San Antonio Native American Film Fest Addresses Erasure, Injustice

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Courtesy / Anne Lewis

A still from the film A Strike and an Uprising! (in Texas).

San Antonio has the 10th largest population of urban Native Americans in the U.S. per capita. According to the 2018 Census updates, 64 percent of San Antonians were Latino/Hispanic. Among Latinos, a large majority likely have Native ancestry, yet most of those bloodlines are invisible in the Census data. 

The stories of the Native Americans in San Antonio and beyond are far too often erased from the history books or worse, incorrectly portrayed in those books as well as in commercial cinema. Our age-old Westerns obviously were produced to sell tickets, not tell an accurate story.

Fortunately, there are films that are sensitively produced that have important messages to tell. For 25 years, American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions has been trying to keep the culture, traditions, and true history alive. To help reach more people with stronger messages, the nonprofit organization teamed up with local filmmaker Scott Pewenofkit to find stories that would resonate with people who maintain tribal affiliations as well as those with limited knowledge or ties to indigenous worlds. 

Pewenofkit, a member of the Kiowa tribe from Oklahoma, hopes that the Talom Aptzai Film Festival, which will be held at at the Guadalupe Theater on Aug. 25, will create platforms for intelligent, sensitive, and open discussion among people of all backgrounds. Talom Aptzai, meaning “ancient fire” in Pajalate (a Coahuiltecan language), refers to the custom of gathering around the fire to share stories among family. 

Sharing stories of Native peoples’ history, traditions, and plights is the goal. A total of 17 films, short and feature length, will touch upon subjects ranging from spirituality to cultural appropriation, addictions, gender dysphoria and gender stereotypes, forced family separations, social and health inequities, and unjust labor practices. Settings for the 17 movies featured include Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona, Canada, Mexico, and San Antonio.  

 The festival is designed to spark communication and open minds. A Strike and an Uprising! (in Texas) is sure to hit a chord for many.  The film that first debuted in 2018 covers systemic institutional racism in Texas. At a preview in Rome, one of the organizers commented, “I think of this film as the monument that replaces the removed statue of Jefferson Davis: a monument to equality and freedom against one of oppression.” 

A Strike and an Uprising retells the history of the oppression of San Antonio pecan workers and of Stephen F. Austin University employees in Nacogdoches. Thousands of women of color were working in unbearable conditions for starvation wages. These were the downtrodden, those with minimal opportunities before “equal opportunity” or “fair” wages. Most surprising, these women won. The 1938 pecan workers strike was a major coup. Likewise, the strike in Nacogdoches almost 50 years later.  

The associate producer, a San Antonio resident from El Paso, will be at the screening along with the Austin-based director to open discussion. They hope the film will help people of color find inspiration, greater unity, and community to build a new and better world.

Systemic racism is not isolated to the United States. A number of the films come from Canada. One, Bleed Down, destroys the myth of a fair and just Canada. The five-minute film is essentially a poem of rage. Rage about the loss of lands, about commercialism destroying nature, children taken away from their families, health epidemics, and starvation brought upon by government edicts.

Another topic that most ignore is the disappearance of indigenous languages. 68 Voces: About the First Sunrise, is an animated series that seeks to promote the preservation of Mexico’s 68 indigenous language groups. It is a retelling of the creation of the first sunrise, as told in the Huichol language. This topic is near and dear to American Indians in Texas, as one of its many initiatives is to help the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation to revitalize their ancestral language, Coahuilteco, and bring it back from extinction.

The topics dealt with in these films may be uncomfortable, but we cannot continue to ignore them. We cannot ignore the inherent racism that still exists in our country today. It is apparent every time we turn on the news. Perhaps by tuning into other peoples’ stories, and engaging with people who are not our mirror image, can help to make a difference.

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