The National Archives has digitized thousands of documents, images, and movies related to Native American history and culture. This is the third in a series of blogs highlighting the records available online through the National Archives catalog.
Motion pictures featuring Native Americans were produced and collected by the federal government for a variety of reasons- documenting events or government functions, advertising, and public education.
Many films of the films available in the National Archives catalog were created in order to promote tourism. Native Americans were incorporated into many national and state parks as tourist attractions and as a result their culture was advertised alongside the natural features of the parks.
A Visit to Mesa Verde (1936)- Navajo dances
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (1937)- Blackfeet dances
Native of Glacier (1934)- Blackfeet dances
Grand Canyon National Park (1934)- Hopi women weaving and spinning
Arizona and Its Natural Resources (1939)- Apache herding cattle, Hopi making pottery and religious dolls; and Navajo herding sheep, making jewelry, weaving, and cooking
In addition to advertising, documentary films produced or collected by the federal government in the 1910s through the 1930s reflected a desire to document Native American life based on a fear that Native Americans were “disappearing” and being assimilated into the wider mainstream American culture.
Indians of North America: Conduct of Life (1913)- Traditions and dress of several tribes, including Hopi, Blackfoot, Crow, and Pueblo
Indians of North America: War Dance (1913?)- Plains Indian war dances
Navajo Indians (1936)- Navajo crafts, work, and culture
An interesting series of films documents the ceremonies surrounding the National Indian Memorial, both at the memorial’s planned location and across the country. The ground-breaking ceremony in New York coordinated with ceremonies where Native Americans pledged their loyalty to the United States were held at reservations. (Despite the pomp and circumstance, funding for the memorial never materialized and the planned site remains unused to this day.)
Inaugurating the National Indian Memorial (1913)- "Events of February 22, 1913, inauguration of National American Indian Memorial in Fort Wadsworth, New York. Shows U.S. government officials addressing Indians and ground breaking ceremony with Pres. William Howard Taft and Indian leaders."
Rodman Wanamaker Expedition of Citizenship to the North American Indian, The: Carrying the Flag and a Message of Hope to a Vanishing Race (1913)
Flag raising and allegiance ceremonies at Sioux Reservations in Montana and South Dakota,; Fort Peck Reservation, Montana; Standing Rock Reservation, North and South Dakota; and Cheyenne River Reservation, South Dakota.
In later decades of the 20th century more films began to focus on contemporary economic and social issues facing Native Americans.
["North Star II" Resupply of Alaskan Villages]- Native American coastal villages and industries in Alaska
An Approach to Indian Offender Rehabilitation- Native American cultural awareness program at Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma
We belong to the land- Promotes Forest Service and natural resource careers by emphasizing the relationship between Native Americans and the land*
Tahtonka- Plains tribes and their connection to buffalo, Ghost Dance, and Wounded Knee*
Modern Indian Medicine Men- U.S. Indian Service physician on Pima reservation southwestern U.S
A New Frontier- Agricultural issues facing southwest Native Americans
Rebuilding Indian Country (1933)- Native American life and industry in the 1930s. Vignettes feature Chippewa, Pima, and Navaho tribes.
There are also a number of films available that showcase Native American art and material culture.
Corn Dancers: United Pueblo Agency and Indian Irrigation Service (1941)- Southwestern Pueblo culture and education
Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico- Shows the school and students in class and learning Native American crafts
Tempera Painting by Quincy Tahoma, a Navajo Indian [https://catalog.archives.gov/id/94960]- Art instructional film
Ford News (1934)- Vignette of Navajo and Pueblo making sand paintings and carving
Mexico: Reeds and Palms (1941)- Mexican Indians' cultivation and use of palms and reeds
Mexico: Maguey (1941)- Uses of the maguey plant
New York, Pennsylvania, Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Moundsville, Alabama State Parks (1936)- Archaeology in Moundsville, Alabama
Temples and Peace [https://catalog.archives.gov/id/11635] (1937)- Artifacts from Moundsville, Alabama
Dolores Project archaeology ; Archaeological excavation, McPhee Reservoir area (1978)- Archaeological excavations of Anasazi sites
Of course, this blog post is far from comprehensive- for any researcher, a thorough perusal of the National Archives catalog is an absolute must. For more tips on searching for digitized records in the catalog, check out this post on Expanding Your Digital Toolkit. Researchers interested in records described in the catalog that haven’t been digitized should get in touch with the appropriate National Archives reference unit using the contact information at the bottom of the page.
*Two minute previews are available in the catalog for these films. Researchers interested in the complete films can visit the National Archives office listed in the catalog description or purchase a copy from Amazon (purchase link in the catalog description).