennsylvania, but my mother's side is from China, and I've always wanted to do one there. Problem is, I don't speak Cantonese well enough to conduct an interview. One day I'll partner up with someone who can translate.

However, this person would have to be someone I could trust as an interviewer. I don't think it would be enough to have a translator, who might miss the point of what I was getting at.

I did enjoy watching the video!

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