Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

December 16, 2000 - Issue 25


Actress Urges American Indians

To Tell Their Own Stories

by Chao Xiong The Daily Iowan at U. Iowa


IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Actress Irene Bedard urged American Indians to tell their own stories as she fielded questions about her career and the challenges she encountered as an Inupiat Eskimo and French-Canadian Cree in the entertainment business Monday night.

The question-and-answer session, which was held in the IMU Illinois Room, followed a screening of the 1998 award-winning movie Naturally Native. The film was the first to be completely funded by American Indians, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut.

"We have a lot to offer to the world-view," said Bedard, who stars in the film. "We may be small in number, but we are mighty." Best known as the voice of Disney's Pocahontas, Bedard has starred in 19 films and has appeared on television in the series "Profiler," among others.

Naturally Native chronicles the struggle of three Native American sisters battling racist business people in their attempt to launch a cosmetics line called "Naturally Native." It also serves as a metaphorical story of screenwriter, co-director and lead actress Valerie Red-Horses' film career.

"For me, it was a pleasure to work with other Native American women," Bedard said about her experience working on the film. "Usually, the role for the Native American actress is the Indian princess who ends up with the white protagonist. (The movie) has so many of the things Native Americans deal with on a daily basis."

Amid the film's scrutiny of discrimination, conflicts with the U.S. government and identity issues is a look into American Indian humor that is not seen in Hollywood, she said.

"For me, it was the best thing to be the comic relief," Bedard said. "Hey, we're funny. The laughter in Native American society is what has kept us surviving for this long."

A crowd of approximately 100 gathered for the screening and Bedard's presentation.

"I thought it was excellent," said UI junior Leslie Adams, who attended the evening for extra credit in her Native American Indian Studies class. "What I appreciated most was how the people were portrayed. It seemed very real."

University of Iowa graduate student Tracy Peterson, a Dine Indian, the preferred name of the Navajo, spearheaded the event, which was sponsored by several UI groups.

With Bedard's help and that of Red-Horse's production company, Red-Horse Native Productions Inc. in Los Angeles, the event was staged at the UI for approximately $1,100 instead of the $5,000 it would have cost, Peterson said.

"It's a very important aspect of promoting cultural diversity in the view of Native American culture," he said. "We're just grateful she was able to come here and share her experiences with us."

Bedard's visit is of great importance because so few Iowans encounter Native Americans, said Larry Zimmerman, the chairman of the UI American Indian and Native Studies Program.

"In Iowa, we have Mesquaki and people go to the casino and powwows on occasion, but so rarely do we see someone of Irene's caliber," he said. "She shatters all the stereotypes about Native Americans. She shows that Native Americans are contemporary people."

(C) 2000 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE

Naturally Native



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