Richard Thornton | Apr 13, 2017 | 0
Eyewitness – Protecting Native American Heritage . . . a film by Robert Redford
Eyewitness is an outstanding documentary film produced jointly by New Mexico Public Television and the famous actor-producer Robert Redford. It has been broadcast in the Southwestern states, but I don’t think it has made it yet to being broadcast nationally. Although focused on the protection of ruins and artifacts, which are New Mexico’s legacy, the film repeatedly acknowledges that the descendants of the people, who created this legacy are alive today. The film also stresses that Native American heritage is America’s heritage . . . something I always say, when speaking to the public. Robert Redford presents this heritage as a responsibility for all North Americans.
As many of you know, my major complaint about North American archaeology today is that far too many archaeologists have forgotten that their degree is in Anthropology . . . not Artifact Analysis Technology . . . and certainly, their degrees are not granted by the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. They are not wizards, with higher knowledge, superior to all mere mortals. Archaeologists do not own our ancestral community sites. In all other developed nations, archaeologists are public servants, not gatekeepers.
One of the best examples of this problem can be found in eastern Tennessee. As a very upset Chickasaw Middle School teacher in the Knoxville, TN area pointed out to us last year, due to the infusion of casino revenue, Tennessee archaeologists and education bureaucrats have recently changed the ethnic identity of the people in the Little Tennessee and Upper Tennessee River Valleys, who greeted De Soto and Pardo, to Cherokee . . . even though their town names and the words they spoke were Muskogean. Meanwhile, all of Tennessee academia is completely unaware that the first English language map of eastern Tennessee (Beresford – 1715) showed a French fort and two Cusate (Upper Creek) villages at the confluence of the Tennessee and Little Tennessee Rivers. Now they are locked into a lie because of political pressure.
You will not see any of that nonsense in this beautiful, well-crafted documentary film. The film clearly points out the current problems involved with protecting New Mexico’s heritage, but one does not see so much political forces at work in the interpretation of those artifacts.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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