Lakota students offer rebuttal to Sawyer documentary
Dakota Digest - 02/06/2012
By Jim Kent
Examining why life is the way it is on Native American reservations has been an ongoing topic for media entities and documentary filmmakers for years. The most recent study, "A Hidden America - Children of the Plains", aired in 2011 and was hosted by Diane Sawyer. Today we visit a group of Lakota students who weren't pleased with Sawyer's portrayal of their people and decided to respond - with a video of their own.
It's a cold, cloudy winter day as I drive across the Northern Plains. My destination is Todd County High School, on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.
Arriving at the reservation village of Mission, I turn South off the main road and head toward the school. Mission is like any small town in America - a few places to buy gas or eat, a grocery store, one mechanic...at the local auto parts store. That's pretty much it: small town U.S.A. - on or off the reservation.
I'm surprised by the metal detector I encounter as I enter Todd County High School, but quickly realize that the world has changed - since I was in school.
Looking on from the back of Kim Bos's audio-visual technology class, you can hear a pin drop as students are given the day's assignment. I'm visiting to talk with Bos about the video "More Than That"- produced by students from her class in December 2011. "More Than That" was prompted by a documentary aired on ABC-TV.
"I saw the documentary, actually, with a group of teachers when it first came out," recalls Bos. "It was an interesting thing to see with people that you consider like...I guess...partners in the fight against poverty and the fight against hopelessness...to see something that was put together and was so one-sided."
The documentary Kim Bos is referring to is "A Hidden America - Children of the Plains" and hosted by Diane Sawyer.
English teacher Heather Hanson also wasn't pleased with Sawyer's documentary.
"I was really frustrated when I watched it," says Hanson. "I felt like they were trying to say, ‘Hey, look...there's hope on the reservation.' But on top of that, they showed 12 minutes of crying in this documentary. And 12 minutes of 45 minutes is just sad."
Hanson felt that too much time was spent showing the negatives of reservation life even when Sawyer was trying to be positive about the documentary's subjects.
"And then you turn into, okay, well maybe not all Natives are into drugs and everything else...but if they're not, then look what they have to deal with," Hanson observes. "Oh, poor Native American kids. When reality is...it's just life here for some of them. And it's not life here like that for all of them."
That's the message students in Hanson's class and in Kim Bos's class wanted to get across as they brainstormed on how to tell the world the truth about life on The Rez - be it Pine Ridge, Rosebud or any of the other reservations in South Dakota.
"I think that they should know that there's a lot more to us than just that," says Bailey Denoyer. "Like, we're all trying to go to high school, finish college and live our lives....just like everyone else."
"Yeah, like, things really ain't that bad," comments Neav Poor Man. "There's a lot of positive things going on in life right now."
"Who are they to say what we are, when they don't even know us?" asks Feather Rae Colombe. "Everyone has problems, you know. That's why people are the way they are, because of life's situations. But you gotta see the good side, ‘cause everyone has a good side."
Bailey Denoyer, Neav Poor Man and Feather Rae Colombe were among those students 17-year old John Whirlwind Soldier directed in the video "More Than That." It's their answer to "Children of the Plains".
"More Than That" has received 42,000 hits since it was posted on YouTube last December. John Whirlwind Soldier says he's overwhelmed with the results, but happy so many people are learning the truth - that Lakota people are not just about poverty.
Hear "More Than That" at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhribaNXr7A
Photo 1 - Neav Poor Man and Bailey Denoyer
Photo 2 – Feather Rae Colombe, Kim Bos, John Whirlwind Soldier
Photo 3 - Kim Bos teaching at Todd County HS
Photo 4 – Poster in Kim Bos’ classroom
All photos by Jim Kent
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