LaDonna Harris: Indian 101 Documentary - SantaFe.com

The subject of Brannum’s documentary is the captivating and hugely inspirational LaDonna Harris, a Comanche activist and national stateswoman. She is a natural politician in the best sense of the word—a woman transformed by her circumstances and innate abilities into a highly effective public servant. Acoma Pueblo member Brian D. Vallo, currently a director at the School for Advanced Research, introduced Harris as a “visionary leader” who has “dedicated the majority of her life to engaging individuals, tribes, and especially the federal government, using indigenous methodology,” to increase public awareness of issues of indigeneity in today’s America.

A side note: That the film’s executive director is Johnny Depp made me wonder if he was bent on making amends for his role as Tonto in the 2013 stinker The Lone Ranger. Harris, appreciative of what she saw as his “thoughtful” characterization of Tonto, instigated Depp’s official adoption into the Comanche tribe in 2012, while he was making the film. No matter how you feel about the actor, Indian sidekicks in the movies, and other lore, Depp claims Cherokee blood—a fact that merely serves to illustrate how crisscrossed, looping, and hopelessly multilayered and easily misunderstood our definitions of Native and American identities can be. While Harris may not be “militant enough for some,” to quote Gloria Steinem in the documentary, LaDonna Harris has been getting things done for some five decades.

For many years, Harris, like most American women in the mid-twentieth century, borrowed her identity from her husband, United States Senator Fred Harris of Oklahoma, the state where the Comanche girl was raised during the Depression by her maternal grandparents, from whom she gained a strong sense of self. I found myself pondering just when it was that she shifted from “the Senator’s wife,” as Dick Cavett introduced her on his talk show, to LaDonna Harris. Transform she did, emerging from the cocoon of wife and mother into a renowned and respected activist. Indian 101 should be required viewing in a new module in our schools’ curricula. I’d call the course, oh, maybe, “Enough about Europe: American Identity from the First Peoples to Slavery to Today’s Immigrants,” which I expect to get approval from small-town school boards as soon as teachers get paid like basketball players and anesthesiologists.

Harris began her role as a civil-rights principal at President Lyndon Johnson’s request, when he—according to Harris’s press release—“assigned her to educate the executive branch of the U.S. government on the unique role of American Indian tribes and their relationship with the federal government. This course was called ‘Indian 101’ and was taught to members of Congress and the Senate for over thirty-five years.” Harris is perhaps best known, locally at least, as a hero who helped legislate the return of Blue Lake to the people of Taos Pueblo, with key cooperation from Senators George McGovern and Ted Kennedy, Vice-President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon. What is it they say about politicians and bedfellows?

It’s not all good times in Indian 101; Harris recalls seeing storefront signs prohibiting “dogs and Indians.” The film recognizes the atrocities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding-school policies and the BIA’s goal of forced assimilation, resulting in what Harris terms “identifying with the oppressor.” What came across most profoundly, from Harris’s presence in the documentary and in real life at the screening, was the empowerment that stems from a feeling that she belonged—to an extended family and to her homeland. In the Q & A period after the film, she called for “one world” and a moving away from an “either/or” mentality, in which we are all members of a world that is tribal, not exclusionary. This is not to say that indigeneity is over: Harris claims the right of Native peoples to self-government. Through it all, she radiates an aura of integrity, kindness, and compassion that is extraordinarily commanding. I found myself deeply moved by her on a very human level.

The NAAEF has two grant cycles per year. For more information about the Fund, please contact Jane Egan at the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

This review is by Kathryn M Davis and is reprinted here with permission from THE Magazine.

This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

Please Share!

Objects of Art Santa Fe

The City Different’s uniquely different showcase for one-of-a-kind historic and contemporary works from around the world, the Objects of Art Santa Fe show is widely known as an exhibition of exceptional aesthetics, style, and design. In it, more than 70 prestigious gallery owners and other exhibitors present a global melding of the world’s best antiquities and fine art. Though this event is held in conjunction with the Antique American Indian Art Show – organized by the same team – the … Read More

The Vinyl Verse Tour Hits Albuquerque August 2

Musical superstars Wiz Khalifa and Logic hit the road on a 28-city tour as co-headliners of the eagerly anticipated Vinyl Verse Tour 2022. Joining them on the tour, presented by Live Nation, are special guests 24kGoldn, DJ Drama, C Dot Castro, and Fedd the God. Tickets are now on sale for the August 2 show at Isleta Amphitheater in Albuquerque. Multi-platinum selling, Grammy and Golden Globe-nominated recording artist Wiz Khalifa burst onto the scene with the release of his first … Read More

Native American Artifacts and the Law
Santa Fe New Mexico pottery

What information must an appraiser and clients know about American Indian prehistoric and historic items? Knowledge of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) is essential. This law governs the excavation of archeological sites on federal and Indian Lands in the United States, and the removal and disposition of archeological collections from those sites. No person may sell, purchase, exchange, transport, receive, or offer to sell, purchase, or exchange any archaeological resource if such resource was excavated or removed … Read More

Featured Businesses