Screening Indigeneity

For the last two years I’ve designed and delivered a day to our cohort on Indigenous Cinema  – this year called  Screening Indigeneity, in collaboration with the Artistic Director of the Native Spirit Foundation.

The academic day led into a free evening screening open to the public to encourage informal interaction with the University around this subject.

There is a complex and difficult history around naming groups of peoples arising not only from Western colonial thinking, but anywhere in the world where groups of people in close and historical cultural relation to their land have been rapidly supplanted by others, and where ownership of land shifts due to invasion, or other catastrophes.

So why describe people as Indigenous at all? There is no one general term that everyone agrees to, but looking at the issue globally, nationally and locally may help.

On a global level “Indigenous” describes peoples internationally with the same kind of relationship to their land, and to a majority culture, with whom they share common concerns. Human rights organisations use it eg World Resources Institute reports “Landmark, the first online, interactive global platform to map lands collectively held and used by Indigenous Peoples and communities” helps collectively in lands rights activism and environmental battles,  IWGIA  uses “indigenous”, Amnesty International Indigenous peoples.  The UN, after around 25years work with peoples around the world adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).

Nationally different countries describes First Peoples differently, for different reasons. In one publication the Gulanga Good Practice Guides: Preferences in terminology when referring to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in  the A.C.T. region of Australia:

Be aware that some, if not many, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples are dissatisfied with the term ‘Indigenous’.

yet elsewhere in the country more recently “Indigneous Australians” is growing in acceptance. What is acceptable changes over time and within different communities. Also some language is encoded in law by the majority culture, so that embeds words into the culture that do not respond to cultural shifts over time.

For instance, in India there are over 700 groups of First Peoples, many of whom are not recognised in the Constitution, so they are excluded from contesting rights to land claims and crucially on state recognised identity i.e. they are disappeared legally.  Some refer to Indigenous peoples as adivāsi, others within India are opposed to this word, and it also means different things within the country. Those Indigenous peoples who are recognised by the state are legally called “Scheduled Tribes” and in a further complication, according to IWGIA:

“India voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on the condition that after independence all Indians are indigenous. Therefore, it does not consider the concept of “indigenous peoples”, and therefore the UNDRIP, applicable to India.”

Locally, self-identification is paramount. Working Effectively with Indigenous People by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc in Canada advise:

“If the community uses its ancestral name then use it rather than the Anglicized version.”

People have a right to be named as they wish to be identified.

Article 13 ofThe United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognises:

“Article 13 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons”


Here’s the schedule of the day below, and the programme of the evening screenings with information on the filmmakers attached.


I’d like to thank  Tweed the Artistic Director and curator of the Native Spirit Foundation film for all her input and hard work – she has put together a fantastic programme for this evening from 5 – 8pm (it is open to the public and invitees) and Tweed also put me in touch with our visiting speakers this afternoon from Lista Calista Films, Mixtec Mexican filmmakers Armando Bautista Garcia & Itandehui Jansen and also organised the Q&A with Trevor Carroll this evening.

WHY are we screening Indigneity?

According to the UN ”Indigenous peoples account for most of the world’s cultural diversity. “Throughout the world there are approximately 370 million indigenous peoples occupying 20per cent of the earth’s territory. It is also estimate that they represent as many as 5,000 different indigenous cultures” and in evolutionary terms, diversity is the key to survival. Indigenous Australia is the oldest living continuous culture so I believe there’s a lot to learn from people who have survived and thrived in a hostile natural environment and survived hostile man made environments like invasion and genocide.

Indigenous people bear the brunt of the environmental battles against corporations and governments on all our behalves, we all rely on the continued existence of natural environments like the Amazon, that support life.

You could see it as an effort to decolonise our curriculum. You may have heard of the row that erupted last year in Oct. around the Cambridge University English faculty when students asked if they could examine ways of decolonisation by incorporating more black and minority ethnic voices into their reading list – “new ways of seeing the canon”.. The Telegraph wrote a misleading article about it and the young woman who wrote the open letter became the subject of a hate campaign on social media. It’s quite sobering to see how little you have to do to rock the boat of the status quo to see the backlash rising up.

Or you could see Screening Indigeneity as a way of responding to the University’s commitment to upholding the Equality Act 2010.

For me, its an ongoing interrogation as a white Australian from a refugee family, now a migrant to the colonising nation, to examine our terrible history and examining the ongoing repercussions of colonialism on all survivors.


As filmmakers we know the power and responsibility of representation, and the opportunity to represent yourself and tell your own story is being illustrated by the rise of Indigenous media being made all over the world.

And as filmmakers it’s important to know how to approach the bridging between the self and others, to work out our relationships to each other together.  Ken Kirby, Course Leader will introduce his work with different Indigenous peoples, and introduce his guest James Wilson, a director of Survival International, the movement for tribal peoples, and I’m delighted too that our student Carlo Lavarini is able to share with us how he approached volunteering with a Cree Community school and how he is working out his relationships together. And I’m really grateful too to Dr Pratap Rughani the Associate Dean of Research, for joining us this morning who will be conducting a short workshop with you.

Also, as filmmakers, it’s a rare chance to see and celebrate the incredible creativity of Indigenous filmmakers. Many are using filmmaking for their own audiences as a means of education, for preserving culture or for entertainment, for political protest and some like Karrabing Film Collective from Australia are turning the lens back on the colonizers and also making media for their own purposes.

Another great example of this is Trevor Carroll, a First Nations Canadian filmmaker whose mockumentary about the scandal of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock  No Reservations is being screened tonight with a Skype Q&A, and in particular I’m delighted to be able to welcome Indigenous filmmakers into the University and hear directly from them about their lives and their work. (Lista Calista films: Armando Bautista Garcia and Itandehui Jansen).

Before we start it may help to look at a definition by the UN on Who are indigenous peoples? 

“It is estimated that there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide. Practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Spread across the world from the Arctic to the South Pacific, they are the descendants – according to a common definition – of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later became dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement or other means.”

Looking at the Creative Attributes Framework I can see that this event meets the criterion of  1. “making things happen’,  2. “showcasing abilities’ and 3.  ‘life-wide learning’.

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