San Francisco Peaks

WHEN YOUR HANDS ARE TIED



Critical Mass Film House

Deborah Nicol

April 2007

Sometimes it takes more courage to have pride in your heritage than rebel against it. Mia Bocella Hartle’s documentary explores unique lives that have learned to integrate Native American culture with modern trends.

From rap artists to punk rockers, skateboarders to break dancers, these people came to the realization that they should not be ashamed of life on the reservation. It is there that they learn of their family’s cultural heritage, and that there is no reason not to pursue their interests without infusing those teachings.

Hartle allows her interviewees the chance to tell of their personal crossroads, often in the face of drugs and failure. But they do not dwell on past transgressions; rather, they focus on the new and open lives they have created for themselves. Members of various Southwestern pueblos have discovered that reservation life is not boring – it is what you make of it.

Like many awkward kids, these folks were teased in school. Others ignorant to their cultural background shamed them into socially assimilating and silencing their native tongue. Their parents before them were forced under harsher circumstances to attend boarding schools where all references to their culture were eradicated.

The artists represented here realized that they do have a choice and took the direction of their lives into their own hands. They reconnected with elder generations and renewed interest in their tribal customs. Instead of turning to anger, they use their talents to educate younger generations. Punk and politics, rap and family combine without question.

Also represented are the more obvious educators, a medicine man and a director of American Indian studies. However, as with everyone else, they had to learn to fully accept the weight of their heritage and channel their knowledge to help others. Discovering strength in motivation and enlightenment through education, they assist in waking up the new generations to the possibilities before them.

Though this documentary is especially important as inspiration for reservation life, it could easily be extrapolated for any lost or misguided youth. These people have achieved an incredible balance between passionate careers and venerable heritage. They still take time to participate in important ceremonies, and they fully acknowledge that they act as representatives of their people. Whereas previously they may have felt shame from a misunderstood identity, they have now become role models for others to follow.

Though Hartle’s film is focused geographically, it is far-reaching in representing many pueblos and professions. Its uplifting and hopeful message of opportunity cannot be understated. Kids who have been raised in this environment, are now curious and excited about what lies ahead.

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