Ethics in Indian Country

B.A. Haldane in his studio

The Newberry Library’s D’Arcy McNickle Center in Chicago sponsored a talk this week on indigenous views of ethics, and I was delighted to attend with first daughter Wak-o-apa (Megan).

The four presenters discussed perspectives about art, appropriation and sharing from Lakota, Hopi, Mohawk and Tsimshian vantage points.

Victor Masayesva, noted filmmaker, showed an award-winning film called Ritual Clowns (1988), which received a prize at the Chicago Film Festival. Masayesva withdrew the film following complaints from Hopi tribal members that it gave “too much information.”

“What are we protecting?” Masayesva asked, noting that the short can still be seen on the web. The film intercuts black and white footage of clowns with voice-overs that decry the savage practice.

Scholar Mique’l Dangeli asked permission of her tribal council to study B. A. Haldane’s photography. Haldane, a tribal member, was among the first to record photos of the Tsimshian people. But before Dangeli embarked on her graduate work, she felt she needed permission.

She noted that many have already studied Haldane’s photography but no one had ever asked permission. “I was holding myself accountable,” she said.

Just think, she added, how much richer the scholarship would be if researchers had approached the tribal council and wove tribal perspectives in their research rather than distancing themselves from their topics of discovery.

“That’s taking without giving back,” Dangeli said.

[Photo from


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, cinema, ethics, film, framing, Indian, Lakota, repatriation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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