Archaeologies of Ethnographic Film on the Columbia Plateau

Proposal Abstract

I propose to write a text with a digital multimedia supplement. The proposed text will consist of an archaeological analysis of one hundred years of ethnographic film on the Columbia Plateau in Washington State. The proposed multimedia supplement will consist of digitized footage from the archival film study and site-specific interviews with Columbia Plateau peoples.

 Archaeologies of Ethnographic Film

I propose to write a history of the visual production of indigeneity on the Columbia Plateau. I would like to research how the 20th century histories of scientific anthropology and indigenous cultural preservation converge around film. Ethnographic film, incidental industrial cinema, disinterment videos, and popular movies are artifacts that offer novel apertures to the history of the 20th century Native American West.

The text could begin with an analysis of 19th and 20th century anthropological history, from Franz Boas’ ethnographic films to news media on the Ancient One (Kennewick Man). The role of science and visual representations in the New Deal engineering of a hydraulic society could be evaluated, featuring the filmed flooding of 1388 burial sites behind the Grand Coulee Dam. The text could explore 20th century Western American cinema and its uses in Darwinian anthropology, archaeological positivism, federal industrialization, and Native American survivance. The hermeneutics of tribal historic preservation and the uses of visual representations in tribal contests with scientific, hydroelectric, legal, and atomic power could conclude this study.

 Writing about this filmic archive would result in anthropologies of visual communication in the 20th century American West. A text synthesis would map the historical modes of assumption, ascription, and rupture in 20th century ethnographic film.

 Indigenous Digital Medias

Postcolonial media emerged out of both extant and traditional oral and performative arts as well as from a reaction to the fundamental scientism and historiography of the mid-20th century. The digital democratization of sophisticated audio and visual devices, while not evenly distributed economically or geographically, has made available a new means through which one can produce vivid accounts of cultural traditions. Columbia Plateau Native Americans are participating in this cyber-sovereignty and digital democracy. I propose to experiment with how digital audio and visual medias preserve and re-present an account of indigenous identity. 

In the second year of study, I propose to videographically document the arts and culture of the Colville peoples and merge this footage with excerpts from the studied ethnographic films. Using premier multimedia software such as Flash, Final Cut Pro, Dreamweaver, Pro Tools, Reaktor, and Arc Map, I would create a multimedia web that explores the similarities between traditional and digital modes of geographic and historical representation. The complete version of this project could be available to the graduate department and the Colville Tribes at the time of my defense in May 2007. Another version approved by the Colville Tribes and designed for public consumption could be available on the World Wide Web. 


There are several excellent sources of funding for this project within the private, tribal, and federal sectors. Major and multiple private investors, such as the Bill & Melinda, Ford, and Werner-Gren foundations, have funded indigenous media projects. I am presently funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and in 2002, while an employee of the Sacred Land Film Project, I was funded through the Ford Foundation. I believe a moderate grant of $25,000 would finance the second year’s research and production costs. In a semester long grant-writing class it could be possible to solicit as much as $75,000 in the form of three grant proposals.

 The friendships and skills I have acquired working with three non-profit organizations, the Confederated Colville Tribes, and federal agencies will help me locate funding sources. Federal lands agencies are required by federal law to educate the public and favor web-based pedagogy. The Colville Business Council has expressed a sincere desire for the production of a website to express their culture. Small private charities will donate to this project through my non-profit organization, the Center for Landscape & Artefact (501c-3 status pending).

 Statement of Qualifications

I am an anthropologist, historian, and writer on Western American culture presently employed as an archaeologist for the people of the Colville Reservation. My training is in the interpretation of Native American material culture and the practice of historic preservation in indigenous contexts. I have a working knowledge of all major U.S. and U.N. laws affecting indigenous people and the sovereignty of their material history. I have a professional intimacy with ethnographic cinema and its uses in advocacy. I have published or prepared chapters for books, major research monographs, and peer-reviewed articles exploring postcolonial history and its representation. My interest at present is the evolving relationship between digital media and indigenous identity.

 Please see my C.V. for a complete list of publications and performances.

 Benefits of Research

 I will use my education as a means towards a PhD and to further the goals of the Center for Landscape & Artefact, my non-profit organization dedicated to merging new media with anthropology ( The skills acquired in your program will be necessary preparations for a life of unifying anthropology and new technologies in independent publishing, webmaking, and filmmaking. When the Center for Landscape & Artefact is incorporated into the pedagogical equipment of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, circa 2015, I will begin a profession of teaching media analysis and production strategies to Native American university students.

In addition to the benefits to the Colville Tribes and cultural studies of the Columbia Plateau, my research will serve as a strong bridge between your department and a large regional tribe. This could result in an important relationship between indigenous peoples and the academics of media production. With the publication of the thesis and the website will come to your department the noble prestige associated with innovative philanthropic research.