The Cousin Collective was formed in 2018 by Adam Piron, Alex Lazarowich, Sky Hopinka and Adam Khalil. The question of how to find other Indigenous filmmakers who are making work that is experimental and exciting was where we began. How to support and share their films is where we’re at now. The programs in the Cousins and Kin series are a culmination and a survey of the moving images we’ve curated individually and collectively over the years.
program curated by Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil
program online June 16–July 15, 2021
For Indigenous peoples, the camera is a dangerous weapon, one that has been wielded against them since the device’s inception. Anthropology’s obsession with preserving images of so-called vanishing cultures, through ethnographic films or, relatedly, archives filled with boxes of ancestral remains, has long been a tool used to colonize and oppress Indigenous peoples.
By relegating Indigenous identities to the past and forcing Indigenous people to authenticate themselves through this past, their existence as contemporary individuals living in a colonized land is denied. It is in this sense that ethnography confines Indigenous agency.
The ethnographer’s encapsulating gaze ignores the fact that, for Indigenous communities, tradition is not an immutable set of truths handed down by revelation, but a set of ever-evolving social practices whose continuity cannot be repaired by preservation, only elaborated through struggle and, finally, achieved under conditions of genuine self-determination. In the works assembled for this screening, the power of Indigenous people claiming the camera for themselves is explored. (Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil)
SCREENING: Land Acknowledgment (2021) by New Red Order; digital video, color, sound, 3 minutes. Sioux Ghost Dance (1894) by W.K.L. Dickson/Thomas Edison; 35mm screened as digital video, black & white, silent, 1 minute. Welcome to the Third World (2014) by Guillermo Gómez-Peña; digital video, color, sound, 1 minute. Auntie Beachress—Are You Looking at Me? (2015) by Tonia Jo Hall; digital video, color, sound, 1 minute. Overweight with Crooked Teeth (1997) by Shelley Niro; screened as digital video, color, sound, 5 minutes. Instant Identity Ritual (2007) by Guillermo Gómez-Peña; digital video, color, sound, 2 minutes. Alphabet City Serenade (1992) by Diane Burns; screened as digital video, color, sound, 2 minutes. Bizarre Thanksgiving Performance Ritual (2013) by Guillermo Gómez-Peña; digital video, color, sound, 2 minutes. Auntie Beachress—Lakota Language Challenge (2015) by Tonia Jo Hall; digital video, color, sound, 1 minute. wawa (2014) by Sky Hopinka; digital video, color, sound, 6 minutes. Auntie Beachress—Only Boring People Get Bored (2014) by Tonia Jo Hall, digital video, color, sound, 1 minute. Dance to Miss Chief (2010) by Kent Monkman; digital video, color, sound, 5 minutes. Native Fantasy: Germany’s Indian Heroes | Times Documentaries | The New York Times (2014) by Axel Gerdau, Erik Olsen & John Woo; digital video, color, sound, 14 minutes. The Violence of a Civilization without Secrets (2017) by Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys; digital video. Color, sound, 10 minutes. We Only Answer Our Landline (2019) by Olivia Camfield & Woodrow Hunt; digital video, color, sound, 6 minutes. Reclamation (2018) by Thirza Cuthand; digital video, color, sound, 13 minutes. Auntie Beachress—Life’s Struggles (2015) by Tonia Jo Hall; Digital video, color, sound, 1 minute.
TRT: 72 Minutes
Efforts to “decolonize” institutions are embodied in ritual acts of acknowledging Indigenous presence and claims to territory. However, without continuous commitment to serve as accomplices to Indigenous people, institutional gestures of acknowledgement risk reconciling “settler guilt and complicity” and rescuing “settler futurity”’ How can we escape this entrapment and allow acknowledgement to retain its potential to unsettle? What must we do to begin to undertake a process of endless acknowledgement? (New Red Order)
A group of Sioux Indians from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West exhibition demonstrates a dance called a “ghost dance.”
I talk. Therefore I am. (Guillermo Gómez-Peña)
Produced and directed by Shelley Niro (Mohawk) and Dan Bigbee (Comanche) and based on a poem by Niro’s brother, Michael Doxtater (Mohawk), who also “stars” in this film, Overweight with Crooked Teeth explores and questions non-Native perceptions of Indians by asking pointedly: “What were you expecting, anyway? Sitting Bull? Chief Joseph… saying ‘the earth and I are one?’” Using humor, irony, parody and wordplay, combined with special effects and Native images to puncture the stereotypes, this short film is guaranteed to generate a lot of discussion between teachers and students.
In a 1987 videotape, the poet Diane Burns, whose parents were Chemehuevi and Anishinabe, delivers a withering rebuke to settler colonialist landscapes as she strolls through desolate stretches of the Lower East Side while reciting her Alphabet City Serenade, drawing parallels between Manifest Destiny and urban gentrification. (Johanna Fateman)
Featuring speakers of chinuk wawa, an Indigenous language from the Pacific Northwest, this film begins slowly, patterning various forms of documentary and ethnography. Quickly, the patterns tangle and become confused and commingled, while translating and transmuting ideas of cultural identity, language and history. (Sky Hopinka)
Move over J.Lo and Cher! Miss Chief Eagle Testickle has a new sexy video of her club track: Dance to Miss Chief—a playful critique of German fascination with North American “Indians” that is guaranteed to make you want to get up and shake your booty! This remix of contemporary and vintage footage celebrates Miss Chief’s on-screen romance with leading man, Winnetou, fictitious “Indian” from Karl May’s German Westerns. (Kent Monkman)
Germany’s biggest folk hero is an Apache named Winnetou who fights for justice outside of Hamburg. Best-selling author Karl May, who created him, never traveled to the American West. (New York Times)
An urgent reflection on indigenous sovereignty, the undead violence of museum archives and postmortem justice through the case of the “Kennewick Man,” a prehistoric Paleo-American man whose remains were found in Kennewick, Washington in 1996. (Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys)
We Only Answer Our Land Line is an experimental essay film which explores the character of the Alien, non-linear Indigenous experience and the material specificity of digital video to resist the violence of Settler Colonialism. By layering video clips we bring attention to the material specificity of digital video and we ask the audience to keep in mind the layout of the cut and uncut clips within the Premiere Pro and Photoshop timelines. (Olivia Camfield & Woodrow Hunt)
Reclamation is a documentary-style imagining of a post-dystopic future in Canada after massive climate change, wars, pollution and the after effects of the large scale colonial project which has now destroyed the land. When Indigenous people are left behind after a massive exodus by primarily privileged white settlers who have moved to Mars, the original inhabitants of this land cope by trying to restore and rehabilitate the beautiful planet they belong to. (Thirza Cuthand)
New Red Order is a public secret society facilitated by core contributors Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys. In our current period of existential and environmental catastrophe, desires for Indigenous epistemologies increase and enterprising settlers labor to extract this understanding as if it were a natural resource. New Red Order—emerging out of contradistinction from the Improved Order of Red Men, a secret society that “plays Indian”—calls attraction toward indigeneity into question, yet promotes this desire, and enjoins potential non-Indigenous accomplices to participate in the co-examination and expansion of Indigenous agency.
Guillermo Gómez-Peña is a performance artist, writer, activist, radical pedagogue and artistic director of the performance troupe La Pocha Nostra. Born in Mexico City, he moved to the US in 1978, and since 1995, his three homes have been San Francisco, Mexico City and “the road.” His performance work and books have contributed to the debates on cultural, generational and gender diversity, border culture and North/South relations.
Tonia Jo Hall (Lakota) I am Lakota, Dakota, and Hidatsa. It is important for me to teach my daughters their identity and learning the language is a key component in that. I have danced jingle ever since I could walk and to this day I travel across Indian country, from powwow to powwow. From a powwow baby to powwow addict. I began making YouTube videos in 2010. I continue to make new content that relates to our Native American people. In 2011 I made the decision to pursue standup comedy. I am grateful I am able to spread happiness to others, this is what gives me joy, and this is what inspires me to continue to chase this dream. I love being Native American and I believe that we all should be proud of who we are as Native people. This is why I make YouTube videos. It allows me to reach out to my people, to teach them to smile, think positively, and spread laughter.
Shelley Niro (Mohawk) is a photographer, painter, sculptor, bead worker, multimedia artist and independent filmmaker. She is a member of the Turtle Clan at Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario. Niro’s work has been shown across Canada, the USA and internationally.
Diane Burns (Chemehuevi and Anishinabe) was born in Lawrence, Kansas to a Chemehuevi father and an Anishinabe mother. She grew up in Riverside, California where her parents taught at a Native American boarding school. When she was ten, her family moved to the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in Wisconsin and later to Wahpeton, North Dakota where her parents taught at another boarding school. Burns was educated at Barnard University. In the 1980s, she became a member of the Lower East Side poetry community, reading her work at the Bowery Poetry Club, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. Along with Allen Ginsberg, Joy Harjo and Pedro Pietri, she was invited by the Sandinista government to visit Nicaragua for the Ruben Dario Poetry Festival.
Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga) was born and raised in Ferndale, Washington and spent a number of years in Palm Springs and Riverside, California, Portland, Oregon, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In Portland he studied and taught chinuk wawa, a language indigenous to the Lower Columbia River Basin. His video, photo and text work centers around personal positions of Indigenous homeland and landscape, designs of language as containers of culture expressed through personal, documentary, and non fiction forms of media. He received his BA from Portland State University in Liberal Arts and his MFA in Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and currently teaches at Bard College in Film and Electronic Arts.
Kent Monkman (Cree) is an interdisciplinary visual artist. A member of Fisher River Cree Nation in Treaty 5 Territory (Manitoba), he lives and works in Dish With One Spoon Territory (Toronto, Canada). Known for his provocative interventions into Western European and American art history, Monkman explores themes of colonization, sexuality, loss and resilience—the complexities of historic and contemporary Indigenous experiences—across painting, film/video, performance, and installation. Monkman’s gender-fluid alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle often appears in his work as a time-traveling, shape-shifting, supernatural being who reverses the colonial gaze to challenge received notions of history and Indigenous peoples.
Adam Khalil (Ojibway) is a filmmaker and artist who lives and works in Brooklyn. His practice attempts to subvert traditional forms of ethnography through humor, relation and transgression. Khalil’s work has been exhibited at Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, Sundance Film Festival, the Walker Arts Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Khalil has received various fellowships and grants, including Flaherty Professional Development Fellowship, Gates Millennium Scholarship, Sundance Art of Nonfiction, Sundance Institute Indigenous Film Opportunity Fellowship and UnionDocs Collaborative Fellowship. Khalil received his BA from Bard College.
Zack Khalil (Ojibway) is a filmmaker and artist from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, currently based in Brooklyn. His work often explores an Indigenous worldview and undermines traditional forms of historical authority through excavating alternative histories and innovative documentary forms. He completed a BA at Bard College in the Film and Electronic Arts Department and is a Gates Millennium Scholar and UnionDocs Collaborative Fellow.
Jackson Polys (Tlingit) is a visual artist who seeks to dissolve artificial boundaries between perceptions of traditional Native art forms, practices and contemporary life and whose practice reflects an inquiry into the limits and viability of desires for indigenous growth. Prior to pursuing his undergraduate education in New York he worked as Alaska-based artist Stron Softi, with solo exhibitions at the Alaska State Museum and the Anchorage Museum, and has been engaged by museums seeking replacements for repatriated works.
Olivia Camfield is a multimedia movement artist from Mvskoke nation. Her work focuses on intricacies of mixed-Indigenous identities, promoting Indigenous futurism, and continued education of all settlers on systematic erasing of Indigenous people, languages, sacred sites and ancestral life ways.
Woodrow Hunt Woodrow Hunt is a Klamath, Modoc and Cherokee artist. His work focuses on experimental films which explore the functions and relationship between digital video and memory. His production company Tule Films works within the Indigenous community of Portland, Oregon specifically in education.
Thirza Cuthand (Cree) was born in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1978 and grew up in Saskatoon. Since 1995 she has been making short experimental narrative films about sexuality, madness, Queer identity and love, and Indigeneity which have screened in festivals internationally including in the Tribeca Film Festival; Mix Brasil Festival of Sexual Diversity; ImagineNATIVE, Toronto; Frameline, San Francisco; Outfest, Los Angeles and the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival. Her 2020 video game Bipolar Disorder is available for download at www.originstories.dev. She is a non-binary Butch boy who uses She/They pronouns. She is of Plains Cree and Scots descent, a member of Little Pine First Nation and resides in Toronto.
Cousins and Kin is presented with the generous support of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.