"An ambitious and, I thought, powerful and illuminating five-part series on the relentlessly tragic yet often stirring history of the American Indian unfolded on PBS stations for 90 minutes on consecutive Monday evenings from April 13 through May 11.
This unusual documentary — combining re-enactments with archival photos and films, and loaded with mostly Native American historians and talking heads, and a narrator who carried the theme of valiant yet ultimately fruitless resistance to the encroachment of the white man — took viewers from the time in 1621 when the Native Americans first encountered the Pilgrims who came aboard the Mayflower to the still-controversial siege at the historic village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, in 1973.
The mini-series, titled "We Shall Remain," is part of the broader "American Experience" documentary series produced by WGBH in Boston. In promoting the films, PBS described the series as one that focuses on pivotal, historic moments "from the Native American perspective" spanning more than 300 years of American history. It "shows how Native peoples valiantly resisted expulsion from their lands and fought the extinction of their culture" and it represents "an unprecedented collaboration between Native and non-Native filmmakers and involves Native advisors and scholars at all levels of the project."
That invocation of scholarship has become an issue for me because a group calling itself "The Wounded Knee Victims and Veterans Association" has issued a lengthy and detailed challenge to numerous aspects of the final 90-minute episode that aired last week.
The letter, dated May 10, containing that challenge is signed by nine people, seven of them Native Americans. But the lead writers are the now retired former FBI special agent in charge during the 1973 episode, Joseph H. Trimbach, and his son, John M. Trimbach. The father and son have also co-authored a book, "American Indian Mafia," which offers a sharply different and critical view of events at Wounded Knee and especially of the activities of the American Indian Movement (AIM) members who took over and occupied the village and confronted Federal agents during the 71-day siege. The title of the book mocks the name of the AIM."
Get the Story:
Michael Getler: Burying Some Questions at Wounded Knee
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