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Native American artists find more mainstream acceptance

Native movies, books, fashion and more enter pop culture
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Posted at 6:11 AM, Nov 24, 2020

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Native American artists are finding new audiences and venues to display their craft as American Indian stories enter pop culture.

"Some of us refer to it as 'Native Sovereignty,' being in charge of your own narrative," says Joely Proudfit, the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center Director. "Who better to tell our story than us?"

Proudfit says the change is welcome after decades of Native Americans being depicted poorly in pop culture, mainly because non-native people have told the stories.

Thanks to new ways of telling stories, like streaming services, social media, and more access to film festivals and book publishing, that's changing.

There's also a greater demand for stories by Native American voices.

"I think audiences are hungry for not diversity for diversity's sake. They're just interested in other communities, other worlds, engagement, and really authenticity," says Proudfit.

The California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center and Cal State San Marcos sponsor the California American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival. Since starting in 2013, it has grown from small groups in a classroom to taking over the Pechanga Resort and Casino.

It's now the largest Native American Film Festival on tribal land in the country.

The festival's growth parallels the rise of other Native American voices in different mediums.

"The biggest change is the increased number of native voices and the medium in which native folks have been able to express their creativity," says Dr. David Kamper, the Chair of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University.

Kamper says he sees more American Indian voices in books, online, and in fashion. He says that representation, whether it's Nike's N7 line of shoes and clothes or best-sellers like "The Only Good Indians" or "The Beadworkers," is essential to helping Native Americans define their culture in modern-day America.

"Seeing native films, seeing native art, seeing native clothing, fashion, that is done in a contemporary way, is a very loud statement against a settler-colonial narrative that native people aren't here anymore," Kamper says.

He also points to online messaging like the hashtag #OnNativeLand as one way the next generation is reclaiming their identity.

Proudfit says she's excited for what the future holds for Native American representation in Pop Culture.

"I think it's just a really exciting time for indigenous cinema, indigenous arts, and native storytelling. I encourage audiences to kind of look beyond Native American Heritage Month, and add us to their list," she says.

ABC 10News Reporter Jared Aarons asked both Proudfit and Kamper for suggestions on books, movies, and more if people want to explore Native American culture represented in modern pop culture. Here is a brief sample of their recommendations.

Smoke Signals
Blood Quantum (or other horror films by Jeff Barnaby)
Zoe Hopkins films (like Kayak to Klemtu or The Embargo Project)
Hostiles (by Scott Cooper)
Tasha Hubbard films
Sterling Harjoe films

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
The "Trickster" Trilogy by Eden Robinson
The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
They're There by Tommy Orange
The Beadworkers by Beth Piatote

Nike N7 Line
Jaime Okuma designs (featured in Vogue and at The Met)
Bethany Yellowtail's "Indigenously Designed for All"