The Native Roots Story

I met Jack Weatherford in 1990 after reading his book Indian Givers, How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World. We set out on a project to create a television series based on his books, Indian Givers and Native Roots, to excite interest in exploring the ideas, cultures, and contributions of our indigenous peoples beginning with the people of the Americas, the indigenous people of what was once called the new world.

In 1996, we put the project on hold until we could create a place on the web where viewers could explore opportunities to learn, experience, and pursue the interests we hoped to excite.

Now, in our theatre of the new world, the world of digital media, it is possible for indigenous peoples  to tell their own stories, and explore their culture, and create connections with their cultures to the world interested in exploring the ideas, the contributions, and the  cultural evolution of our native cultures for creative connections. The circle is open.

The opportunity is open for all. The opportunity to contribute to and explore our understanding and appreciation of the contributions of our native cultures to our creative evolution. This is  an opportunity to create a future for our heritage to create our heritage for the future.

The story describing the Native Roots television series sets the stage for creating the Native Roots Story in our Theatre of a New World.

The Native Roots Story

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As we near the end of the 20th century, there is apprehension and concern about our future. Our political, economic, and social systems do not appear to be serving us well. Technology is a mixed blessing. Awareness of significant threats to our existence is growing. We are beginning to question the value systems underlying our dominant culture.

At the same time, we are more aware than ever that a life of personal fulfillment, freedom, and empowerment is possible and that we can achieve this by taking personal responsibility for ourselves, for others, and for the world in which we live. We are also aware that it requires each of us who understand this to act on that knowledge and to give others the knowledge, insights, and understanding that will empower them to act.

Positive change is possible. It lies in our ability to learn and to communicate.

The Opportunity

A few years ago, a book, which described how the Indians of the Americas have transformed the world over the last five hundred years, slipped quietly into print.

Jack Weatherford’s Indian Givers, and his subsequent volume, Native Roots, are hailed everywhere for their invaluable contribution to an entirely new understanding of the rich and far-reaching impact of Native Americans on the world.

The arrival of the first Europeans in the Americas began an encounter of such momentous proportions that the effects are only now becoming fully understood. The convergence of people, plants, technology, religions, and social systems created a cultural explosion which Jack Weatherford believes could never be duplicated again unless humans encounter extraterrestrial life.

We have the opportunity to bring the insights found in this powerful global story to an even larger audience through a television series.

This series will do far more than attract attention to little known Native contributions. It will give new perspectives that may hold the answers we desperately seek for a better future and perhaps our global survival.

“I can assure you that there is tremendous interest at this time in the entire topic of our Native peoples, their contributions to the world, and the dawning realization that we’ve lost far more than we have gained by the destruction of their cultures. A television series like this would rival the Civil War series in terms of widespread interest and educational value. – Herman Viola, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute

“The possibility of making Indian Givers and Native Roots into a television series is a very exciting prospect. The information contained in these books is powerful and vibrant. The production of this proposed subject will be seen as one of the greatest testaments to enlightenment and understanding of the people who have been misunderstood and erroneously believed to have vanished without a trace. It is true for all people that we must understand our history in order to clearly define a plan for the future.” – Wilma P. Mankiller, Principal Chief, Cherokee Nation

Our Objective

Our objective is to raise awareness and appreciation for Native American achievements, to stimulate interest in learning more about the past, present and future benefits and value of the Native world view, and to use our storytelling, communication, and marketing capabilities to accomplish this with the widest possible audience.

A vast, receptive audience is in place to hear the story Jack Weatherford has to tell and, most importantly, to begin to credit Native American people for their enormous contributions to human civilization.” – Stephen Steinlight, National Conference of Christians and Jews Inc.

The Audience is Ready

The timing of this project capitalizes on the growing attention and interest in the culture, knowledge, and vision of native people – an interest that has spread throughout North America and is evident worldwide.

The recent number and quality of books and movies centering on native people has endeavored to respond to this explosion in interest and demand. Jack Weatherford’s books, translated into French, German and Italian, have sold hundreds of thousands of copies generating interest on both sides of the Atlantic. Many teachers are actively using the Indian Givers text because it brings together information that was unavailable in a single, readable interdisciplinary book.

“Jack Weatherford is writing for the big audience because it’s time for all of us to know about this and it’s something all of us should be talking about” – Zaida Giraldo, Historian

With the interest in Native People and the rebirth of their prominence in the artistic, political, social, and environmental fields, it is time this story reached the wider audience that television can deliver.

The series will give people a greater understanding and appreciation of Native contributions and the role that American Indians and their traditions have played in the evolution of civilization. The image of Native People will be transformed into one of the well-deserved pride and dignity based on their achievements in many vital spheres of human activity.

The world is seeking new ideas, new understanding, and new values. Native Roots will reveal the depths of the gifts and the power of the insights that are just beginning to be perceived, knowledge with the potential to change the world in the future as much as it has in the past.

This is an opportunity to pass on the gifts that may hold the answers to ensure our future. The audience for Native Roots is ready.

“I can think of no better base of prose and insightful research upon which to base a television production than Jack Weatherford’s writing. Spanning both hemispheres and a myriad of rich cultures, your visual possibilities are mind numbing. The global interest in Native America is far beyond mere exotic fascination but rather a searching for answers to the problems faced by all of us fellow travelers on the spaceship earth. The answers we suspect have existed for thousands of years in Native America but we were not paying attention.” – Gary Avey, Publisher Native Peoples Magazine

Description of the Series

The television series will consist of seven programs, each focusing on a critical social or cultural issue facing our planet today. Each program will be broadcast four to six weeks apart.

Program topics will include learning and education, health and well-being, economics and commerce, government, family and community, the earth, and personal and cultural development. Each program will begin with “What Is”, showing familiar contemporary situations that reflect the perceptions, beliefs and knowledge commonly accepted today related to the topic of the program. This part of the program ends with the audience suddenly perceiving that all is not as it seems to be.

In the second part of the program, “What Was”, the audience will be taken on a journey of discovery, gradually revealing the extent and nature of the contribution that Indian knowledge, expertise, resources, practices and products have made to our lives. In the course of this journey, the worldview and value system of native peoples will also be discovered. These insights will change the image held of Indian peoples by most viewers and challenge audiences to re-evaluate their own values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.

In the final part, “What Could Be”, the audience will become involved in exploring how the application of Native knowledge, practices and values might contribute to addressing some of the major political, economic, social, environmental, and spiritual issues and challenges that we are currently facing.

The series will educate and entertain. However, each program will also leave viewers empowered with a vision of what is possible in the future, and with some ideas about how they can contribute to making this vision a reality.

“The depth of Jack Weatherford’s research and straightforward way he presents this exciting material certainly lends itself to great television, in my opinion. Being both a teacher and an entertainer, I am very much concerned at how seldom Native culture has been presented at its full potential, which includes the upbeat, the charming, and the astoundingly intelligent – things that make students retain interest, and viewers stay tuned. Dr. Weatherford has my full support and best wishes in creating a television version of his work.” – Buffy Sainte-Marie

Approach and Style

Imagine a large circle, around which sit well-known and respected figures of our day, both native and non-native. They have gathered to tell us a story of how each has discovered their Native Roots.

These eminent men and women will serve as guides on our voyage of discovery as we explore, through their eyes, the untapped riches of the Americas: Indian wisdom and know-how.

From a jungle in the Amazon, to a small town in Germany, to an island in the South Pacific, to the Siberian coast, and many other places around the world, our guides will trace the American Native influence on our history. They will uncover exciting new parts of our heritage and learn how the contributions of the Indians of the Americas enriched our lives.

Each guide will “tell” their story in their own way, using music, dance, dramatic recreation, animation or any means that will entertain and excite the audience to explore further and learn more. Among these stories will be the stories of the Native people of North, Central and South America extending back thousands of years.

Native Roots is a contemporary exploration of the impact that the Indians of the Americas have had and continue to have on our world. It will concentrate on the present Indian peoples of the Americas who are carrying on their traditions, customs and expertise in their own lives and in caring for Mother Earth.

Native Roots will celebrate the achievements of the Indians of the Americas through dance, music and art. All of the music will be composed and performed by Indian singers and musicians. The evocative rhythms, harmonies and fusion of contemporary Indian music will speak, through both the music and lyrics, of things timeless. The sights and sounds of the series will draw upon popular styles and conventions and will utilize all the camera work and editing techniques that one associates with modern television art to present a feeling as lively, energetic and vibrant as the people we are celebrating.

Since laughter is a universal healer and opens the door to learning, humour will play a major role. The famous coyote will undoubtedly show up to weave his usual mischief and try to interrupt the proceedings as much as possible. However, he will always be welcome.

Native Roots will use Native methods of entertaining and enlightening to inform and stimulate.

“Jack Weatherford’s publications have put a formidable impression in the wall of ignorance regarding Native contributions. A film treatment of Weatherford’s works will create openings in this wall… allowing light to shine on the truth.” – John Kahionhes Fadden, Six Nations Indian Museum

Program Example

The Vision Quest for the Global Tribe

The first program will feature the theme underlying the entire series – Learning. In the opening What Is section, “Learning as Teaching”, the audience sees how education and learning in our culture operate in the 19th century industrial model, separated from the rest of society and with mass-produced lessons and tests, like an automobile passing through work stations on a factory assembly line. Can this outdated, linear and fragmented system meet the rapidly changing skill and intellectual demands of the 21st century?

In fact, real learning is not institutional or mechanistic. It happens anywhere when, like the great breakthroughs of science, new information and experiences open our minds to new perceptions. The insight into how learning occurs opens the minds of the audience to consider a different way of learning.

In the “What Was” section, “Learning as Discovery”, the audience sees that for most of human history, our ancestors lived in kinship-based communities where learning arose within the tasks and activities of daily life. Learning was oral, interactive, informal, and holistic – not separated from work or leisure but flowing from elder to younger members, often through story telling and continuing through life. Information was not stored in books but encoded in everyday objects and ceremonies. These lessons are reflected in the carvings, stories and dances of the Natives of the Pacific Coast, in the tepees and beaded clothing of the Plains people, and in the ivory images of the Inuit.

For native people, learning was more than the acquisition of information and skills. The most important lesson of a person’s life was the vision quest where the seeker went out alone in a period of isolation and fasting to find a personal vision of life and the path to adulthood. The quest for knowledge and understanding became a lifelong journey where the individual found guidance from many people and from nature itself.

In the program’s final What Could Be section, “Learning as Creativity”, the audience sees how new technologies have opened up new forms of learning that go far beyond the traditional classroom and combine the best parts of both native and industrial systems. Like the native way, they are intensely interactive; yet like the industrial way, they achieve a high level of detail. The audience sees Tsimshian youths at computer terminals working in communication with children in France and Australia and trading tribal myths and pictures with Maori children in New Zealand.

The computer and electronic media allow each of us to pursue an individual vision while also connecting with people and institutions around the world, creating a global tribe. The world itself becomes the place of learning, where we join to discover solutions to our shared problems and new visions for the future.

“Thanks to Weatherford, a courageous and gifted writer, true history is finally reaching the world. Visual media now has a rich opportunity to project Weatherford’s work. I hope this endeavor will be carried forth.” – Eagleman Ed McGaa, Native American Author, Mother Earth Spirituality

Production of the Series

The input and advice of knowledgeable native and non-native advisers from the United States and Canada, as well as Central and South America, will be sought during the research, development, production ad editing stages of the project. The most qualified experts available will be enlisted for each subject area to ensure that the content of the series is accurate and methods of communicating are appropriate.

The executive production group will contract with the most experienced native and non-native writers, line producers, directors, cinematographers and production personnel to ensure the best possible television production. The collaborative pairing of native and non-native talent will assist in ensuring that the series will be positively received by both native and non-native audiences in the Americas and around the world.

There have long been excellent native writers and filmmakers producing projects on cultural issues primarily for native audiences. The best of this talent will have the opportunity to come together with a subject matter that will inspire them to their finest work – and for a much larger audience.

“I think a TV series would set the stage for a great awareness in our society that I hope would, in turn, set in motion the wheels or seeds of change. I can’t express how important I believe this is, the need to rewrite and tell the truth about history. It’s the first step in creating a better world for all.” – David Archambault, President American Indian College Fund”

Project History

The individuals who have come together around this project believe that increasing awareness of the role that Native American people have played in the evolution of civilization is important, and that producing a series based on Jack Weatherford’s research would stimulate widespread interest in learning more about the Indian way of life.

The decision to make Indian Givers into a television series has been discussed with native leaders and representatives from organizations that represent and serve the interests of native people’s in North America. It has also been discussed with broadcasters in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and with the anthropologists, historians, educators and senior representatives of institutions who are actively involved and interested in the role, history and future of native people in North, Central, and South America.

“It would be a tremendous educational service to produce a series based on Weatherford’s work, since it would lend the power of images to his analysis. Such a series I believe would find a sizeable audience of a broadcast presentation, and I’m certain that a DVD version would sell very well on it’s own.” – Jerry Bentley, Editor Journal of World History

Without exception, the project has been greeted with enthusiastic support and encouragement. Everyone with whom the project has been discussed has expressed an interest and desire to assist and participate.

The Native Roots project is more than a television series. The objective is not only to reach the widest possible audience, but also to give the audience information about additional learning opportunities, experiences, and technology so they can explore the areas of interest to them in greater depth and become more actively involved in contributing to improving the quality of our lives.

This provides all those organizations that are able to contribute to serving the audience’s interests with the opportunity to participate and benefit from the project.

“With the tremendous interest in finding our North American roots that the Columbian Quincentenary has aroused, Jack weatherford’s two excellent books would form a splendid base for a series on how early and current indigenous cultures have helped make us who we are. This program could be a topic even more evocative than the Civil War.” – William Least Heat-Moon, Author Blue Highways

Reaching the Audience

The last encounter between European based cultures and Native American cultures occurred more than five hundred years ago. The objective of this project is to give the world the opportunity to re-encounter Native cultures, particularly the knowledge, values and belief systems that are their foundation.

Jack Weatherford’s research provides us with the ability to make connections to a global audience by demonstrating how much our world and our daily lives have been influenced by Native American contributions and culture. Our objective is to use these connections to stimulate interest in learning more about the Native American world view.

Television is the medium, but marketing will bring the audience. Our objective is to reach the widest possible audience of people, who are interested in learning more about how we can address the challenges we face in our personal lives, in our communities and in our world.

This requires partners, both corporate and social enterprises, who can bring both access to their “customer” base and the use of their marketing and communication resources and capabilities to promote viewership. The benefits of association are obvious.

There is no need to limit the number of partners. Any organization that could benefit by increasing awareness of the role they play in contributing to our collective welfare would be welcome. Organizations who can offer the audience opportunities to benefit directly from the services they provide could accomplish even more.

“These two books are not only widely read by the general public and used in probably hundreds of classrooms across the US and Canada, they are instrumental in helping to focus critical yet constructive attention on the Indian peoples of the Americas, their cultures, societies, politics, and perhaps most importantly,their contributions to ‘modern civilization’ world-wide.” – Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Director Centre for Studies of Ethnicity and Race in America, University of Colorado

Providing the Audience with Opportunities to Act

The television series alone is a worthwhile project. The larger opportunity is to use the series as the cornerstone of a widespread fully integrated cooperative direct response marketing campaign in which all participating partners could benefit.

The series, and every communication vehicle employed to promote the series, would provide audiences with the opportunity to respond to learn more about how they can act on their interest. All partners would have an opportunity to communicate directly with those who respond.

The increase in range, advantage, and mutual benefit that can result from creating a network of interested and concerned people with a shared vision and common values is limitless.

A dialogue begins; and through dialogue, we learn.

“To have the opportunity to view Jack Weatherford’s material via a television series will make a valuable contribution to furthering the understanding of those who we are as a people and to whom we owe an appreciation for those contributions which we often take for granted. Specifically, to Jack Weatherford, we owe a debt of gratitude for setting the record straight.” – Roger H. Sublett, WK Kellogg Foundation

The Circle Opens

The story behind Indian Givers changes all those who come in contact with it. There is a need to know more about the contributions of the Native peoples of the Americas and to explore what they mean in light of today’s global issues.

Can the knowledge that was overlooked help fight famine, improve our health, increase our longevity? Can the principles that guided the affairs of Indian nations be applied to the political, social, and economic issues we face today? Is the focus on economic growth at odds with what the native elders know and teach about the Earth and our relationship with all living things?

There is currently a wave of fascination with Native cultures. Interest is evident in a great number of fields including education, the environment, contemporary art, architecture, design, the healing arts, and tourism. Native people are increasingly looked upon as spiritual leaders and visionaries. The timing is right.

There is no other project like this. This is not just a series but the presentation of a world view. Not just a revisionist history, but contemporary realities and future possibilities. Not a story of bleakness, guilt, or dire warning, but a tapestry of hope, vision and celebration.

It is an opportunity to create a new model on how to use the power of the media and the communication technology available to us today to educate more people on the value of our diverse cultures and the role we can play in improving the quality of life.

The perspective is global, the opportunity is immense, the story is captivating, and the learning is important. The circle is open for everyone to become a part of it and share the gift.

“Our foremost objective is to develop an interactive experience with the past and an orientation to the future that is profoundly moving, both emotionally and intellectually.”
Dr. George F. MacDonald, Canadian Museum of Civilization

Discovering the New World – Jack Weatherford

Native Roots
exploring our cultural evolution

The story continues

Jack Weatherford and I returned to the conversation and to exploring the idea of developing Native Roots as a creative community centre in Mongolia in 2007.

Creating Connections with Mongolia