It’s been a while since we’ve had an all-out Native Approps Adrienne K. rant against something on the blog. Actually, it’s been a while since we’ve had anything on the blog. So I hope you’re ready, cause it’s well after midnight, and I’m ready to rail on some stupid language choices, powers of representation, and claims of “honoring.”
Bon Iver released his third video today for his song “Towers.” Now, I don’t claim to have any knowledge of Bon Iver before Justin Timberlake’s awesome impression on SNL–so please, Bon Iver fans, if I’m somehow “missing the point,” bring it on.
To start, here’s the video. It has a high production value, some beautiful, beautiful scenery and camera angles, and a lovely soundtrack of mumbling falsetto, if you’re into that.
Nothing inherently wrong with the video itself. An old white dude with a beard drives around in his truck, wanders through the woods, across a beach, and rows out in the ocean where we see some massive wooden towers. Then one falls, and SPOILER ALERT the old man dies. or something. It is so magical and mystical! We don’t know what it means!
But don’t worry, this randomness is a “tribute” to “Native American preservation lands”! Yeah, “preservation.” Not reservation. Preservation. A new term, invented special by the editors of Huffington Post and the director of the music video:
The story and aesthetic is very similar to “Holocene,” shot and directed by Nabil Elderkin, of the production house NABIL. Like Iceland in “Holocene,” “Towers” is a true tribute to the Native American preservation land in Washington state where the video was shot.
At first I thought HuffPo just mis-used a quote from the Paste Magazine article (linked in the last sentence of the quote above), which reads:
Elderkin also noted that “Towers” was shot mostly on Native American-preserved land in Washington state, and the video features the moving work of an actor named Mystic.
“Native American-preserved land” is super loaded and problematic too, but could have been a mistake. So I tracked down the actual quote from the director, which doesn’t necessarily make anything any better:
Nabil Elderkin, director: “The video was shot in Washington State, mostly on Native American preservation land. The idea came from when Justin sent me a breakdown of what certain parts/lines of the song meant to him, so I did my best to decode it and curate into something simple, and hopefully the viewer can take from it their own feeling of what the towers represent. It was very run and gun with Larkin my DP, Mystic my actor, Kathleen my producer and Nature, who is the best low budget art director ON THE PLANET!”
Then there’s this Hollywood reporter article that twists the language even more:
“Towers,” which features an old, heavily-bearded man venturing from the forest and into tumultuous sea, was shot mostly in preserved Native American land in Washington State.
“…preserved Native American land”? Really?
Ready to unpack this? First of all, the term “preservation land” or “preserved land” or “Native-preserved land” doesn’t exist. Is this all stemming from a possible mis-quote when Nambil actually said “reservation”? Quite possibly. But here are the things that bother me.
In these quotes, the Native land becomes a novelty, an unnamed backdrop for the “art” of the video. Why mention it was on Native land at all? Because it adds to the mysticism. It gives it a hipster-edge. “We didn’t just shoot a video in nature! we shot it in NATIVE AMERICAN NATURE!”
The unnaming of the land bothers me too. If they shot on tribal lands, I sure hope they got tribal permission, and therefore, you know, had to know who’s land they were on. There are 30 or so tribes in WA state. They’re all different. They’re not generic “Native American.” By just calling it “Native American…land” they’re contributing to that whole Native-American-culture-is-a-monolith myth that I bring up again and again.
So then the whole evolution of reservation–>preservation–>Native preserved–>preserved Native-land is fascinating. Let’s assume the original slip was a typo/mis-quote, but I think how quick the other media sources were to pick up on it says something about the imperialist nostalgia hidden right under the surface in the US. “Reservation” sounds sad, a reminder of how “we” (dominant culture) subjugated “them” (Natives). But “preservation” sounds nice. Like “we” saved it for them. Set it aside. Cause we’re thoughtful like that. And “preserved” sounds even better! Like “they” held onto those traditional old ways that we tried to get rid of, remained stewards of the land, and kept it pristine and beautiful so “we” could come shoot our music videos on it. How wonderful for everyone involved.
Icing on the cake is how HuffPo calls this a “true tribute to Native American (p)reservation lands.” A “true tribute” to Native land is a white actor named “Mystic” wandering around and then dying on unnamed tribal lands? Um, notsomuch. But thanks for trying. I’m really, really tired of the rhetoric of “honoring” or “tributes” being drawn upon to somehow erase Native peoples anger at the way we’re being represented by outside forces. Mascots? Hipster headdresses? YMCA Indian Guides? Quotes about Bon Iver music videos? Don’t get mad, we’re honoring you with our gross mis-representations of your culture!
Please don’t tell me that I should be “glad” that Native people are being “recognized at all” and throw out the “Would you rather that Native people were just forgotten completely and never mentioned or shown again?” I’m sorry, we’ve been somehow “disappearing” for over 500 years, yet we’re still here. Our cultures are still strong. We’re not going anywhere. So your ridiculous “honors” and “tributes” that do nothing to truly represent our peoples and our cultures aren’t “saving” us from extinction. They’re continuing to oppress, erase, and marginalize our living, breathing existence.
So much loaded in one mis-quote, huh?
Here’s the original HuffPo article: Bon Iver’s new video is a tribute to Native American preservation land
UPDATE: Thanks to some amazing detective work by @NativeApprops twitter follower Jac (@java9lives), it appears the mysterious preservation lands we’re talking about are those of the Hoh Tribe. How’d she figure it out? By matching the picture on their homepage to the shot at about 3:15 in the video, the one I happened to screenshot above. Incredible. So in her honor, I’d like to end with an alternate post title from her brilliant mind:
“From Typo to Tribute: The Birth of Native American Preservation Land”
I think it’s quite fitting.