Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Tribes In The Media: Wampanoag and Narragansett Officials Critical Of 'We Shall Remain' Segments

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media reflects a critique of the first two segments shown in the five-part 'We Shall Remain' documentary on PBS.

Wampanoag: PBS failed to get tribe perspective
By Matthew M. Burke
The Cape Cod Times
April 23, 2009

MASHPEE — The head of the Public Broadcasting Service is rebutting criticism from local American Indian tribes that the nonprofit network did not consult tribal historic preservation officers for its TV series "We Shall Remain."

The series, which tells U.S. history from the American Indian perspective, debuted on April 13 and is scheduled to run Mondays for five episodes, said Patrick Ramirez, a spokesman for WGBH Boston.

'We Shall Remain' The first episode, "After the Mayflower," detailed the Wampanoag's dealings with the Pilgrims, among other topics.

A joint statement sent to the network by members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Narragansett Indian Tribe said that PBS did not consult them and offered a "radically altered interpretation" of Shawnee Chief Tecumseh.

The tribes also argued consultation is guaranteed through the National Historic Preservation Act because federal money was used for the project through the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"We should have been consulted," said George "Chuckie" Green, a Mashpee selectman who also serves as a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag's Tribal Historic Preservation Authority and is a medicine man in training. "It's an unauthorized version of the story."

Paula Kerger, the president and chief executive officer of PBS, defended the network's efforts to work with tribes in a written response to Green but did not return calls for comment yesterday.

The show is an American Experience Production made in conjunction with Native American Public Telecommunications for WGBH Boston, according to the show's Web site. Messages left for Native American Public Telecommunications were not immediately returned and American Experience Productions could not be reached for comment.

Green said that he had first heard about the project earlier this year. The tribes feel they should have been consulted from conception to production if the history is truly to be told "through the Indian perspective," he said.

He said that he had received Kerger's letter but had not had time to read it.

Kerger said in her letter that the filmmakers held a creative meeting in Cambridge three years ago and that Jonathan Perry, an Aquinnah Wampanoag, who was a member of Plimoth Plantation's Wampanoag Indigenous Program, was a "key participant."

Perry declined an offer to become a cultural consultant on the miniseries because of time constraints, but he did recommend a member of the Narragansett tribe, who was also affiliated with Plimoth Plantation's Wampanoag Indigenous Program's Advisory Board, Kerger said. The Narragansett tribe member, Cassius Spears, was deeply involved in the first episode of the series, she said. Spears could not be reached by the Times yesterday.

Kerger's letter — provided to the Times by WGBH and sent to Green on Tuesday — said the producers did reach out to the tribes and interviewed several tribal members, including Jessie "Little Doe" Baird of the Mashpee Wampanoag.

Baird could not be reached for comment yesterday, either.

Paula Peters, a member of the Mashpee tribe and current marketing director for Plimoth Plantation, said the living-history museum declined to work with the producers once it was clear they could not reach an understanding with the tribes.

Last year, producers of the film contacted tribe members affiliated with the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project of which Baird is founder and director and which is an entity separate from the Wampanoag tribe, Peters said.

Producers expressed interest in using the Wampanoag language in the production, Peters said. But a rift developed between them and the tribe after trusted people involved in the miniseries were replaced, she said.

Plimoth Plantation backed out when producers would not let tribe members review the final script, Peters said.

Baird's interview had already been recorded and Baird had signed a release, she said.

Peters declined to comment on the statement sent by the tribes to PBS. She said there were some wardrobe inaccuracies in the first episode but applauded the amount of interest generated by the "terrific portrayal" of King Philip's War.