The Violence Inherent

Native Videographers Shoot Back

INAATE/SE/ [it shines 
a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./] (2016).

He surprised me by suddenly emerging from the dense forest on my right, pointing his loaded shotgun at me. He was threatening me. At that instant by luck, I was recording a tape.

Instinctively I pointed the camera at my potential assassin as if it were a firearm, with that aggressive gesture, that imaginary threat, which we video artists use as a warning that the camera also is a dangerous weapon, as if bullets could come out of the lens.

—Juan Downey, The Laughing Alligator

Native American video artists Adam and Zack Khalil explore indigenous identity in their documentary INAATE/SE/ [it shines 
a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./], which premiered earlier this year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The Khalil brothers have spoken previously on the topic of anti-ethnography and will be presenting a screening of their film at e-flux in Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Wednesday, September 21, 2016.


Juan Downey, The Laughing Alligator, 1979. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

While doing research for a film about the history of my tribe, the Ojibway of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I discovered this video by Chilean video artist Juan Downey called The Laughing Alligator. The video chronicles the year Juan, his wife, and daughter moved to the Amazon for a year to live with the Yanomami, one of the Amazon’s most famous isolated tribes. What intrigued me about his video was not his depiction of the Yanomami, but his own brutally honest interrogation of the ethnographic impulse, and the violence inherent in his camera’s act of representation.


“Let me out of here. I want to get out of here. Let me out of this box. I want to be free.”
Juan Downey, The Laughing Alligator, 1979.

The camera is a dangerous weapon for indigenous peoples, one that has been wielded against us since its inception. Indians dancing for white audiences in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show were some of the first moving images to pass through Thomas Edison’s laboratory in 1894.


W.K.L. Dickson/Thomas Edison, Sioux Ghost Dance, 1894.

Anthropology’s obsession with preserving images of our “vanishing” cultures—through ethnographic films or archives filled with boxes of our ancestors’ remains—has long been a tool used to colonize and oppress indigenous peoples. By relegating our identities to the past and forcing us to authenticate ourselves via this past, our existence as contemporary individuals living in a colonized land is denied.


View from inside the National Museum of the American Indian’s archive, from INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./].

The anthropologist’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.


INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./].

In our tribe, the Ojibway, this struggle for self-­determination is manifested in the Seven Fires Prophecy. The Seven Fires Prophecy is a story about the history of our tribe which both predates and predicts first contact with Europeans. The story not only foretells the arrival of Europeans, but urges the Ojibway people to begin a great migration westward to avoid them. It goes on to narrativize the colonization of our people, while also providing direction for the recovery of our way of life in the future. It functions as both historical record and prophecy, and it would be added to and amended as time unfolded. The story was passed down through an oral tradition, though at different points it was also recorded as pictographs etched into birch bark.


Birch bark scroll stored in the archive of the National Museum of the American Indian, acquired by anthropologist Frances Densmore in 1913.

When the Christian missionaries came and Ojibway beliefs were outlawed, the scrolls were gathered and hidden so that our ceremonies and stories, such as the Seven Fires Prophecy, would not be lost or forgotten.


Tracing of a birch bark scroll superimposed on water, INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./].

These scrolls eventually served as inspiration to Ojibway painter Norval Morrisseau, who mimicked the stories and style of the scrolls, but instead of depicting them on birch bark, painted them in incredibly vivid colors on huge canvases. His unique style revitalized interest in the indigenous art scene in Canada, and he was dubbed the “Picasso of the North.”


Norval Morrisseau painting for the camera in a CBC documentary about his life and work.

Colorful painting by Norval Morrisseau

Norval Morrisseau, Artist and Shaman Between Two Worlds, 1980.

Morrisseau created an entirely new style of painting, while simultaneously pushing Ojibway traditions and stories into the future by adapting them to a new medium. His act of perpetuating traditions through formal innovation—rather than the anthropological act of preservation—proved a far more effective way of allowing Ojibway people to move their traditions into the future, and served as a model for our film.

We are at a cultural moment where Native videographers are able to exercise self­-determination and shoot back against the historicizing gaze of anthropology. Directly inspired by Morrisseau’s work and Juan Downey’s anti-­ethnographic sentiment, our debut feature film, INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./] is a retelling of the Seven Fires Prophecy, and an attempt to reclaim it from the archives and museums that would confine it to the past. A poem titled “Native Videographers Shoot Back,” written by our late mother and indigenous scholar, Allison Krebs, was the impetus for the film:


INAATE/SE/ [it shines 
a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./].

Native videographers are armed and dangerous:
ready willing and able to shoot back,
taking no captives,
aiming straight from the hip
to the heart of the unsuspecting audience.

Native videographers wind the thin corn silk
of storytelling genealogy –
and silence –
challenging the purposeful amnesia of American History.

Native videographers lean into and snap apart
the imaginary lines separating history from prehistory,
reach across the permeable boundaries
drawn tentatively on maps of modern nation states,
sweep aside the borders that
dot dash dot
across the terrain,
and speak in tongues to the land
who breathes a sigh of relief to hear our voices
resonating back through the once breathless silence.

Native videographers open the aperture
extending the depth of focus
beyond the doctrine of discovery,
the Papal Bulls,
manifesting a destiny of space time continuum
embedded in a metaphysic
of resonance,
persistence and
repeating itself patiently
in looped frame insistence
that while everything has changed,
nothing has.

—Allison Boucher Krebs, “Native Videographers Shoot Back”

My Revolutionary Suicide Note

“This is the suicide note. / I have been writing it a long time. In the quiet place. The lower left side of my brain.”

Except, All Of Us

“From Victorian literature to contemporary essays, poetry to pop culture TV shows, the following excerpts illustrate how the seeds for violence are planted, and the deep recesses where they take root.”