The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

Got a tip? Have something you need to tell us? Contact us

Loading Recent Classifieds...

Native American stereotypes explored in film screening, discussion

Candid interviews and visual images tell the story behind the experiences of three American Indians who live with a group of young Czechoslovakians who have adopted their culture’s traditional way of life.

The film “If Only I Were an Indian” was screened by art professor Dr. Peri Klemm with a small group of students in a Sagebrush Hall classroom Tuesday.

The film, directed by John Paskievich in 1995, takes viewers on a journey with two American Indian women and a man from Canada to Czechoslovakia, where they meet a camp of young people who have isolated themselves from the modern world, adopting traditional dress, practices and lifestyles of 19th century American Plains Indians.

The film screening and discussion was part of the Global Village Forum, a center of learning outside regularly scheduled class meetings. It is sponsored by the departments of anthropology, art, Pan-African studies, religious studies and women’s studies, and plans discussions on various topics. Its purpose is to approach issues from different perspectives, said religious studies professor Dr. Mutombo Nkulu-N’sengha.

“Education is like planting a seed, so you invite people; people listen, and maybe two or three people who get those ideas can convey them to their friends,” he said. “In the end, that idea can move from one person to the next.”

The film included many interviews with the American Indians, who expressed their initial impressions of how the Czechs interpreted the lifestyle and cultural practices of their ancestors.

They observed the men and women making tools, cooking, playing games and performing chores. These interviews are the most insightful part of the film. They allow the viewer to understand their hesitations and fears that the young group of Czechs would not fully understand how their ancestors lived. Countering their fears, impressions and personal conflicts were insightful conversations from different men and women of the camp, who elaborated on their own rejection of Communism and mainstream society as reasons for adapting American Indian culture.

The simple visual images enhanced the interest of the film, serving to illustrate the traditions and practices of the culture. Untouched fields, mountains and an intense dark sky set the scene for the film. Touching segments show the American Indians working together with the Czechs, forming bonds, and gaining an understanding of their sincerity in interpreting their culture. The two groups perform ceremonies together, which serve as performance pieces for the viewer.

Klemm, who followed the screening with a short discussion, said that overall, she was hoping to expose students to new ways of thinking about world issues.

“Part of education should be more than teaching intellectual development, but social responsibility and being tolerant and open-minded,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Klemm acknowledged there are preconceived ideas about American Indians, adding that it is a priority to challenge them.

“One of my attempts in the global village forum is to break down stereotypes,” she said.

Klemm also touched on an issue brought up in the film about how one interprets another culture. She asked students to think about what it means for people to take on a new culture, as the Czechs did, and whether or not it is a problem.

One student pointed out that some elements in the film were questionable. The Czechs were shown using pots for some of their cooking, wore jewelry and clothing that was not historically accurate, and that may have been bought, she said. They used elements of modern life to make things easier, she added.

“It was noble, but inaccurate,” said communication disorders major Leighann Dunn about the efforts made by the Czechs in interpreting American Indian culture.

Klemm said that the inaccuracies in the film illustrate how people in general are removed from the American Indian community.

“The fact that they’re not getting it quite right is the point,” she said, noting that the Czechs only had books as learning resources.

More to Discover