Notes from the Meeting


Joshua Nelson is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Literature and Film at the University of Oklahoma.

Notes from the Meeting

Date Posted: 
2011-08-26 00:00

Blog Series:


It was wonderful to have the chance to meet folks here. Thanks to everyone for the conversations and experience, and I look forward to keeping up the dialogue! Here are my notes: These suggestions concern how discussion guides and lesson plans might be tailored for use in higher education classrooms.

  • My number one hope would be that films could be viewable by students outside of class, given the limited amount of face time I have with them in a week. Except in a class explicitly about film that has a dedicated, scheduled screening time, it’s hard for me to justify watching more than about one film a semester, and anything over half an hour is made harder still. If students could watch films through streaming, or through access with time-sensitive passwords, say, I’d excitedly assign a great, great deal more.
  • Were such streaming based on a subscription model, I think that it would find favor university-wide, with support coming from departments across campus, from research initiatives, and from resource librarians. I imagine with such a system that more revenue would come to the providers and more films to larger audiences—so it seems to me that everyone wins with a subscription scenario, but I admittedly don’t even want to think about the complexities of working out the copyright issues. The NEH digital humanities research initiatives might be a good working partner.
  • At the college level, I would be better served by discussion questions that are less reader-response oriented and more geared toward, on one hand, presentation of concrete, pertinent new information, and on the other, toward critical analysis and engagement with theoretical issues.
  • For example, discussion of marginalization in the prison video letters is superb, but it could then head toward discussion of why paying attention to the margins is a useful critical practice. From there, it could go so far as introducing students to leading theorists on the matter at hand, like Edward Said in this case. Colonialism was another great topic that was just broached, and were it explored in greater detail, the materials’ usefulness would go way up.
  • References to more pointedly academic resources, articles from scholarly journals and books and chapters from academic presses, would be especially valuable.
  • Broader social, historical, and/or cultural contextualization would be helpful: for instance, the historical timeline in the guide on the Choctaw code talkers looks great, but some of the consequences of the bullet points could be cleared up. Not all instructors will have the time to think through the ramifications from the hints offered in the lesson plans.
  • I would be less likely to use classroom activities than I would suggestions for lecture outlines or topics, e.g., historical background, social context, literary parallels (the poem included in the code talkers lesson plan was nice to see), visual elements (for which some could use background help—I think Joanna suggested a basic vocabulary of film studies analysis would be helpful, and I agree), and thematic highlights.
  • It makes sense to me to gear the lesson plans toward the most likely disciplinary audience and think about what the most likely context is in which teachers will use them. In English, I’m unlikely to show the code talkers but might use something like We Shall Remain’s “Trail of Tears” in teaching Cherokee literature. So there, for instance, I’d like to have background on, examples of, and links to Elias Boudinot’s writing. In a history class, we could link up with primary documents like the Indian Removal Act, and the Cherokee congressional petitions. In a Native American Studies class, I’d want to get put in touch with Marshall’s Supreme Court decisions, and, say, a reference to and quote from legal scholar David Wilkins on their influence in the development of what “domestic dependent nations” comes to mean.
  • I think that adjusting from writing to a general audience and instead writing to well informed plural audiences, disciplinarily speaking, would help the subject matter fit in a college class. Given the materials’ anticipated use in a college classroom, we can assume a better-informed audience, and one that we could expect to find out what they need to find out.

The following suggestions are more general.

  • Pdf documents could contain live links to outside web resources.
  • I tried some of the links in the guides and discovered they were dead. I know keeping up with this is nearly impossible, so having more stable resources like printed articles that are available through commonly held database subscription services might help.
  • The link to the Viewer discussion guides is under the “Watch” menu, and at first glance, it looks like it will head only to the catalog, not to resources. They’re a little hard to get to from the education tab. The website in general might be made more intuitive, and as with the Visionmaker on the Road program, it would help to obviate what the program wants highlighted.
  • Feature films can do much in the way of raising consciousness as well. I for one in my American Indian Film and American Indian literature classes show far more feature films and shorts than I do documentaries, as much as I love them, and students respond well to them. I’d love to see NAPT continue to expand their distribution of these.
  • If finding people, professors particularly, to write for the guides is a problem, it might help to have expanded, creative conversations about ways in which developing curriculum helps meet tenure requirements, perhaps with some addition of peer review. If that's too much doing, communicating to professors how they might fit in and present such work in the tenure dossier would be persuasive, too.
  • Perhaps at some point a published, book-length anthology about teaching these films would be useful. I haven’t seen it, but understand that Roberta Seret’s World Affairs in Foreign Films recently published with McFarland press does something like this.


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