Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American ExperienceAug 20th, 2015 | By rwinn | Category: 27-1: Tribal College Communities, Media Reviews
Directed by Audrey Geyer
Review by Ryan Winn
Part historical record, part rallying cry, this documentary film explains how the legacy of the 20th-century boarding school experience has manifested itself in subsequent generations. Told entirely through unscripted oration, the film speculates that taking children from their parents at a young age created a parental and cultural ignorance. Subsequent generations, the film contends, never learned how to be Indigenous parents themselves. Yet despite stories of sadness and assimilation, the film’s potency derives from those stories in which years of adversity have given way to times of cultural pride and preservation.
The film highlights the high rates of depression, suicide, and substance abuse among Native men, and how tragically there are few social programs focused on healing the sense of loss that is so prevalent. Yet it juxtaposes these facts with rich and cathartic stories that underscore the resiliency of people who continue to embrace their culture: a fire keeper explains the meaning behind his ceremony, a businessman talks of having to live in “two worlds,” an artist sees the necessity of cultural awareness, and a youth advocate illuminates how her own struggles are manifested in the young people whose lives she strives to elevate. The result is an assemblage of anecdotes that exemplify how Native culture can and must thrive despite adversity.
The horrors of personal and cultural loss that many Indigenous Americans have suffered through are impossible to quantify, but the voices in this film collectively argue that Native people must not succumb to the burdens inflicted upon them. The opening narration says it best: “If you review history, perhaps the Indians are pretty justified in the anger. However, you can’t let the anger destroy you…Take that anger and turn it into something good that can work on behalf of future generations.”
Ryan Winn teaches English, theater, and communications at College of Menominee Nation where he also serves as the Humanities Department chair.