Before you carve the first slice of turkey this Thanksgiving, pause to remember that November is Native American Heritage Month. Originally designated as American Indian Day in 1915 by Native American activists, the holiday honored indigenous people’s contributions to the growth of the United States (including helping the starving, desperate pilgrims on Thanksgiving), and was celebrated by the Boy Scouts. Since the 1990s, the day has expanded into a month.
What better way to reflect upon the United States’ Native American history, from the pre-Colombian era to the tragic revolutionary era wars to reservation life today, than documentaries? This list is by no means comprehensive, but it gives you a head start to understanding America’s indigenous heritage.
1. (2009) directed by Chris Eyre, Ric Burns and Stanley Nelson
This five-part American Experience series shows how Native Americans have struggled for land from the 1600s to today. Around the time of the first Thanksgiving Dinner, the Wampanoags agreed to help the starving and sickly pilgrims. Decades later, the colonists battled against the Native Americans in a brutal war, the first of many.
2. (2005) directed by Roberta Grossman
Four Native American leaders struggle against energy conglomerates and the government to preserve some of the United States’ most gorgeous natural resources — including Alaska, Maine, Montana, and New Mexico. These regions are vulnerable to toxic waste, strip mining, and oil drilling. The activists fight back with grassroots organizing.
3. (2010) directed by Anne Makepeace
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Remember the Wampanoags from the first Thanksgiving? The same tribe from southeastern Massachusetts was also the first group in the United States to revive its lost language. This Independent Lens documentary follows Jessie Little Doe, a Wampanoag social worker who had a dream of people speaking Wampanoag, a dead language for more than 100 years. On her quest, Jessie gets an MIT degree in linguistics and, with the help of community members and documents written in her ancestral language, resuscitates the language. Her daughter is the first speaker of Wampanoag in a century.
History of Native American Indians, Documentary - Pt. 4/4
History of Native American Indians, Documentary Pt 1 4
History of Native American Indians, Documentary - Pt. 2/4
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