Berkeley High Jacket | Vol. CLXXVIII No. 4
Published by and for the students of Berkeley High School
Documentaries Focus on Indigenous People
Friday, October 22, 2004
By Jessica Cussins
On Saturday, October 9, at Berkeley High Schools own Florence Schwimley Little Theater, two documentaries about Indigenous Peoples were shown to the public. The event was free, except for requested donations, and was repeated at three different times throughout the day, so that many people would have the chance to attend.
The two documentaries were The Rules of the Game by Garance Burke and Monica Lam, and Shellmound by Andres Cediel. The event had a relaxed vibe and an interesting audience. After a moment of technical difficulties, the first documentary began.
An unusual question came up straight away what happens when an Indian tribes dreams of casino profits clashes with small town values? Until very recently, that was the biggest question in Rohnert Park, or the "friendly city," as it is known. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria have the right to the land of their ancestors, but when they claimed a stretch of fields in this small Californian town, they didnt get them without a fight. The documentary presented both sides of the issue. When asked her own views, Monica Lam replied that she was much more interested in showing all aspects of the issue rather than taking sides.
The second documentary was of a much different nature, and its topic was closer to home. Many BHS students are familiar with Bay Street, the Emeryville shopping center, and even shop there on weekends. For many of us, it is the closest mall around, yet few of us have ever realized that as we walk through it, we are actually walking over burial grounds. When the construction began in 1999, they were having enough trouble dealing with the toxic residue of over fifty different chemicals, including lead and arsenic, covering the entire area. The plans nearly came to a halt, though, when skeletons began appearing in the backhoe debris. The construction kept going (because after all, it was a great retail site) and in the end, 300 bodies were thrown into mass graves. Hundreds more bodies are still buried underground there today. So the next time you walk from Old Navy to Victorias Secret, or go to the food court for some popcorn shrimp, maybe you will stop to remember the indigenous people and think of their bodies still lying there, forgotten.
The two documentaries ran smoothly and I left feeling shocked but educated. They were both intriguing and well-filmed. They made me see how important these issues are and, for better or for worse, I may never be able to look at a casino or a mall in the same way. Charis Thompson, who helped the producers find the venue for the screenings, said, "Its great that BHS sponsored this event to coincide with Indigenous Peoples Day and introduced people to the powerful median of documentary film. Both films were really compelling." They were an interesting compliment to the pow-wow that took place across the street on the same afternoon, and a good way to spend an hour on a long weekend.