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Mendota Mdewakanton Newsletter

PBS series ‘We Shall Remain’ hopes to shed light on American Indian heroes

Filmmaker Chris Eyre recently visited an American Indian school in Oregon . Part Cheyenne and part Arapaho, the award-winning director asked the young students to name their heroes.

A hand went up. The first hero named was P. Diddy.

“That’s great,” Eyre said. “I like P. Diddy. I listen to his music sometimes. Well, I’m thinking of a native hero. Who are your heroes?”

Another hand went up. The next hero was Tiger Woods.

“That’s getting closer,” Eyre told them. “OK, that’s getting there.”

He believes these students and the rest of the country will get even closer after seeing the five-part “American Experience” documentary series “We Shall Remain.” Directed by Eyre and Ric Burns, these 90-minute PBS films explore history from the American Indian perspective.

The first installment, the Eyre-directed “After the Mayflower,” begins in 1620 with the arrival of English settlers in New England . It airs at 9 p.m. Monday on WVIZ Channel 25 and WEAO Channel 49.

American Experience

What: “We Shall Remain” is a five-part documentary series about the Ameri can Indian experience.

When: 9 p.m. Monday (remaining chapters air at 9 p.m. Mondays through May 11).

Where: PBS (WVIZ Channel 25 and WEAO Channel 49).

The remaining four installments air at the same time on Mondays through May 11: “Tecumseh’s Vision” (April 20), focusing on the Shawnee leader’s attempts to create an independent American Indian state; “Trail of Tears” (April 27), examining the story of the Cherokee Nation; “Geronimo” (May 4), looking at the Apache leader; and “Wounded Knee” (May 11), documenting the 1973 standoff. Channel 49 will air its ” One State — Many Nations: Native Americans in Ohio ” at 10:30 p.m. Monday, following the premiere of “After the Mayflower.”

“It’s hard to get away from the tragedy when you tell this kind of story,” Eyre said. “But I think there are so many heroes within the characters here. . . . This is not a series about oppression.”

It is a series about getting away from the usual stereotypes of American Indians being presented as either fierce warriors or peaceable lovers of the land.

“American history is often presented in extremes, either a bright story of freedom, an opportunity, or a dark one of dispossession and subjugation,” said Mark Samels, executive producer of “American Experience.” “It’s seldom that simple. Nowhere is this more true than in the story of Native Americans.”

Burns, the writer and director behind such PBS projects as “The Way West” and ” New York : A Documentary Film,” grew up in Michigan , eight miles from the town of Tecumseh . As a boy, he had no idea why the town was named Tecumseh.

“Tecumseh, I believe, is a hero just not to Native Americans, but should be seen as a hero to all Americans,” Burns said. “The story of Tecumseh is a story of a man in the generation after the Revolution who upheld the principles of the Revolution — love of country, love of liberty, the love of the right to self-determination.”

The challenge for Burns is to make the history heartfelt and accurate: “You don’t want to just replace a kind of counterhistory for history. You want to get at the truth . . . Every one of our programs, up to the ears, was absolutely vetted for accuracy and plausibility . . . As a filmmaker, I have to say that the biggest challenge for any project is bringing the past alive . . . It’s dead until that spark leaps from the past and from the dry documents and the statistics, and is reignited in somebody’s heart.”