ISHKA: A Monument and a Movement

One of our creation stories is that when the world was made, it was made with nothing but spirit. When we were given trees, the trees were made of nothing but spirit. When we were given plant life, it was made with nothing but spirit. When the two-legged came in, we were made with nothing but spirit. The animals are the same thing; they were brought forth with nothing but spirit. Somehow or another, the two-legged disconnectedness themselves with spirit and the plant and animal life. We all became separate. Look what we have done to Mother Earth and each other because of this separation.” – Larry Running Turtle Salazar

I am producing another film whose Texas locations include San Antonio and Corpus Christi, as well as several in New Mexico. I am currently documenting the collaborative creative process of two local sculptors Oscar Saenz III and Donna Dobberfuhl in the conceptualizing and construction of a large sculptural tribute memorializing the second largest indigenous burial ground in Texas, entitled the Ishka Project.

Oscar Saenz III
Medicine Wheel at Hans & Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge

The larger context of this project are the various stories of the native people whose life, identity, culture, and traditions since the early 1800’s have all been close to becoming extinct, and the renewed desire to re-connecting with them.

What I have personally surmised is that for over three or four generations, the natives that live in Texas are by no means extinct, however their connection to their ancestral traditions and language have practically been severed and ‘white washed’, by the federal government through laws and policies, beginning in the early 1800’s with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, and the newly formed U.S. Department of the Interior, to kill, eradicate and purge all that was ethnically indigenous in nature, including language, culture and traditions. All of it was done by way of systematic land dispossession, forced school assimilations, and ethnic cleansing.

Today, the local Indigenous people I listen to, few of them speak any of the ancient native tongue, nor have clear memory of their ancestral and tribal traditions, except what’s been transferred to them through anecdotal stories from family members and grand parents, or occasional Pow Wow’s, or social media and mainstream media, or even pop culture.

In San Antonio, Texas for instance, it’s been long thought that Indians and natives there are extinct and gone, but there is ample evidence that the descendants of Coahuiltecans, Comanches, Apaches and other indigenous peoples continue to live their lives as Mexican-Americans or ‘Tejanos’, many of which have adopted hispanic names and culture, and don’t even self-identify as Native. In fact, according to local archaeologists today, like the late Professor Alston Thoms of Texas A&M University, “Native Americans in San Antonio is a 15,000-year-old history.”

The film is a means to give voice to people whose ‘American’ experience has been the reality of being native, of being indigenous, of being aboriginal in a land on which their ancestors have been part of for at least 15,000 years, and whose cultures, languages, and traditions have been ruthlessly extinguished. What does it mean to be native today? How important is it to reconnect with those forgotten or lost traditions? What does it mean for all indigenous cultures around the world? If tradition, language and culture defines what it means to have a home or a place we call home, what does it mean to be with or without it?

Larry “Running Turtle” Salazar

“We get our blessings from the holy people right as the sun is rising. We say the word ‘Ishka’ as the sun comes up, which means, ‘I will see you again. If not in this lifetime, the next.” – Larry Running Turtle Salazar

About the director/producer Hayden de Maisoneuve Yates: “I make films about the human spirit, and focus on the processes of our struggles that eventually lead us to what inspires us as human beings.”

Resources in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, TX: The Tehuan Band of Mission Indians, Apaches Tribes of Texas, United San Antonio Pow Wow Association, Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, American Indians in Texas, Texas A&M University, Archaeologist Alston Thoms, Larry Running Turtle Salazar, Anthropologist Dr. Fred L. McGhee, South Texas Alliance of Indigenous People, Louisiana Black Apaches, Cougar Bear.