Chiefs/Rocks with Wings

Nov 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 15-2: Reclaiming Native Health, Media Reviews

Melissa “Missy” Jim hauls down a rebound against Kirtland Central

Directed by Daniel Junge.
Dewey-Obenchain Films (2002).
Email contact and purchase information: Or phone for educational video prices (800) 825-0060.

Rocks with Wings
Directed by Rick Derby.
Shiprock Productions (2002). 107 West 75th Street, #3B, New York, NY 10023. Phone (212)-724-4877, fax (212) 724-7043. Email contact and purchase information:

Reviews by Sara Wiles

Basketball in Native American communities has received much attention in newspapers, magazines, and books, but most of this attention has been exploitive and superficial. Two excellent, recently released new films provide fascinating and insightful glimpses of Indian communities.

Rocks with Wings, directed by Rick Derby, was filmed over a period of 13 years in the community of Shiprock, NM, on the Navajo Reservation. It is the story of Shiprock High School’s Lady Chieftains and their pursuit of a state title in the late 1980s under a dynamic and sometimes angry Afro-American coach. Using extensive interviews as well as archival film clips, Rocks with Wings recreates and then dissects the conflicts between the coach and his players. The film explores the cultural values and background of each as they grow together and learn from each other.

Chiefs, directed by Daniel Junge, follows the Wyoming Indian High School Chiefs basketball team of the Wind River Indian Reservation through the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons. The reservation is home to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes. In the first season, two excellent players are profiled who let partying affect their performances. In the second season another player is profiled who is focused on the game and leads the team to a state championship. In addition to basketball practices and games, the film also depicts a reservation life of ceremonies, parties and drugs, as well as long bus rides and racist taunts from opposing teams and their fans.

In these films, the non-Indian filmmakers demonstrate a long-term commitment to and support for the communities. They have won awards at film festivals, been aired through the Public Broadcasting System, and provided extensive background and educational information  on the Internet. Both films are an excellent introduction to one aspect of reservation life.

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