indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Indian Law Online Master Degree
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
Native Sun News: Documentary examines Dust Bowl of 1930s
Friday, November 16, 2012
Filed Under: Arts & Entertainment | Environment | National
More on: media, native sun news, oklahoma
 
The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.


One of many photos collected by the now-defunct federal Resettlement Administration, which was specifically created during the Dust Bowl era, this view shows Dust Bowl refugee Florence Thomson and her children camped in California in 1936. COURTESY/DOROTHEA LANGE

Upcoming PBS documentary examines Dust Bowl impact
Indians often forgotten chapter in 1930s catastrophe
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

LUBBOCK, Texas — The Public Television debut Nov. 18-19 of Ken Burns’ movie “The Dust Bowl” is expected to continue stimulating the discussion it initiated since its premiere this spring about human activities’ impact on the environment.

The two-part documentary shows how settlers in the Great Plains created a devastating 10-year drought by overcultivating what had once been stable tall-grass prairie home to buffalo grazing and the American Indian culture based on it.

“A sea of grass once the domain of Indians and buffalo disappeared beneath the blade of a plow,” narrator Peter Coyote says at the outset of the film.

Burns, The Weather Channel weatherman Al Roker, of “Wake up with Al,” and television producer-newscaster Paula Zahn are hosting a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday, Nov. 15, to broach this and other related subjects in advance of the PBS release. Entitled “Lessons from the Dust Bowl,” the Internet encounter at www.youtube.com/pbs opens at noon MST.

The live event transmitted from WNET’s studio at Lincoln Center in New York City is aimed at creating a national dialogue regarding the Dust Bowl’s legacy on both the environment and the culture of the United States.

It addresses what promoters call “a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us — a lesson we ignore at our peril.”

The film crew granted Native Sun News an advance copy of the movie during one of the most recent of numerous sneak-previews, which was at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Lubbock, not far from the center of the Dust Bowl of 1930-1940 — the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

“Until the arrival of European and American settlers in the late 19th Century, the southern Plains of the United States were predominantly grasslands, the home and hunting grounds of many Native American tribes and the range of untold millions of bison,” the website for the film notes.

“In 1930, with the Great Depression underway, wheat prices collapsed. Rather than follow the government’s urging to cut back on production, desperate farmers harvested even more wheat in an effort to make up for their losses. Fields were left exposed and vulnerable to a drought, which hit in 1932.”

In the very first minutes of the four-hour production, one of the survivors interviewed admits, “We were just too selfish and we were trying to make money. It didn’t work out.”

Other survivors interviewed detail experiences of dust storms that match dramatic visuals, coining phrases such as “pillars of dust choked out the midday sun,” “almost surreal,” “nowhere you can run, you can’t escape it.”

The exodus of migrants this generated is immortalized in John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath” and the ensuing motion picture by the same name.

Indian communities suffered as did everyone in those Depression years. Many Oklahoma Indians moved westward during the Dust Bowl, increasing the Native population in California, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The era has been the subject of recent investigation by Native Americans deprived not only of land and liberty in Oklahoma, but also of places in history books dedicated to the exodus.

A descendant of Indian Okies, San Francisco historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz can be credited with the most thorough examination of the Native American experience of the Dust Bowl, recalling it in her book “Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie.”

“Most Okies claim Indian blood,” Dunbar-Ortiz wrote in an essay entitled “Rethinking the Image and Role of the Okies.” A cornerstone of the Native American Studies program at California State University at Hayward, she noted, “The Okies were more accurately Southwestern for they came not only from Oklahoma but also surrounding states. By 1950, 4 million people or nearly a quarter of all persons born in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri, lived outside that region. A third of them settled in California while most of the others moved to Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. The best known period of this trek westward is the period of the Dust Bowl, the 1930s, when the majority of the migrants first camped, and then settled mainly in the agricultural valleys of California.”

Following in Dunbar-Ortiz’s footprints, San Francisco researcher Remy Cox raised sufficient funds in 2011 for a narrative “about my family’s part in the Okie migration to California and my reverse migration to prove our Native American heritage.”

In her account “Indian Blood Along the Dust Bowl Trail,” based on a journey to Oklahoma, she relates how the Cox family role “was part of the Okie migration to California” in the 1930s. “The Coxes moved out west in a rusted Ford flatbed along with thousands of other migrant workers,” she said.

Her grandfather, known as “Pop,” and his four brothers and sisters picked cotton along the way and slept in the Ford at night. “School was a luxury, but Pop’s mom enrolled him every time the family stopped to work. At the tender age of 12, he learned two things fast,” she said. “The first was that life was hard in a migrant family. The second? The only thing worse than being an Okie was having Indian blood.”

In the precursor to Burns’ picture, the spellbinding 1936 Dust Bowl classic film “The Plow that Broke the Plains,” the U.S. Resettlement Administration illustrates how the dust storms of the decade affected 100 million acres of the southern Great Plains.

The Resettlement Administration was a New Deal federal agency that, between April 1935 and December 1936, relocated struggling urban and rural families to communities planned by the federal government after dust clouds blew all the way east to Chicago, Buffalo, Boston, Cleveland, New York City and Washington, D.C., depositing tens of thousands of tons of dust.

“It was a decade-long natural catastrophe of biblical proportions,” as filmwriter Timothy Egan describes it, “the worst manmade ecological disaster in American history, when the irresistible promise of easy money and the heedless actions of thousands of farmers encouraged by their government resulted in a collective tragedy.

“It’s a classic tale of human beings pushing too hard against nature and nature pushing back.”

When it premiered at the 34th Telluride Mountainfilm Festival in May, The Daily Sentinel newspaper of Grand Junction, Colo., described Burns as “one of the most well-known documentary filmmakers of the past 20 years … synonymous with an archival style and a passion for historical and environmental topics.”

Accompanying his latest film is a study guide entitled “The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History,” written by historian Dayton Duncan with a preface by Burns and published by Chronicle Books.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)


Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Tim Giago: Oglala Sioux people aren't afraid to say no to easy cash (9/1)
Native Sun News: Release of secret uranium mining data ordered (9/1)
Jennie Stockle: A safe space for opponents of offensive mascotry (9/1)
John Christian Hopkins: A big thank you to the friend I never met (9/1)
Opinion: Federal recognition only means more casinos in California (9/1)
Native Sun News: Tribes walk out of contract support cost meeting (8/29)
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe spends $2.4M on property (8/29)
Mike Johanns: Retracing steps of great Ponca Chief Standing Bear (8/29)
Steven Newcomb: Racist mascot a sign of deeper problems in US (8/29)
Lauren Jones: Affordable Care Act benefits Native Americans too (8/29)
Gila River Indian Community to see $77.6M from Cobell buy-back (8/29)
Energy boom linked to rise in human trafficking in Indian Country (8/29)
Navajo man heads up Native American Homelessness Task Force (8/29)
9th Circuit hears case over Yakama Nation tobacco manufacturer (8/29)
WAER: ICWA matters handled in 'kangaroo courts' in South Dakota (8/29)
MPR: Red Lake Nation opposes liquor license near dry reservation (8/29)
Tule River Tribe helps remove marijuana operation on reservation (8/29)
Omaha Tribe signs agreement with EPA to improve utility services (8/29)
Las Vegas Paiute Tribe rejected 'gift' from NFL team's foundation (8/29)
KPLU: Spokane Tribe maintains close ties with baseball franchise (8/29)
Opinion: HUD loan program a small step to boost Indian housing (8/29)
DNA study finds distinct population of Native people in Arctic area (8/29)
Tribes closely watching Big Lagoon Rancheria casino land dispute (8/29)
Tohono O'odham Nation to build off-reservation casino in phases (8/29)
State questions Forest County Powatatomi Tribe's slot machines (8/29)
Quapaw Tribe eyes local support for commercial casino in Kansas (8/29)
Native Sun News: Police officers who shot Indian teen get medals (8/28)
Cara Cowan Watts: Laying the groundwork for college scholarship (8/28)
Rudolph Ryser: Indigenous nations need leverage to bring change (8/28)
DOI extends $100M in Cobell buy-back offers on two reservations (8/28)
Cobell buy-backs could return over 38K acres to tribe in Montana (8/28)
Five-year-old Navajo boy sent home from school for his long hair (8/28)
Three charged with murder for death of Mississippi Choctaw man (8/28)
Lummi Nation seeks cooperation after ruling in treaty rights case (8/28)
Artist Gregg Deal takes on Indian mascots for performance piece (8/28)
Sports announcer won't use Washington NFL team's name on air (8/28)
Recruiter from Spokane Tribe's college selected for Peirone Prize (8/28)
California tribes support release of water to benefit salmon runs (8/28)
Southern Ute Tribe invests $2B in big energy production system (8/28)
County hires lobbying firm to oppose federal recognition reforms (8/28)
Tohono O'odham Nation breaks ground for off-reservation casino (8/28)
Cherokee Nation starts construction on casino at Indian allotment (8/28)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe responds to opponents in casino suit (8/28)
Jamul Band continues work on $360M casino after victory in court (8/28)
Editorial: Forest County Potawatomi Tribe ups ante in casino feud (8/28)
Ho-Chunk Nation launches outreach effort amid casino expansion (8/28)
Nebraska Supreme Court hears arguments over gaming initiative (8/28)
Tim Giago: Greedy lawyers and government ruin Cobell settlement (8/27)
Native Sun News: Facility in Montana set to house Indian inmates (8/27)
Gerald Gipp: National strategy needed to reform Indian education (8/27)
9th Circuit won't stop repatriation of Kumeyaay Nation ancestors (8/27)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation puts youth to work for summer (8/27)
Gabe Galanda: Academia won't tackle tribal disenrollment issue (8/27)
Misty Lynn Ellingburg: 'Four Winds' is a literary magazine for us (8/27)
Declination rates for Indian Country crime steady for third year (8/27)
DOJ awards grants to address violence in Bakken energy region (8/27)
Another pipeline spills saltwater on reservation in North Dakota (8/27)
Navajo voters oust incumbent president Ben Shelly in primary (8/27)
Once rival factions of Chukchansi Tribe agree to 2015 election (8/27)
more headlines...


Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.