An interview here by Jake Bowers a Romany Gypsy journalist and political activist who was one of the people that made my latest video possible. He interviews Larry Ground and Leon Rattler, two members of The Crazy Dog Society (some of our collaborators on the Blackfeet Reservation) about their take on the "Alive" video- here it is...
The music video Alive has provoked controversy among some Native Americans because of it's depiction of a traditional Blackfeet Sundance. Others have accused the film's directors and producers of creating"poverty porn" that glamorises the use of meth amphetamine and exploits the people of the town of Browning at the heart of the Blackfeet Reservation. The video's associate producer Jake Bowers, asked two spiritual elders of the traditional Blackfeet society the Crazy Dog Society Larry Ground and Leon Rattler why they actively helped a team of British filmmakers depict their ceremonies and most pressing social problems in order to illustrate a British Drum and Bass music video.
Before he gives his view on the controversy, Leon Rattler explains why it was so important to the Crazy Dog Society to talk about the issue of substance abuse. "Because of physical and mental abuse, self medicating has been a big issue for our community since the coming of the white man until today. As a result, Native Americans have become the most underprivileged community you can now find in the United States."
"We've had no help from anyone, so we now have to fight for ourselves. By the late 50s there was massive alcoholism here and then it was hard drugs. We have had to relearn who are we are as a people." He describes how his community is now contending with an epidemic of Meth Amphetamine use which is killing off it's youth.
By working on a video whose main character turns from Meth dealing and addiction to traditional Blackfeet spirituality to turn his life around, the members of Crazy Dog Society had come across a story that encapsulated the struggle they live everyday.
"The Crazy Dogs Society is an organisation that keeps blackfeet culture alive." says Leon. "We maintain the core spiritual stability of the culture. We are highly educated individuals. We travel around all over the country helping our community in the fight against addiction." Just as in the video, they use traditional blackfeet culture and spirituality to get their kids off of drugs. The voice of another Crazy Dog Society elder Rick Ground, who oversaw the authenticity of the depiction of a sweat lodge and Sundance ritual on his family land, narrates the video.
Larry believes that some people who are upset by the video are wrongly drawing parallels between the Alive video and the 1970 film A Man Called Horse in which the character of an English aristocrat called John Morgan, played by the actor Richard Harris, completes a Sundance in what was billed at the time as "the most electrifying ritual ever seen." He believes the video is the opposite of the film. Not just because it doesn't depict a white character becoming an "indian warrior" but because it shows a lost Native American youth powerfully embracing his traditional culture.
Larry Ground has little time for the video's critics. "This video has indian actors and characters in it. A lot of people are in denial about that. They have no clue about what life is like here and they are taking shots in the dark." Underlining his community's sovereign right to represent it's own ceremonies and challenges as they wish, he says. "We are the ones on the front line here, fighting every day to turn lives around. They have no idea what it's like to live in a highly impoverished community blighted by starvation and relying on handouts. Instead of criticising what we've done they should donate some money to help us in our battle against drugs. They have no idea what they are talking about. They don't realise. We are in the fight. We pray and sweat. We are in the fight against abuse and alcohol every single day."
Larry says the reaction on the reservation could not be more different than that in the twitter sphere. I ask him how the video has been received on the reservation. "It was everything that I expected and more. It has brought tears to the eyes of the people here. They love it." he says. "Because our old people know who we are and what we are trying to do, and the old people love it. This has made such an impact. I think this video should get grammies and oscars!".
The track is being played on the local radio and the video is even being used to support drug education by the Blackfeet Tribal Council's own Meth treatment programme.
The Crazy Dog Society members also say that it's nothing new to depict and film Sundances either. Larry says it was first photographed as early as 1934 or perhaps as early as 1918. Nevertheless he says he continues to pray and consult his ancestors and they have long given their blessing to show blackfeet culture to the world if it helps future generations of the community.
He adds: "Its OK for us to show that what we have is real, because we are in the middle of the battle. This video is a cry for help, because we need backing to fight drugs." He reassures me that by producing the Alive video at the heart of the Blackfeet reservation we have nothing to regret and everything to be proud of. "You have come here and contributed to what we are doing with money and the film," says Larry.
But he says bigger questions remain. Having willingly opened a window on their world, The Crazy Dogs want everybody who views, benefits from or criticises the Alive video to join the Crazy Dog Society in their work. "I'd like to know how the band and record company will benefit from this video." says Leon. "Will they now contribute to our work or tribal drug programmes? Will the bloggers who are moaning about it each give a donation to help what we are trying to do?" As ever, the greatest loyalty the Crazy Dogs have is to their own.
He's right of course. When your kid is a meth addict self medicating away the pain of hundreds of years of collective abuse, debating the nuances of the film representation of Native Americans is a distant concern. A cry for help is meaningless, after all, unless it is answered. It's time all of us who have watched this video, put our money where our mouths, our eyes and our heads have been.