County, reservation to be backdrop of 'Older Than America'
The Pine Journal
Last Updated: Wednesday, October 18th, 2006 11:28:43 AM
Carlton County and the Fond du Lac Reservation are about to step forward
into a new and important role in bringing history to life. The area will
play host to the filming of the independent movie, "Older Than America,"
that tells the story of how the American Indian boarding school experience
of the late 1800s and 1900s has influenced subsequent generations of the
The movie, directed by Native American director and actor Georgina
Lightning and produced by established local producer Christine Walker, is
described as "a Native American thriller set in a small Minnesota town once
home to a Native boarding school."
"Deep secrets about the school and its dark past come to light when an
earthquake threatens to attract undue attention to the area," the movie
overview goes on to explain.
Filming for the movie will take place in many locations around the area,
including the Fond du Lac Reservation, Carlton, Cloquet, Esko and Duluth.
"People are going to really know and see Duluth and Cloquet after this
movie," commented Walker at a press conference at the Black Bear Hotel last
Lightning explained that work on the movie's story line began about two
years ago - but went on to say it's something that has been in her heart
for much, much longer.
"It was something that, as an artist, needed to come out," she related. "My
dad was an Indian boarding school child, and as a result, the environment I
was raised in reflected it. I was raised with the mentality of 'You speak
only when you're spoken to.' We never communicated, and I never really
talked to my dad. He'd ask me a question and I'd answer it and that was it.
If you do speak when you're not supposed to, your head goes through that
wall. It was really a harsh environment. I grew up really angry. There was
no relationship. There were no 'mom and dad picnics' or anything like that.
They never paid attention to what was going on with us, and we never knew
what was going on with them. There was a roof over our heads, and that was
all that mattered.
"My dad hung himself when I was 18," she confessed, "and I became
fascinated with survival and wondered why the natural instinct for survival
does not kick in. How can you follow through with something like that and
abandon your wife and your children and everyone around you? Because I
didn't understand it, I never imagined that he would really do that."
Because there was no communication in Lightning's family, she did not even
know her father had gone to boarding school. Once she found out he had, she
made a personal journey to that very school.
"I thought to myself, 'OK, it's creepy, but how does that produce someone
so angry, so full of rage, and so driven toward being abusive?'" she
revealed. "It was when I went out back and I saw the graveyard. These were
children who were buried there. I couldn't see the far end of that cemetery
it was so vast. I broke down and cried and let go of all the anger and
frustration and pain I had that were a direct result of my dad, and I
forgave him. I understand where that came from now. When your culture is
taken away and your spirit is crushed, what's left of you resorts to drug
addiction, alcoholism, or anything to ease the pain and escape the reality
that you live in when you walk out of a boarding school."
Lightning went to explain how, after that experience, she began to
comprehend that things that happen in a person's childhood or past affect
that person in the future.
"I had to look at my dad's past because I needed to understand the reason
he was the way he was," she said. "It was very difficult because nobody
wanted to talk about it. In a lot of Indian country, they don't yet. We've
just started the movement toward getting this out and expressing ourselves
in order to heal. Everybody bottles it up inside, holds it down. The
memories are much too painful. They can't talk about it. I've listened to
testimonies all over, and grown men break down and cry and can't talk about
it. Even when I told my uncle I was making this movie 20 years later, he
still wouldn't talk about it."
Lightning said she believes that many of the issues Native Americans are
struggling with today are a product of what has come out of their past.
"I believe that's a direct result of several generations in a row having to
go to Indian boarding schools," she related. "They got out and there were
no parenting skills, no relationship skills. It's a really harsh
environment to grow up in."
She went on to say in her native country of Canada, they've started holding
healing ceremonies for survivors of the boarding school experience -
something she plans to incorporate into the movie.
"My kids and I went to a healing ceremony a couple of years ago," she said,
"and there were hundreds of people coming in, so some people are ready to
open up about it - but many still aren't. We're hoping after this movie,
they might be able to take a step toward healing because it's important for
us to get to the next level."
Lightning said the movie will start out with a traditional Native American
Sun Dance that's "older than America."
"It's the kind of ceremony used before the white people came and made it
illegal for us to practice our ceremonies and incorporate our medicine into
our way of life," she said. "The ceremony at the beginning shows who we
were when we were 'older than America' - a strong, vibrant people, with a
lot of pride and power. Then the movie takes us through the Indian boarding
school experience and uses a lot of flashbacks and dream sequences that
show how we are all born with the history of our ancestors. We native
people carry the 500 years of genocide that have gone on and continues yet
today until we begin to heal."
The main character in the film is a Native American girl who wasn't aware
of any of her Indian heritage. She was raised by her aunt, who ended up
turning toward the Catholic part of her own boarding school influence.
"She assimilated and fell into that because it was easier and her way of
survival," explained Lightning. "She embraced it and abandoned her native
ways because it was too hard to live as a native in the 1950s and '60s when
racism was extreme. Eventually, by the end of this movie, she realizes who
she is and gets in touch with what's 'older than America' - her culture,
which was rich and vibrant."
Lightning said there are many important themes in the movie, but overall,
she wants viewers to be entertained as well.
"We have an amazing cast, and we think we've come up with an entertaining
story that's really compelling and will carry you through," she said. "We
don't just want to slap people up side the head with reality, though it
will definitely be in there, but it's not thrown in your face."
As the movie's producer, Walker said she can relate in a very real way to
the movie's story line and vital message.
"I'm native Hawaiian, and in my mind, one of the most devastating ideas of
the boarding school experience is that the schools were set up to take away
culture," she said. "I totally understand what culture means - the dances,
the clothing, all those things. The unofficial motto of those schools was
'Kill the Indian, save the man.' If someone said to me, 'You can't sing
your songs, you can't perform your ceremonies,' it would be like stripping
away everything one has. I think that's a universal theme that will
resonate with anybody - take away your Thanksgiving, take away Christmas,
take away whatever is important to you. It would change their life
Walker has worked extensively with crews in Minnesota in the past, and in
scoping out possible locations for this movie, it seemed natural to be
invited to consider Cloquet and Duluth.
"We met so many people who opened their arms and embraced us - Don Day from
FDLTCC, the Fond du Lac Reservation and its tribal council, Rocky Wilkinson
from the Black Bear Casino and Hotel, Kelly Zink from the Chamber of
Commerce, [Carlton County Economic Development Director] Pat Oman," Walker
said. "These are the key people who are making it possible to shoot this
"It was especially important to us we were welcomed by a reservation," she
continued, "and that they understood what we were about. We met with the
[Fond du Lac] Tribal Council and said, 'This is the story we want to tell
and we need your blessing. We need your support - emotionally and
spiritually.' That's what we've gotten from the Fond du Lac Reservation.
Secondly, it's been key to us to be able to access the resources of the
community. People here have taken us around, helped us find shooting
locations and they've brought food over to our production office and that's
almost as important as anything else."
Filming for "Older Than America" will begin Nov. 11 and continue through
Dec. 5. Walker said this type of film typically takes about five months to
edit and go through post production, and it will then be rolled out on the
film festival circuit, the closest being the Toronto Film Festival next
September. It will then go around to different film festivals in an effort
to secure distribution.
She said if all goes as expected, the movie will be out in theaters in one
to two years.
And perhaps most importantly to the people of this area who watch the
shooting of the film progress or who are taking part in it as cast members
or extras, a local premiere is being planned right here in Cloquet!
Pine Journal Publisher/reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: