Re-Framing the Native Image: Tribesourcing Midcentury Educational Films (A Work in Progress)

Jennifer Jenkins



The American Indian Film Gallery (AIFG) collection contains over 450 midcentury sponsored and educational films, amateur reels, and home movies dedicated exclusively to Native peoples of the Americas. It does not contain Hollywood feature films. Nor do these films document Native peoples ethnographically, as objects of scientific study. In their day, such films were the most widespread means of conveying information about Native peoples in the mid-20th century. Nonscientific and broadly popular in their approach, the films provide time capsules of the audiovisual era of their making. This project focuses on the subset of Southwestern U.S. films in the AIFG, expedient for proximity to tribal neighbors.

The value of the AIFG films as records lies in their visual images of Native life in the mid- 20th century; that value is tempered by the films’ audio expression of midcentury mainstream understandings of indigeneity in that period, often narrated by an authoritative male “voice of god.” This project proposes to redress those historical attitudes from Native perspectives while preserving often quite remarkable images of Native lifeways in the Southwest.

As a project ethos, tribesourcing is innovative, groundbreaking, and potentially transformative for Native legacy media. We seek to rebalance traditional archival practice by “archiving from below”—giving voice to peoples who previously were considered subjects rather than agents of cultural heritage. Image sovereignty is a fraught issue within the history of visual representation in the Americas. Historical filmmaking practice parallels that of still photography in terms of informed consent of subjects: in some cases, these films were made without permission; in others, tribes and individuals were well paid for their participation. Moreover, while films in this collection are in public domain from the government’s perspective, their content may not be regarded as such by the peoples represented onscreen. At this historical distance, however, many of these films have come to be seen by both cultural insiders and outside scholars as useful documentation of cultural practices, lifeways, and languages that are receding as practitioners and speakers pass on. This presentation will provide a project description and methodological discussion of Tribesourcing as a means of repositioning the frame in indigenous archival media.



Jennifer Jenkins works at the intersections of literature, film, and archives, teaching in both the English department and the iSchool. Publications on literature include essays in ESQ, The Henry James Review, Twentieth Century Literature, Paradoxa, and the Journal of Popular Culture. Film studies appear in The Moving Image, The Philosophy of Tim Burton (UPK, 2014), Hitchcock’s Moral Gaze (SUNY, 2017), Irish Literature on Screen (Palgrave, 2017). She has presented on archival film at the Orphan Film Symposium, Mujeres en el cine mudo, the Association of Moving Image Archivists, and the Northeast Historic Film Archive Summer Symposium, which she now directs. For two years she curated the Puro Mexicano Tucson Film Festival, and has been working to develop an archive of amateur and locally-made films of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands. She also curated the museum exhibit, Native Curiosity: Collecting Indian Arts in Territorial Arizona for the Arizona Historical Society (2003-2006). She is the founder of Home Movie Day Tucson, and is developing the Tombstone Home Movie Project. In 2011 she brought the American Indian Film Gallery, a digital archive of over 450 films by and about Native peoples of the Americas, to the University of Arizona. This project is actively engaged in tribesourcing: reinterpreting these midcentury educational and industrial films through recording of alternate Native narrations and culturally competent metadata from within Native communities.. To inform her work with archival film and print materials, she earned a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences and a graduate certificate in Archival Studies in 2014. Her recent book, Celluloid Pueblo: Western Ways Films and the Invention of the Postwar Southwest (University of Arizona Press, 2016), explores construction of regional identity through non-Hollywood moving images.