Viewing of film on Garrison Dam project Saturday

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J. Carlos Peinado discusses his documentary Waterbuster at the 2015 Sacred Synergy Writers’ Conference at Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town, N.D. The film is being shown for free on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer. (photo by Jennifer Strange)

Filmmaker J. Carlos Peinado (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara) will be screening his acclaimed 2006 documentary, Waterbuster, on Saturday at the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer

The one-hour film chronicles the post-WWII Garrison Dam project and its impact on the MHA Nation and Dunn County.

The showing will starte at 1 p.m. and will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

This event is free and open to the public as part of the Dunn County Writers’ “Native Americans & The Media Arts: Bridging Cultures & Creative Journeys” daylong educational program.

“DCW is composed of a group of people who really care about what has happened in their area, what is happening in their area and what will happen in their area,” said DCW Board President Colette “Koko” Gjermundson of Marshall. “I hope this program helps me and the audience learn how to reach across the cultural and geographical borders with respect and broaden the roads we all travel together.”

Peinado’s award-winning film was shown nationwide on PBS in 2008. It aims to shine a light into some of the dark corners of federal Indian policy.

“When one discusses the Great American Story, it has to run parallel to the Great Indian Story, they are bound together at the hip,” said Peinado. “I think a lot of people intrinsically know that the Indians time and time again were treated unjustly, but it’s easier to gloss over that than to acknowledge it.”

The Three Affiliated Tribes, or Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara (MHA) Nation, hold a remarkable place in North American history as a self-sufficient, agrarian community. Unlike most of their Buffalo Nation (also called Sioux Nation) neighbors in what is now North Dakota, the MHA people were not nomadic. They lived on the shores of the Missouri River and farmed the river’s fertile bottomlands.

That didn’t change when their land was contracted onto the Fort Berthold Reservation in the mid-to-late 1800s. For another century, the tribes continued to farm and provide for their families in a manner many called “mainstream American.”

That all changed when the Garrison Dam was built in 1953 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The dam flooded seven towns, including the farming towns of Independence and Elbowoods.

More than150,000 acres of land comprising 94 percent of the tribe’s agricultural acreage now sit at the bottom of Lake Sakakawea. About 4,000 people — Native and non-Native alike — were forced to relocate.

“This isn’t ancient history, there are still people walking this planet who were part of this relocation,” said Dr. Twyla Baker-Demaray (MHA Nation), president of Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town. Baker-Demaray’s parents were both forced to move from their homeland. “There were plenty of non-Natives living in the Bottomlands who were traumatized by that event, too.”

Like many families, Peinado’s kin were cast to the wind during the relocation. He was raised in Phoenix, Ariz.

As an adolescent, he returned to the Fort Berthold Reservation. From his elders, he learned tribal traditions, ceremonies and the oral histories and myths that form the bedrock of Waterbuster.

“Waterbuster weaves together the voices of those who left the reservation and those who stayed, as well as the voices of my grandmother’s generation and my own,” said Peinado.

Interviews, home movies, period footage and public-service announcements come together in Peinado’s own telling of the story. But Waterbuster doesn’t attempt to provide simple answers to what he calls very complex questions.

“Rather, it suggests that identity, history and our complex relationship to the land on which we stand is open-ended, plagued by ghosts and by injustice,” he said. “It’s also the possibility of renewal.”

Peinado earned his undergraduate degree in filmmaking and cultural anthropology at Dartmouth College and went on to work as the creative director of Native Peoples Magazine and public relations coordinator of the American Indian Community House in New York City.

He served as chair of the New Media Arts Department at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. from 2009 to 2013. He has acted in the TNT television movies Broken Chain and Crazy Horse.

Peinado is currently working on a new documentary. The Relic follows the repatriation of a rare and historically noteworthy Native American artifact.


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