Genocide of Native Americans not over: Oscar nominee Gladstone

AFP , Sunday 23 Jun 2024

Oscar-nominated actress Lily Gladstone is pleased that Indigenous people are getting better representation on the silver screen, including in her new film "Fancy Dance," but warns there is an "ongoing genocide" of Native Americans that must be addressed.

Native Americans
Actresses Isabel Deroy-Olson (L) and Lily Gladstone star in Fancy Dance, directed by Erica Tremblay (R), about the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States (Photo: AFP)

Gladstone, 37, earned critical acclaim for her turn as an Osage woman locked in a duplicitous marriage to a murderous white husband in last year's true crime epic "Killers of the Flower Moon" from Martin Scorsese.

She is now starring in "Fancy Dance," about the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people in America, most of them women.

The film -- which premiered at the Sundance festival last year but is now hitting a limited number of theaters this month, and will stream on Apple TV+ from June 28 -- is a work of fiction but feels like a documentary.

She says the film's strength is in showcasing "the needs that we have as Indigenous women, especially in the face of epidemics like missing murdered Indigenous people" and children being placed in foster care with non-Native families.

"Both are tied to an ongoing genocide in different ways," Gladstone -- who is of Blackfeet and Nez Perce heritage and grew up on a reservation in Montana -- told AFP at the film's premiere this week in New York.


In "Fancy Dance," Gladstone plays Jax, a single and poor woman on the Seneca-Cayuga reservation in Oklahoma whose sister disappears, leaving her to care for her niece Roki.

Faced with the FBI's indifference and the lack of resources available to her brother, a cop on the reservation, Jax tries to find her sister herself and ultimately hits the road with Roki, who hopes to find her mother at a huge powwow ceremony.

Similar cases have made headlines in recent years.

In the state of Oregon, the disappearances of Indigenous women were deemed an "emergency" in 2019 in official reports, but more than four years later, not much progress has been made, according to the independent outlet InvestigateWest.

Federal and local authorities have become increasingly aware of the disproportionate number of Indigenous women who have been killed or gone missing in recent years, according to InvestigateWest.

On the small screen, a handful of television shows have addressed the issue, including "Alaska Daily," starring Hilary Swank, and the most recent season of HBO's anthology series "True Detective" starring Jodie Foster and Kali Reis.

"Fancy Dance" -- which was written, produced, directed, and largely acted by Indigenous women -- takes a stark look at how Indigenous women navigate a world and a justice system that often fails them.


Thousands of murders unsolved

Erica Tremblay, a documentary filmmaker who is making her fiction feature debut with "Fancy Dance," is a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation. She too worries about the epidemic of murders and disappearances.

"As an Indigenous person, I can't go online without being, you know, without seeing a missing poster, without people, like, looking for someone who is missing," 44-year-old Tremblay told AFP at the premiere.

"And then you go outside of non-Native spaces and people have no idea that this is happening and going on," she said.

InvestigateWest, citing official estimates, puts the number of unsolved cases of Indigenous people missing or murdered across the United States in the thousands.

And for Indigenous women under the age of 45, murder is one of the primary causes of death.

"Genocide doesn't stop until it either accomplishes its goal or the bad actors stop it. And there's an ongoing genocide that's still happening in modern America that we aren't talking about," Tremblay said.

She noted that because of complicated judicial procedures on Native lands, Indigenous people cannot prosecute all crimes affecting them.

Gladstone adds that the situation cannot improve "until those jurisdictional loopholes close, until sovereignty is restored, until native people are in positions to really protect ourselves."

Isabel Deroy-Olson, who plays Roki, said she is happy that "Fancy Dance" is telling "such a real story."

"It's a work of fiction, but it really is so true to our communities here in North America, you know, and that representation is so important," she said.

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