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