In light of the recent events at Standing Rock, it is no surprise that Storycenter selected Bill Tall Bull's Digital Story, "This is My Home," as their Featured Story. In his piece, Bill Tall Bull details the history of his Native American tribe, the Cheyenne-Arapahoe, who lived in what is now present day Denver. His story is a powerful reminder that before "America," a bold people occupied this land. He implores us not to forget this history, but to celebrate it as part of our national fabric.
Using Jason Ohler's Digital Storytelling Assessment Traits, I chose to critique this story using the following criteria: Story, Originality / Voice / Creativity, and Media Application.
I thought this story was quite compelling and timely. As most people are aware, the Sioux tribe has been protesting the construction of an oil pipeline through their land, Standing Rock, the sixth largest Indian Reservation in the United States. Though Bill Tall Bull tells the story of his tribe without directly mentioning Standing Rock, I could not help but notice the parallels between the building of Denver International Airport above sacred Cheyenne-Arapahoe land and what is currently occurring at Standing Rock. When viewed through this lens, Bill Tall Bull's story obtains a potent resonance as yet another instance of America imposing its will upon Native Americans. To his credit, Bill Tall Bull does not seem bitter or vindictive (though he would have every right to be). Instead, he uses his story to illustrate that even though weaved in tragedy, his people and, particularly, his family have become an integral part of the Denver community.
Originality / Voice / Creativity and Media Application
I find the Originality / Voice / Creativity and Media Application traits of "This is My Home" to be strongly intertwined. Thus, I am going to address them together.
Bill Tall Bull does a great job imbuing his story with a strong Native American voice. He accomplishes this via the images that he chooses and the accompanying soundtrack. Peppering his story with Colorado landscape and Native American images, he achieves an impressive cohesion of topic and voice. This is especially noticeable at the forty-second mark, when Tall Bull utilizes a montage that traces backwards from present day Colorado to Native American times and then flashes forward through the construction of Denver atop Native American lands. Each transition between images is punctuated by a sharp drum rasp, which lends the montage a gunshot rapidity. It's quite a professional piece of filmmaking.
Tall Bull's choice of soundtrack is equally effective. The use of Native American chants and drumbeats places the viewer firmly within the story. We can see the Cheyenne-Arapahoe teepees that once populated the Denver area. We can see the tribe chanting and drumming. It's a great choice of music that emphasizes the images and creates a strong continuous flow throughout.
The only criticism I could level against the story is its tendency to linger a bit too long on certain images. The montage mentioned above is so effective that I was hoping Bill Tall Bull would continue to utilize the technique. However, there are instances of image repetition throughout the story. An example of this occurs at the video's two minute, eight second mark when he uses a particular landscape as a backdrop upon which various images are superimposed. While a good idea, the same back drop is used for forty three seconds which, in my opinion, is too long. It would have been more effective to simply create a montage using the superimposed images. Bill Tall Bull uses the same technique again at the three minute, twenty-eight second mark, this time using a railroad as the backdrop. This scene also lasts for forty three seconds.
Other than the above issue, this video is very well made. It tells an important story that should be viewed by everyone. As the current events at Standing Rock illustrate, "those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it." Hopefully, "This is My Home" can help us rewrite a new story.
Please feel free to leave any comments below.
I am a Special Education teacher currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Information & Learning Technologies (Option: K-12) at CU Denver. I work at Boulder High School in Boulder, CO. Here you will find my thoughts on education.