Arts & Entertainment | National

Native Sun News: Film brings Native philosophy to mainstream

The following story was written and reported by Christina Rose, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

In a new film, Eagle Lake, Actor Saginaw Grant brings Native philosophies to the general public.

Film brings Native philosophy to mainstream
By Christina Rose
Native Sun News Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Calif.—Actor Saginaw Grant, Meskwaki, is in the rare position of sharing the limelight with Johnny Depp in the Lone Ranger and beginning work on another Hollywood film, “Eagle Lake,” which will explore the wisdom of a respected Native elder.

Making films has given Grant an outlet to share the wisdom he received from his own grandparents and his personal experiences. “When I was growing up, I never imagined myself to be doing what I am doing now, but it happened in a way that gives me a way to talk to people. And some people listen to you, and some retain what is said.”

“Eagle Lake” is now in the earliest stages of pre-production after eight years of planning.

“The new film project has universal themes; it’s basis is bringing people, both children and adults, back to the basics of listening to our elders and remembering traditions,” Casting Director Lani Melisa said. “When they asked me to be the casting director, the script brought my attention to the story, that family it is so important. It’s about trying to bring people together and coming from Native philosophy of an elder.”

Melisa said the story embraces all people and has a very positive message.

She is also hoping the film will bring about a better understanding of Native American cultures, and will hopefully remove some of the misunderstandings and racism Native people encounter.

According to Melisa, Grant was responsible for the casting of Actors Mariana Tosca, who starred in “Christmas in the Clouds” opposite Graham Greene, M. Emmet Walsh and Wes Studi, among other films, and Rick Mora, Yaqui, of “Twilight”. Grant had called Mora directly to be interviewed for this role, and Mora responded, "I will be there,” Melisa said. “When I asked Rick if he would be interested in the role, his answer was, ‘When an elder asks you to do something, you never ask a question or turn it down. You just show up."

With that answer, Grant knew he wanted Mora to be cast,” Melisa said. “Both of these actors have the kind of thinking that our ancestors taught us; their love for family and humanity, and most of all respect for all people not just Native people.”

“The story is a universal message about family, tradition and culture coming from a Native philosophy,” Melisa said, adding that the movie does not identify any particular tribe. What Grant and Speiss agreed upon is that the "Native American" philosophy is for everyone.

“The Native people are my main concern,” Grant said. “Respect your culture, be open with everything and everybody, and be honest so people come to believe in what you are saying. Way down deep we all have spirituality.”

Throughout the interview, Grant expressed many feelings about the film and his life. At 76, he remembers with great sadness the beatings he endured at boarding school. His greatest sadness is that the school caused him to lose his language. However, he has found his life’s purpose fulfilled by carrying out his responsibility as an elder, reminding youth to remember their traditions, and hoping this film will also remind people from every walk of life to remember what is important.

Prior to this film, Grant had worked on a shorter film with Writer/Director Raymond Speiss, who had been the Supervisor of the television show, “The Sopranos.” Speiss has worn many hats in the film industry but one day found himself driving down the highway in Los Angeles, sitting in traffic for hours, and suddenly wondered if the original people of the land could ever have imagined what L.A. would look like today. From that, a short film called, “Dreamer” was born.

In “Dreamer”, Grant played an Apache man who, while riding his horse across the desert in the early 1600s, was suddenly was struck by a vision of the future, complete with genocide, wars, machinery, artillery, and all of the worst that the world has suffered.

“That was the first time I directed and wrote,” Speiss said. The film was accepted into Sundance Film Festival, in the Native Forum category. It was also screened at the American Indian Festival in San Francisco, and festivals in Malibu, Long Beach, and Berkeley. The film did well, picking up awards at each festival. Speiss said, “My father is Yaqui and when I went into the service, in the mid ‘70s that was when the tribe was recognized. My father was not connected to his culture, and at that point in my life we didn’t know the connection to our past.”

Speiss recognized that as time goes on and generations go on, “little pieces of our tradition and culture get lost along the way.” And that is the premise that starts the film. “Now it’s a fight to get kids away from the computer and get them to go fishing, or just get out in nature. Tribes all over are losing their languages and connections with grandma and grandpa. That’s why Saginaw and I are pushing to get this film made.”

Throughout the film, there are many messages Grant hopes will reach the world at large. “The concept of “Dreamer” was about an elder going out to the desert and he went to sleep, and he dreamed about all the negative things that happened here. He met his creator and he met himself. But everything that happened, all of the negativity, could be prevented if people relate and talk to one another. We are just people, we are living creatures. I don’t run down the government or people; it happened in the past. If we do that, we are going to make ourselves feel bad,” Grant said.

While the script is filled with wisdom common to indigenous philosophy, much of it is not very common to the rest of the world, and Grant is hoping people will listen. “In California, we have the beautiful sun. This morning I said, ‘Good morning, Grandpa Sun. (In the film) that is what I am going to teach this man. But this young man in real life, he knows already, he minds his folks. I met the family, and they speak their language.”

Grant said that he has hopes the new film, “Eagle Lake,” will make a difference, reminding children how important it is to listen to their elders. “I am no different than you or any family,” Grant said. “The important thing is always be helpful to someone, complement each other, don’t look at the bad things people do. If we just stop and think about what we have in life, we would be happy. Life should be appreciated, and it kind of makes me sad to understand what we are doing to ourselves. We can change it if we put our minds to it.”

The film also reminds people to listen to and care for Mother Earth. Grant said, “Eventually there will be no more oil. Nothing lasts forever. We have this climate change; gramma is caving in and taking homes. I am thinking it might be too late but I hope not.”

The company is in the process of raising funds and hopes to begin pre-production in early August, and to begin shooting in September. There are still roles that are open and casting will continue. To see which roles are being cast and to follow the films process, visit Eagle Lake on Facebook, at

(Contact Christina Rose at

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

Join the Conversation