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Film Catalog » Subject Areas » American Studies » A Seat at the Table: Struggling for American Indian Religious Freedom

A Seat at the Table: Struggling for American Indian Religious Freedom

A Seat at the Table: Struggling for American Indian Religious Freedom - Image Produced by Gary Rhine.
90 min. Color. 2005.
Available as: VHS and DVD
Captioned: No
Catalog #: 0140
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Sale Price: $295.00 Buy VHS Buy DVD

Professor Huston Smith is widely regarded as the most eloquent and accessible contemporary authority on the history of religions. In this thought-provoking documentary he is featured in dialogues with eight American Indian leaders.

The film interweaves thoughtful commentary, sequences shot in threatened Indian sacred sites, and scenes from the Third Parliament of the World's Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. The result is a profound and poignant exploration of the myriad problems faced by contemporary Native Americans in practicing their religious ceremonies and beliefs.

Each of the film's eight segments deals with an important obstacle to American Indian religious freedom. Taken as a whole, the film provides an outstanding overview of the spiritual ways of today's Native Americans. The Native leaders and the topics they examine with Prof. Smith are as follows:

Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Senior Staff Attorney, Native American Rights Fund: A History and overview of the American Indian struggle for religious freedom;

Winona LaDuke (Anishinabe), Director, White Earth Land Recovery Project: Native religions and the earth; pollution and clear-cutting as religious persecution;

Frank Dayish, Jr. (Dine), President, Native American Church of North America: The triumph of the Native American Church's struggle for the religious use of Peyote;

Charlotte Black Elk (Lakota), Primary Advocate for protection of the Black Hills: Protection of The Black Hills and Native access to sacred sites;

Doug George-Kanentiio (Mohawk), journalist and activist: Destruction of Native languages and the resulting damage to Native ceremonies;

Lenny Foster (Dine), Director/Spiritual Advisor, Navajo Nation Corrections Project: Injustices faced by incarcerated Native Americans;

Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga), President, American Indian Law Alliance: The spiritual threat posed to indigenous peoples by the Human Genome Diversity Project;

Guy Lopez (Crow Creek Sioux), Coordinator, Sacred Lands Protection Program, Association of American Indian Affairs: Disrespect of Apache beliefs by University of Arizona and Jesuit astrophysicists.

The film includes excerpts of messages by the Dalai Lama, South African President Nelson Mandela, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The ceremonial opening of the week-long Parliament flamboyantly displays the rich variety of religious traditions from around the world and includes a performance of an Iroquois ancestral song by noted American Indian singer Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida), who also delivers the articulate narration for the documentary.

The menus on the DVD version of the film enable easy access to particular segments and encourage in-depth classroom discussion and analysis.

"A Seat at the Table" is an exemplary teaching tool that will spotlight the issues of Native American religious freedom for a wide variety of courses in Native American studies, religious studies and comparative religion, cultural anthropology, American history and studies, and legal studies. The film is also the ideal enhancement to the new book by the same title published by University of California Press.

"A Seat at the Table" was produced by Gary Rhine for Kifaru Productions. The film was written by Phil Cousineau.


"A powerful testimony to the difficult attempts of Native Americans to faithfully practice their traditional religions in the context of conventional North American culture. This is a must see for anyone interested in the religion and culture interface, as it is for anyone interested in the continued oppression of Native peoples by the dominant cultural ideology." -- David L. Miller, Watson-Ledden Professor of Religion, Emeritus, Syracuse University, and Core Faculty Member in Mythological Studies (retired), Pacifica Graduate Institute

"A welcome overture by Native religious practitioners to demonstrate to the other religions the nature of the longstanding traditions whereby our people achieved a powerful relationship with the mysterious power that creates, sustains and guides our lives. Religions represent insights and experiences rather than masses of followers, and while many religious traditions encourage the development of the individual, the Native religions, perhaps more than any others, stimulate the highest level of maturity and achievement: that of community responsibility. For that reason we deserve more than a seat at the table -- perhaps the speaker's podium as well." -- Vine Deloria, Jr., Prof. of Law, Religion and History, Univ. of Colorado, author of Custer Died for Your Sins and Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths

"A valuable and insightful film about a too-long overlooked topic, the right of Native American people to have their sacred sites and practices honored and protected. Let's hope it gets shown far and wide, enough to bring about a real shift in policy and consciousness." -- Bonnie Raitt, Musician and Activist

"An informative overview of the diverse religious-freedom issues affecting Native Americans.... Worthy material for classrooms, given that its eight distinct sections can easily be shown one or a few at a time." -- Variety


  • American Indian Film Festival honoree
  • American Academy of Religion honoree
  • Amnesty International Film Festival honoree
  • Human Rights Watch Film Festival honoree
  • Natl. Congress of American Indians honoree
  • Parliament of the World's Religions honoree
  • Palm Springs Native American Film Festival honoree
  • New York Festivals Award


Producer: Irene Romero-Rhine
Director: Gary Rhine
Writer: Phil Cousineau
Narrator: Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida)

Additional Material

For information regarding the companion book, go to http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10373.html



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