Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower

I mentioned the PBS series "We Shall Remain" in an earlier post, but now that I've seen it, it really is a must-see. This was only the first of five.

If you think you know what happened after the Pilgrim's landed, this is a great show to watch. If you want a moving, dramatic story to watch, it's also good.

It is gratifying to finally see an American history through Native eyes - we were here for every second of "American history," and shaped this country as much as any other American, but usually get relegated, quite literally, to the margins of the history books. One of the behind-the-scenes interviews addresses the stories of these Native people of history as "American patriots." Although the truth of this is no more true today than yesterday, you almost never here the Native people of this continent referred to as patriots.

But it is also not as some might "fear." It is not, "here's the victim Native people, and the bad guy English." They show some very touching moments, actually, and redeemed some of the Pilgrim people for me where I used to have only frustration. It does not, in reverse of the history we tend to teach in our schools, show the Native people as always being right, and the English/non-Native as always being bad.

Instead this first episode made a point of showing the Native people of the region for what they were - a civilization. Real people with real strengths and weaknesses, friends and enemies, families, agriculture, economy and spirituality. They didn't bend to the "noble Indian" stereotype, which can be just as dangerous as the "savage Indian" stereotype. They just showed real people coping with incredibly complicated, difficult situations.

In short, I was impressed.

The next episode is set for Monday at 8 p.m., Alaska time, PBS.

One of the more impactful moments came near the end of the episode.

Just one generation after the Wampanoag have literally ensured the Pilgrim's survive, and have ceded them land, the tide has turned and the Native people are being stolen from, made to give up their weapons and sign false confessions. A battle is inevitable, and the governor of Rhode Island is summoned to warn the young Wampanoag leader against action.

Says the governor, "The English are too strong for you."

Says Philip, son of Massosoit, "Than the English should treat us, as we treated the English when we were too strong for the English."

I realize how little I watch "Native American" themed movies or documentaries every time I do so. Sometimes it feels as if you've been punched over and over, and you leave the movie feeling beat up. Sometimes it is a growing sadness, because no movie or documentary involving Native history has a happy ending. Not a one.

Although this episode makes me feel proud - it was also pretty emotional. It is the inevitably of it all - the hope spoken by the leaders that if they just fight bravely enough, things can be all right for their people.

Which is why we contine their work.

UPDATE: Sweet! You can watch the first episode online! It's on the PBS Web site.


Anonymous said...

The real story of the Trail of Tears is told by historical record and family correspondence in the recently released book, "Jesus Wept" An American Story.

Anonymous said...

The second show of the series last night was about Tecumseh. The show was excellent and all Americans should see it.

Shelby said...

I am enthralled with the series. Very interesting. So sad.

I'm being enlightened.

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