Film

It's not revisionist if it's true

'Surviving Columbus' provided a much-needed look at Pueblo history

By Rick Romancito
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 4/27/18

We're still here.Despite still-pervasive stereotypes, persistent racism and a willful ignorance of history, Pueblo Indians are still alive and well. But, today, there's a …

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Film

It's not revisionist if it's true

'Surviving Columbus' provided a much-needed look at Pueblo history

Posted

A commentary

We're still here. Despite still-pervasive stereotypes, persistent racism and a willful ignorance of history, Pueblo Indians are still alive and well. But, today, there's a difference.

In 1992, the United States was poised to celebrate the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus' dubious "discovery" of the New World. Then, along came a documentary out of KNME-TV Channel 5 (now New Mexico PBS) and the Institute of American Indian Arts that put a significant damper on that specious event.

It was a film called "Surviving Columbus: The Story of the Pueblo People." It was directed by Diane Reyna of Taos Pueblo, a daughter of the late Bataan Death March survivor Tony Reyna. It was so significant it was awarded the prestigious Peabody Award, which honors the most powerful, enlightening and invigorating stories in television and radio.

Now, "Surviving Columbus: The Story of the Pueblo People" is being screened Saturday (April 28), 2 p.m., in the Arthur Bell Auditorium at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street. Director Diane Reyna will be at the screening to talk about the film and take part in a discussion. Admission is free to museum members, and free with museum admission to the public. Seating is general.

Reyna, whom we reached by phone Thursday (April 19), said the film was well-received in New Mexico. She said people at the time told her they appreciated the perspective and noted the tremendous educational value it represented, but in some ways and perhaps more importantly, "it added a perspective that wasn't the norm at the time."

She said the film was designed as a response to the Columbus celebration. "It was another way of looking at the impact of human interaction … It was educational. It was enlightening. And, it was validating to a lot of Pueblo people."

This film follows the 450-year relationship of the Pueblos and other cultures, beginning with the Spanish explorers in 1539. The two-hour documentary includes stories from elders, interviews with scholars and leaders, archival photographs, historical accounts and re-enactments.

The program also explores their lives under the Spanish colonial period of the 18th Century, after Mexico's independence from Spain in the early 19th Century and then under the U.S. government, according to the film's press materials.

Newsman Conroy Chino, who hosted the documentary, said in a prepared statement, "Surviving Columbus" not only illustrates the Pueblos' journey through history, it also became a personal journey for him. "I think what stood out most in putting together this documentary was to hear all the Pueblo voices, young and old, and the range of feeling and emotion about the historical encounter between the Pueblos and the Spaniards," he said. "Emotions (ranged) from anger to anguish to, just more recently among the young, feeling such hope."

One of the undercurrents to this film is the centurieslong struggle to maintain sovereignty over their land, culture and Native religion, something being threatened today. In an April 22 story in Politico it was stated that the Trump Administration "contends the tribes are a race rather than separate governments, and exempting them from Medicaid work rules, which have been approved in three states and are being sought by at least 10 others, would be illegal preferential treatment."

Mary Smith, who was acting head of the Indian Health Service during the Obama administration and is a member of the Cherokee Nation, was quoted in the story saying, "The United States has a legal responsibility to provide health care to Native Americans. It's the largest prepaid health system in the world -- they've paid through land and massacres -- and now you're going to take away health care and add a work requirement?"

Obviously, the work continues to help the nation and its leaders understand the trust relationship that has been maintained for these centuries since Columbus, but at least some changes for the better have been made. Many cities and states have changed their celebration of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day (but not New Mexico), and through this film the public has been told about the 1680 Pueblo Revolt along with the many contributions Native people have made to the well-being of all.

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