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Change of Representation through Documentary

Native American tribes face real struggles in the United States that are often overlooked. Tsanavi Spoonhunter, an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, is a documentary maker who hopes to portray Native Americans in a modern way.

“What I would like people to understand is that the problems we face are modern problems that are real and that are happening in the backyard of America,” Spoonhunter said.

Spoonhunter's interest in long story telling began when he attended the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. Reynolds School's commitment to diversity and community outreach made a lasting impression.

<img src = "" width = "600" height = "450" ​​alt = "A Group of students takes a photo with Dean Stavitsky of the Reynolds School of Journalism during a conference hosted by the Native American Journalism Association.
A group of students pose for a photo with Dean Stavitsky of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the Conference for Excellence in Journalism.

A distinctive school memory for Spoonhunter was when Dean Alan Stavitsky spoke to students in the Native American Journalism Association's student newsroom during an Excellence in Journalism conference. Professor Myrton Running Wolf was also hired as a faculty member during her final semester at the school in 2017, allowing for greater representation of Native Americans in institutional spaces.

"The Reynolds School is making an effort to really look at the student body and what they can improve, which I think is great."

After his time at Reynolds School, Spoonhunter began work on his master's degree at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. While there, he followed the Supreme Court case of Herrera v. Wyoming. In the case, the court ruled that the members of the Montana Crow tribe had the right to hunt on vacant land in Wyoming, as part of an earlier treaty.

Spoonhunter's documentary "Crow Country: Our Right to Food Sovereignty" follows different tribal members in the Crow Indian Reservation, including Clayvin Herrera (Crow name: Sparrows Tracks Are Clear), the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case.

"The Crow reservation is fighting to maintain food security," he said. " The wish Employment is very high on this reservation and it has been difficult for many members of the tribe, so my film explores what different members of the tribe are doing to overcome this. "

The film, Spoonhunter's graduate school thesis, won the Best Documentary Short Film award at the 45th American Indian Film Festival of the American Indian Film Institute in Fall 2020.

As a Native American, Spoonhunter had the advantage of gaining the trust of people in the story, allowing her to share her experiences in an authentic way.

"There are similarities, even though I am registered with a different tribe," he said. "Going there, people already had a certain level of trust with me, which was really helpful in terms of this rapid turnaround that I had for the documentary."

“Crow Country” highlights the hardships many people have experienced on the reservation in recent years. In 2019, the only grocery store on the reservation burned down and the owner decided not to rebuild. He was able to interview the store owner and tour the damaged building as the setting for the film.

According to Spoonhunter, many members of the tribe were happy to share their stories in the documentary.

" Many times, being a member of a tribe on a reservation, people are overlooked. "

Showing Native Americans under a modern, non-stereotypical light and conveying the harsh realities these communities face were the main reasons why Spoonhunter decided to dedicate himself to making documentaries.

media and cinema is inaccurate, "he said." Many people don't realize that the natives are modern people with modern problems, but we still have that connection to our historical culture. "

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