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February 8, 2002
Volume 39, No. 10

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In their own voice: Native Americans address substance abuse in UI videos
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In their own voice: Native Americans address substance abuse in UI videos

 
  
 
  In the videos Sucker Punched and Nagi Kicopi: Calling Back the Spirit, Delaney Apple (top) and other Native Americans relate how substance abuse has plagued their communities. University of Iowa filmmakers traveled to a reservation in South Dakota, first to build trust in the community and establish relationships and then to conduct the interviews.

With the Black Hills of South Dakota rolling serenely behind him, a young Native American man and former gang member named Delaney Apple recounts an incident that changed his life: the night he shot and killed his best friend.

Captured in a 27-minute video titled Sucker Punched, produced by the UI Video Center and the Prairielands Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC), Apple details his living nightmare.

He was drinking heavily at a party while carrying a revolver that he believed to be unloaded. It wasn’t, and when his friend asked to see it, Apple obliged. As he handed it over, he cocked the gun and squeezed the trigger, shooting his friend in the face.

The Oglala Lakota credits the tragic episode, which ultimately led to his recovery from drug and alcohol dependence, to a higher spiritual power that “sucker punched” him off of his self-destructive path. He has worked in treatment centers in Rapid City, S.D., and visits schools to warn young children about the dangers of substance abuse, which has become rampant among Native Americans.

Sucker Punched is one of two videos conceived by the Prairielands ATTC and produced at the Video Center that seek to publicly address the issue. Nagi Kicopi: Calling Back the Spirit is a 57-minute documentary that weaves oral histories showing how white men introduced alcohol to Native Americans and focuses on the challenges of substance abuse that many Native Americans face.

Both videos were screened in November at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, and Nagi Kicopi was nominated for the “Best Public Service” award. They are part of a curriculum designed by the Prairielands ATTC—based on the Iowa campus, it is one of 13 regional centers federally funded through the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Anne Helene Skinstad, director of the Prairielands ATTC and assistant professor of community and behavioral health, says the videos target health care professionals.

“It’s important for them to understand the negative impact substance abuse has on Native American communities—the problem is extraordinarily serious compared to that within many other ethnic groups,” she says.

    

“Native American tradition has been continued through oral histories, and that was the concept for these videos,” Henke says. “We let people roll—they talked about how bad their situations got and what changes occurred.”

        
       

“The Plains Indians, in particular, have really struggled to keep their culture. Nagi Kicopi very clearly illustrates how alcohol jeopardizes the opportunity for them to practice their cultural traditions. It shows the role of the medicine man, the role of the elder, the role of the mother, and how decisions are made. These are all things that alcohol interferes with.”

Three other University employees who worked on the project are director/editor Steve Henke and camera person Kate Wissing, of the UI Video Center, and producer David Rosenthal, associate professor of family medicine.

“The Native American population has been pushed off to the side, they’ve been made invisible,” Rosenthal explains. “Quite often their needs are not addressed. The purpose of the videos is to reverse that, to make this a visible issue. We appreciate how open people were and how much they care about their community.”

Henke, Wissing, and Rosenthal spent six days on location in South Dakota in March 2000, building relationships, selecting subjects, and conducting interviews.

“Native American tradition has been continued through oral histories, and that was the concept for these videos,” Henke says. “We let people roll—they talked about how bad their situations got and what changes occurred. Their stories are unbelievable.”

After whittling footage for Nagi Kicopi into a “rough” cut, the team showed it to members of the Latino Native American Cultural Center as well as to students of Larry Zimmerman, an adjunct professor of anthropology.

“After one screening, a young woman who obviously was Native American came up to us with tears running down her face and told us that it reminded her of home,” Henke recalls. “That level of emotion means that our fingers were on the pulse, that we had represented the situation truthfully.”

Although Nagi Kicopi did not win the award, Henke is pleased with the final product and says the nomination was an honor in itself.

“That recognition alone is the highest compliment that could be paid to us as production staff. The festival is for films by, for, and about Native Americans, and this accolade is a great honor.”

Sucker Punched and Nagi Kicopi can be viewed at the Main Library’s Media Services Department, (33)5-5944.

Article by Sara Epstein

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