Remote Controlled : Documentary revisits Wounded Knee standoff
Opinion by Gerald M. Gay
Arizona Daily Star
Feb. 27, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement and the Oglala Sioux tribe took control of the small town of Wounded Knee, S.D.
They wanted more independence, and the government to honor the 1868 Sioux treaty, which said the Black Hills of South Dakota belonged to the Sioux people.
They also wanted Dick Wilson, a progressive Indian who they claimed was corrupt and violent, removed from his post as tribal chairman.
For 71 days, the group hunkered down as local and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as Wilson's own GOON (Guardians of the Oglala Nation) squad, laid siege.
It was a pivotal event in American Indian history and plays a role in the "We Shall Remain" documentary miniseries that premieres on KUAT Channel 6 and KUAT-HD at 9 p.m. on April 13.
The series covers some of the major events and players that have shaped the American Indian experience over the last 300 years.
Julianna Brannum, a Comanche and co-producer of the "Wounded Knee" episode, will be at the Center for the Creative Photography on the UA campus at 5:30 p.m. Monday for a free talk and sneak peek at the series.
She spoke to us by phone from Los Angeles.
How was Wounded Knee chosen for "We Shall Remain"?
"I think 'American Experience' had gone back in history from the beginning of European contact with Native people. They chose very significant people and events that occurred to give viewers a wide understanding of how Native people have learned to adapt and deal with this new entity. Wounded Knee was one of the main events that happened in the 20th century."
Do you find that most people know about this standoff?
"It was clearly one of the most important events that happened and, ironically, the least known. Even though it was covered in the media intensely at the time, it was also during Vietnam and during the Watergate scandal. None of my non-Native friends know anything about it. When you say Wounded Knee, you think the massacre. This event happened almost 100 years later.
Did you volunteer for this topic?
"They had proposed to me the different shows they were working on. They were strongly considering hiring me and asked if I had a preference. Without hesitation I said I wanted to work on Wounded Knee. In college, when I went to the University of Oklahoma, I had minored in Native American history, and studying about that movement was life-changing for me. I read a lot about it in college, became very familiar with the events at Wounded Knee and with the American Indian Movement.
"There was a lot of back story in the film that I related to. My entire family attended boarding schools going back generations. To me, the boarding schools were the most traumatic experiences in all Native history. That was a very, very important story for me to tell. I knew a lot about the Urban (Indian) Relocation Program, which we also cover in the film. I went through that with my mother and my sister."
How long did production take?
"We had a very long research phase, which included me doing all the detective work. A lot of these people were almost impossible to track down. Oftentimes, folks that were very involved were living on a remote part of the reservation with no telephones. We had to get the telephone numbers of the people closest to them and have them pass the message along. They didn't have Internet or fax capabilities. Some correspondence was done by snail mail. It was a challenging process, but in the end we found pretty much everyone we wanted to."
"Wounded Knee" relies heavily on archival footage. Where did it come from?
"The film is 60-70 percent archival footage. I've never seen a film with this much footage. We first went directly to the networks. They were the ones who had the money to send crews and stay there the entire time. NBC, CBS and ABC were huge resources for us. (Producer and director) Stanley (Nelson) and I would take turns going out for a week or two at a time. We would go through cans of 16 millimeter films that hadn't been open since 1973.
"We also have a lot of private footage and local news footage. I think we really did see absolutely everything that was recorded."
What do you hope people get out of "Wounded Knee"?
"I want people to know about the events that took place. What was important for me was that there is so much back story. A lot of people don't know about the boarding experience. A lot of people don't know about the urban relocation. I hope people come away with a better understanding of Native people and how we struggle over centuries to maintain our cultural identity and our integrity."
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