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article imageReview: 'Rich Hall's Inventing the Indian' Special

By Alexander Baron     Nov 3, 2012 in Entertainment
This hour and a half documentary takes a sideways look at the portrayal, misportrayal and betrayal of the first masters of the American continent.
If the likes of Johanna Fernández, Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King Junior thought blacks had a rough deal in the forging of America, they should have taken a proper look at the way its indigenous peoples were treated.
What was that Ria Sahota wrote about the joys of immigration? "All the evidence shows that migrants get jobs, pay taxes, don't use many public services and don't take jobs from native workers".
Why don't we ask Geronimo what he thinks of that?
"'Anti-racist' speak with forked tongue!"
This documentary is not solely about Geronimo, who has become a metaphor for the noble warrior as much as symbolising the Red Man himself.
Rich Hall is better known as a comedian; a native born American if not an actual Native American, in this programme he takes a broad sweep of White American/Native American relations and a broad swipe at the way the tribes were treated, especially during the latter part of the 19th Century, but sadly through much of the 20th as well as down to the present day.
A question this one-off documentary neither poses nor answers is why were slaves imported into America from Africa if there were hundreds of thousands or even millions of indigenous peoples who might have been shackled and set to work in the fields? The simple answer is that the Red Man could not be enslaved; fought, imprisoned, even exterminated, but not enslaved. The Black Man could be enslaved as could the White Man (and some indentured servants were little more than that), but the Red Man, never.
It is this proud spirit coupled with his reverence for Nature that has made the Native American revered not only throughout America and the West but the world, though for most this reverence has come far too late.
This is a programme that has to be seen rather than simply reviewed; Hall's humour and commentary by his Native American companion seldom misses the mark, but a good all round education will be needed to take in much of it as he covers the depiction of Indian tribes in literature, in American culture generally and of course most of all on film.
Ironically, though the Red Man could not be enslaved by other men, alcohol did a better job after their numbers had been decimated by the superior technology of the White Man, deliberate and wanton acts of cruelty and finally herding onto reservations where most of them still live to this day. Hall visits Native American communities, speaks to Native American police officers, folklorists and others who have "made it".
The treatment of Geronimo and Chief Sitting Bull is covered, and to cap it all there is some thematic music, including from that most outstanding of Native American singer-songwriters, full-blooded Canadian Cree Indian Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Rich Hall's Inventing the Indian is currently on iplayer but it probably won't be by the time you read this, so watch out for it on YouTube; it will almost certainly be repeated on one of the BBC channels at some point, and probably screened elsewhere.
More about Geronimo, Christopher columbus, chief sitting bull, Native americans
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