Why we need to support Indigenous Media Producers

 

“Just because I use a camera that does not necessarily mean that I am no longer Kayapo. If a Western man wears a headdress, does that necessarily mean that he becomes Kayapo?”

– Kayapo cameraman

During a panel discussion on Indigenous Media, Jennifer David, a member of Chapleau Cree First Nation and author of “Original People, Original Television”, says, “You could see aboriginal people on television, but those [representations] were all stereotypes….There was obviously a need for a another perspective, a different voice and that voice had to be indigenous-led, it had to be from aboriginal people and not another well-meaning white person who said, ‘I’ll tell your story for you’. It had to come from aboriginal communities.” David’s assessment that “[Indigenous] people [are represented as] victims, villains, or vanquished,” resonates with me.

Weiner, on the other hand, argues against the idea of indigenous media since he believes that the appropriation of Western technological media would be detrimental to the specific structures and beliefs[1]. He believes that since technology “constitutes the society of spectacle in the West, its use by indigenous communities can only lead to the destruction of their cultures of origin” (Schivy 2009: 7) Weiner’s argument is flawed not only because it presents an approach that is outdated, but is also one that lacks definition[2].

Like David, I believe that indigenous media serves to not only provide insight to distinct aspects of a culture (aspects that may otherwise be unavailable to an outsider), but also allows indigenous media producers an opportunity to represent themselves—their history, their world, their realities—in ways that would be true for them. While the camera may have originated from the West, it is illogical to believe that just because indigenous people utilize[3] these tools that their identity as indigenous people is lost nor does it result in an appropriation of Western culture. In addition, this so-called search for the “purity” or “authenticity” of a culture is a concern that originates from Western anthropologists and implies an imperialistic nostalgia for the primitive innocence. This concept is not only outdated, but also alarming and dangerous for students of anthropology as well as for the future of indigenous people.

As I went through the readings, I was filled with a sense of dread: I couldn’t help but notice that the anthropologists completely disregarded indigenous people as human beings. They, the indigenous people, were relegated to objects; the indigenous people were no longer seen as human beings who could imagine or mobilize a future for themselves. The authors approached the subjects as though they were mere concepts to be apprehended, possessed, and determined through the eyes of Western anthropologists. This mode of thinking—this incessant Western gaze that dominates Visual Anthropology—is exactly the why there is a critical need for more indigenous media producers.

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[1] Weiner cites the Chambri people as an example of a group not concerned with self-objectification. Weiner aspires for an anthropology that subscribes to a totality; he believes that subjectivity—even if that perspective comes from the indigenous Other—would be a disservice to the field. As Faris notes, “Weiner appears more positive about the possibility of totalizing a theory of human culture” (Weiner 1997: 213). He asserts that anthropology must be viewed from the perspective on an outsider and that this difference is necessary to completely apprehending an understanding of a culture.

[2] Faye Ginsberg discusses Weiner’s inability to explain his scope and terms, specifically the term Televisualist Anthropology. (Weiner 199:213)

[3] By utilizing technological equipment, I believe that indigenous producers should be the auteur of their materials. It is their work and their vision. It should be more than simply “handing the camera over” (Russell 1999: 11)

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