The Canary Effect: Native America’s Tragic HistoryOn September 19, 2019 by Ann Brown
“We got a story to tell—a good story. And it’s about time the rest of America find out.” –Sen. Daniel Inouye, fmr. chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
THE HISTORY OF THE NATIVE AMERICAN is a story of people decimated by a campaign of federally-directed genocide and cultural repression. This tragic history is recounted in the documentary “The Canary Effect,” directed by Robin Davey and Yellow Thunder Woman.
The film features interviews with the indigenous community, giving their thoughts and telling their experiences of what it has been like to be a Native American in the United States.
“The land that we reside on belonged to the Indians, but we take that for granted.”
In the dubious year of 1492, the indigenous population numbered 15 million; by 1890, that number had dwindled to a mere 250,000—a difference of 98 percent.
The film traces this history as tribes are eradicated through systemic violence; forced relocations, as in the Trail of Tears; and confined to reservations, a life amounting to unemployment, poverty, and social problems such as depression, suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse.
As the film shows, the 20th and 21st centuries have not improved for the Native American. We hear stories about the forced sterilization of Native American women. We learn how Indian children were placed in government and church run boarding schools, where they were not allowed to speak their tribal languages (a practice which resembles the practices of the Australians with their Indigenous population, and what’s happening today with the Chinese plan to eradicate the Tibetan language). Between the late 1800s and until the 1920′s, hundreds of Indian children died in these schools.
The documentary is particularly good at drawing parallels between how media coverage (or lack thereof) reflects the dominant, or white, culture’s lack of interest toward life on reservations, except when something bad happens. For instance, the tragic school shootings in Minnesota’s Red Lake Native American reservation, the second worst school shootings in American history—but compare your knowledge and awareness when you hear the word “Columbine” to the words “Red Lake.”
And finally there is tribal sovereignty and the real story behind gaming money (surprise: the people raking in the profits are not the majority of Native Americans).