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Oklahoma TV, film projects highlighted in symposium commemorating Indian Citizenship Act

The cast of 'Reservation Dogs,' left to right: Paulina Alexis, D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor and Devery Jacobs
The cast of 'Reservation Dogs,' left to right: Paulina Alexis, D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor and Devery Jacobs

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 recognized Native Americans as citizens in the country. But, it did not ensure their right to vote or solidify other citizens to respect them.

Indigenous leaders from across different fields discussed Indigenous representation progress following the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 at a Native American Suffrage Symposium in Washington, D.C.

Undersecretary for Museums and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution and Pawnee Nation citizen, Kevin Gover, was a panelist at the symposium. He talked about pop culture depictions of Indigenous people. During a panel, he shed light on the stark differences between Native American representation now versus decades past.

“You could be a Navajo chasing John Wayne and fall off your horse,” Gover said. “But you weren’t allowed to actually be a living, breathing, talking, thinking laughing character.”

Gover explained Native Americans were not allowed to hold prominent roles on screen, and he specifically referenced two projects filmed in Oklahoma, showing the positive progression of the TV and film industry: Killers of the Flower Moon and Reservation Dogs.

“Over the last 20 years, the depictions of Native Americans in pop culture has changed really quite dramatically, sort of culminating in Lily Gladstone and the Osage people having some agency over what appeared in a movie that was about them,” Gover said.

He said Indigenous people were not viewed as experts two decades ago, hindering them from directing and producing work in the entertainment industry and not having a say in the depictions of them in museums and history books. Yet, both Killers of the Flower Moon and Reservation Dogs depict complex characters. On top of that, they featured Indigenous creatives participating in the production process.

Gover — alongside fellow panelist Dawson Her Many Horses (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) — debunked popular myths about Thanksgiving, Pocahontas and the Battle at Little Bighorn. They both highlighted issues stemming from who actually told the stories.

Gover said until the National Museum of the American Indian Act passed in 1989 the “experts” writing about Native American people were not Indigenous people themselves.

“They were people who worked in universities and museums and went out and studied the Indians and came back and wrote books about them,” he said. “And it never occurred to them that Native people might have a role in the interpretation of their culture.”

While the journey for Indigenous people to receive respect and recognition has been ongoing, other leaders at the symposium like John Echohawk (Pawnee) said the fight continues and pointed to issues ongoing to diminish tribal sovereignty and the sustenance of tribes.

The official anniversary of the Indian Citizenship Act is June 2, with multiple tribes around Oklahoma celebrating the centennial event.

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Sarah Liese reports on Indigenous Affairs for KOSU.
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