"For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all."

-John F. Kennedy in
the introduction to The American Heritage Book of Indians

Monday, September 6, 2010

1930 Newsreel Mocks Indians

Check out this black and white newsreel from 1930.  The description from the website seems innocent enough...

"A 1930 newsreel of Calvin Coolidge at the dedication ceremony for the dam named after him and he smokes a peace pipe with a Pima chief and an Apache chief after a meal on top of the dam."

But go ahead and watch the video yourself:


Here are the highlights from Patrick Bateman (I mean the narrator):

"by irrigating a million acres of land, it will save hundreds of Indians from poverty and suffering."

"See the Indians there.  They're from the Pima and Apache tribes who used to be fighting each other all the time."

"After dinner is always a good time for a puff so Mr. Coolidge smoked the pipe of peace and then handed it to the chief of the Pimas.  After he had a puff, he gave it to the Apache chief who came in his best Sunday feathers.  Looks like an old cigar store sign."

Anyone else want to strangle the narrator?

The narration effectively belittles the Indians into mere stereotypes.  It positions President Coolidge as the great leader of the American people, bringing civilization to those poor backward Indians.

And worst of all, despite the claims in the video, the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation on whose land the dam and reservoir now stand, remains one of the poorest in the country.

I imagine this newsreel was created as post-presidential propaganda for Mr. Coolidge.  It effectively draws on Indians to boost up his image and solidify his legacy as friend to the Indian.  But why it had to be so condescending is more a sign of the times than anything else.

Even more interesting is the keywords section on the website.  Click on "Search Related Keywords" and see how this video was classified.  Thankfully, Thought Equity Motion who hosts this video for educational and commercial purposes correctly chose these three keywords: sadness, propaganda, and spin.  Why sneaky is on there I will never know.

Bonus Video:

Here's President Coolidge presiding over a Sioux powwow.  Coolidge claimed Indian heritage and was actually given the Indian title "Chief Leading Eagle."  Hence, the one line in the video:


And yes, he's wearing a headdress.  (which considering the context and the groups involved, actually makes sense for a change!)

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