Saturday, March 8, 2008

Alcoholism and the Indigenous Navajo Native American Peoples: Excellent New Movie

Mile Post 398

Meet Cloyd and his two best friends Marty and Jimmie. They are Dene Native American indigenous peoples who are living a life of alcoholism on the Navajo Nation. Cloyd has grown up with alcohol and domestic violence ever since he can remember. Now he is following in those same footsteps, drinking heavily all night and all day while neglecting his wife and child. These are the opening scenes of the very powerful – and award winning – movie Mile Post 398 by Sheephead Films.

The first feature length film ever produced by indigenous Native Americans using an all Native American cast and crew, Mile Post 398 is an amazingly well done and powerful movie. Shot as a kind of docudrama, the movie follows Cloyd as he tries to set his life straight after a particularly long day and night of drinking with his buddies in the middle of the Navajo Nation. Almost killed when a coyote runs across the road and the car he is in has to swerve, Cloyd decides to stop drinking and begin taking responsibility for his family. However, too hung over to make it to work on time the next day, Cloyd losses his job and resorts to the bottle again.

Alcoholism is a common problem on many Native American reservations – abuse, lack of employment opportunities, the cultural manifestations of the U.S.’ colonial and imperial past all contribute to a high rate of alcoholism and suicide among Native Americans. The problem of alcoholism on Native American reservations is well known, and there are numerous academic papers and books on the topic (see, for example Antle and New Mexico State Dept. of Health and Environment Santa Fe. 1985; Garrity 2000; Owens, et al. 1990), but this is the first film that gives such an insider (emic) perspective. Because the film was shot on the beautiful Navajo reservation and used an all Native cast and crew, the film delivers its message more powerfully then any other film that I am aware of. Obviously I’m not the only one who thinks so. Thus far Mile Post 398 has won:

Best Feature Film – Fargo Film Festival
Best Drama – Tulalip Film Festival
Best Screenplay – Tulalip Film Festival
Best Supporting Actor – The 2007 American Indian Film Festival
Official Selection – The 2007 American Indian Film Festival

You can buy the movie from Sheephead Films and view clips and other projects currently in the works. Anyone concerned with, or interested in, current life on the reservation will find this movie to be an excellent resource.


Antle, David, and New Mexico State Dept. of Health and Environment Santa Fe. 1985. New Mexico Adolescent Health Risks Survey. Pp. 54. New Mexico.

Garrity, J. F. 2000. Jesus, peyote, and the holy people: alcohol abuse and the ethos of power in Navajo healing. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 14(4):521-542.

Owens, Mitchell V. Comp, et al., and Indian Health Service (PHS/HSA) Rockville MD. 1990. Bibliography of Health Issues Affecting North American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts: 1950-1988. Pp. 275. Maryland.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

February 19-25: Five Key Indigenous People's Issues

Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Week of February 19 - 25, 2008.

Indigenous Peoples in Arunachal Pradesh Outcry Over Dams

The movement against construction of dams in Arunachal Pradesh is gaining momentum after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation of the 3,000-MW Dibang multipurpose hydroelectric project on 31 January. He told the crowd at Itanagar that with a power potential of 75,000 MW, the state could become one the country’s richest within the next 10 years, earning an estimated annual income of Rs 3,000-4,000 crore.

“If executed on time, the power projects will not only garner huge wealth for the state but also provide ample employment opportunities to hundreds of youths,” he said. Although the purpose behind generating power is to earn revenue, a resource-crunched state like Arunachal Pradesh could hardly afford to endanger the people’s lives as the entire state is located in Seismic Zone V and is prone to earthquakes of high intensity. Read the rest here...

Indigenous People's Cave Art In A Central Cuban Province

Cave art made by indigenous people in a central Cuban province continues revealing the primitive communities' forms of life, cult, magic and evolution, researcher Luis Olmo Jaz said. Follow the rest of the story here...

First Nations Implementation Of The UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

First Nations leaders and international experts will examine ways First Nations can implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People at a two-day symposium entitled: "Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world." The symposium will allow First Nations to examine ways they can move ahead with the UN Declaration in Canada. Read the rest of the story here...

Losing Mother Tongue: Indigenous Children Are Forgetting Their Own Languages

Balasree Chisim cannot speak Mandi properly and often incorporates Bangla words in his native Garo language. His elder brother Sagre and sister Aski can speak Mandi but do not use it unless someone talks to them in that language.

"This is their condition although they were born and brought up in a Garo village in Madhupur," Babul D Nokrek said about his children. "But the case with those living in the city is the worst," said the teacher of a school in the capital.

"It seems that my youngest son, who is just five, will not be able to learn pure Mandi. The other children - even those living in Madhupur - will also meet the same fate as in schools they are taught in Bangla and everyone around them speaks in Bangla" Babu said. Read the rest of the story here...

Rio Tinto’s Track Record with Indigenous Peoples

The multinational giant's controversial record should serve as a warning to the people of Sarawak that the aluminium smelter might not be the ticket to the good life that they had been led to believe, writes Josef Roy Benedict. In August 2007, the Malaysia media reported that Rio Tinto, a global mining company, and Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), a Malaysian conglomerate owned by the family of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, had signed a pact to jointly build an aluminium smelter in Sarawak that could cost up to US$2 billion. Read the rest of the story here...

Last weeks Five Key Indigenous People's Issues can be found here.

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