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1 Wilson, Pamela.

"Disputable Truths: The American Stranger, Television Documentary and Native American Cultural Politics in the 1950s." Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1996.


As I have been writing this, history has not stood still. Through the vicarious opportunities afforded us by the television cameras, the public consciousness has been engaged in yet another case in which the clashing and competing discourses of a complex configuration of players have openly argued--this time over the guilt or innocence of one O.J. Simpson, an American football and media hero who is African-American, accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and an acquaintance, Ronald Goldman, both of whom were white. This case, which has been foremost in the American consciousness and news media for over a year, has revolved around what all sides have constantly called the search for the truth, pervading our public spheres: television screens, newspapers, dinner-table and workplace conversations and especially the newest location in which the public sphere operates--cyberspace or the Internet. In an age in which single, objective truths have been skeptically questioned by academics, the discourses of the courtroom, particularly as articulated by the defense and prosecuting attorneys in this case, have assumed--and constantly claimed to be representing--the existence of a single, undisputable truth which could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in the Simpson case, each side presented its

2 own version of what may have truly happened on that fateful June night in 1994, and even those versions kept transmuting over the course of the lengthy trial as witness after witness provided often-conflicting testimony, under oath, much of it backed by reputable scientific expertise. The intrigues of the trial matched those of the most carefully-crafted fiction--twists and turns involving undisputed evidence of a history of spousal abuse by Simpson; highly emotional accusations of Simpson by his former friends and his ex-wifes family; sloppy and irresponsible handling of evidence by city officials (police, criminalists, pathologists); the malevolent and vitriolic racism of a key police detective and witness; internal bickering between attorneys on Simpsons so-called Dream Team; the carnival of media coverage through which so-called legal analysts dissected every turn of the case; a judge who seemed to lose control of his courtroom; and a mutiny threatened by the jury because of the length and tensions of the trial. That the truth was evasive--and probably impossible to ascertain--was confirmed by the response to the verdict issued by the jury in October, 1995, after less than four hours of deliberation. These twelve men and women--nine black, one Hispanic and two white, all but one being women--sequestered for nine months and only allowed to hear the truths approved by the judge (rather than those other truths wildly circulating in society-at-large), determined that there existed a reasonable doubt that Simpson had committed the crimes. With this verdict, the question of truth reverted legally to a state of unproven claims and allegations. Just as the prosecution had failed to prove his guilt, neither had Simpsons innocence been definitively established, nor had the truth of the

3 crimes been solved. In the wake of this muddle, the American public--and the meaning of the trial to us as a society--became more racially polarized. Many black Americans celebrated the verdict as a vindication of the legal system, in which African American men could be found not guilty; the truth to them became a truth based in the history of their races treatment by a dominant white judicial system which, in conjunction with the states forces of law and order, had historically harassed and brutalized black men. For many others, mostly white Americans, the hastily-deliberated verdict pointed to flaws in the legal system, to the jurys apparent repudiation of what seemed to be overwhelming forensic evidence which in their mind pointed to Simpsons guilt. For many of these people, the truths were that, one, justice had not been served since Simpson was a guilty man who had beat the system, and two, that the race of the jurors was a major factor in allowing this to happen. In the weeks following the verdict, the public found itself engaged in a dialogue about black-white relations in American society, with many black Americans invoking a history deeply rooted in racism and domination by white power, and many white Americans distressed that the case had become, in the end, defined by discourses based in the truths of the African American experience rather than by equally probable truths of the case based on gender (the truths of abuse escalating into violence against women in many marital relationships, for example) or class (the truths regarding the socioeconomic position of O.J. Simpson and the degree to which his affluence could afford him the nations most expensive defense attorneys and expert witnesses). As a result of this trial and its verdict, many Americans began asking themselves how such truths could be perceived and valuated so differently based

4 upon ones racial positioning. How could it be that so many white Americans just dont get it about the experiences of being black and under constant fear of being falsely accused, brutalized, and even falsely convicted in America--in the same way that a few years earlier, women across the nation were proclaiming that men just dont get it during the heated debate that surrounded the sexual harassment charges and subsequent hearings brought against Supreme Court appointee Clarence Thomas by former employee and law professor Anita Hill? The controversy during the 1950s about Native American tribal rights, which reached its discursive peak in late 1958 and early 1959 surrounding the broadcast of the NBC documentary The American Stranger, aroused and mobilized the American public to try to comprehend the meanings, born from histories of racial oppression and colonial subjugation, of particular truths claimed by the Native American population about their legal, economic and social conditions. At that time, Native Americans might well have shouted, You just dont get it! to members of Congress who were determined to destroy their land bases, their tribal livelihood and their social fabric through the process of terminating their access to (supposedly) federally-protected lands and natural resources, as well as their legal status in relation to the federal government. At that time, as now, the ultimate truth of a situation was considered to be established through legal decisions, rational deliberations, and scientific discourses. However, then (as now, many will still argue, despite the outcome of the Simpson case), those decisions and deliberations and scientific discourses were inextricably tied to the interests of the dominant white power structure that pronounced them. Alternate truths to those pronounced by the established Western

5 discourses of science and reason--and which serve other interests--have been difficult, if not impossible, to place upon the agenda. The study of Native Americans in the social, cultural and political systems of the United States is a complex one. In addition to engaging sociological questions of race, ethnicity and economics, discourses by and about Native Americans also frequently invoke legal questions of sovereignty and rights to land and natural resources. American Indians have occupied a special and often confusing status as an indigenous peoples within a larger nation. This status is related to their legal relationship with the federal government, the states in which they reside, and the degree of federal recognition of the tribes. This relationship has been legally interpreted in variable ways at different times, based upon the U.S. Constitution, treaties, statutes, and court decisions. The legal definition of Indianness is highly contested at this time, especially at the level of individual identity politics, as I discuss more fully in Chapter Seven. The various levels of recognition of tribes, land and individual Indians are quite complex, stemming from the historical period in which and process by which the tribe was recognized, the presence or absence of recognition at the federal or state level, and the increasing phenomenon in the postwar years of individual Indians who are no longer connected to tribes or homelands, such as urban Indians (a group which may represent more than half of the contemporary American Indian population today). 1 According to Robert Nelson and Joseph Sheley, for the several hundred years of the relationship between Native Americans and the United States government, the federal government has dictated the life situation of the Indians, treating Indians as

6 wards with the government in the role of trustee over lands, resources and rights granted Indians under the provisions of various treaties and the U.S. Constitution. 2 Oliver LaFarge explained the basic differences between Indian status and that of other American citizens: Indian special status consists mainly in the ownership of land--reservations and grants--and income therefrom held in trust for them and tax exempt. As in all trusts, the beneficiary is restricted in the use and disposal of the estate. Complicating this relationship has been the semi-sovereign status of tribes as separate nations, enjoying home rule and exemption from state laws within "Indian country," with federal, rather than state or local, responsibility for services such as health, education and welfare. 3 In April of 1994, acknowledging the unique legal relationship between Native American tribal governments and the federal government, President Bill Clinton issued an historic statement reaffirming a government-to-government relationship with federally-recognized Native American tribes. However, the implications of the concept of dual citizenship of Indian people have not been clearly worked out. In Chapter Two, I provide an historical overview of the ideological struggles between the U.S. government and Native Americans which informed the 1958 NBC news documentary The American Stranger. The turmoil of the 1950s reflected a culmination of several centuries of federal policies, which, as characterized by a federally-appointed American Indian Policy Review Committee in the 1970s, sought through the first three-quarters of the 19th century to remove the Indian people from the midst of the European settlers by isolating them on reservations, and policies which after accomplishing isolation were then directed toward breaking down their

7 social and governmental structures and throwing their land, water, timber and mineral resources open to exploitation by non-Indians. 4 The American Stranger dealt specifically with the policies of the postwar "Termination Period" in United States-Indian relations, the period preceding (and providing the impetus for) the radical Indian rights and self-determination movements of the late 1960s and 1970s. Paralleling and sharing the same historical context with the Black Power movement, the radical American Indian activism sought goals of separatism, self-determination and legal tribal sovereignty which at times may have appeared, at least to the conservative white legislators, ironically contradictory to the legal goals of desegregation and equal individual rights championed by the civil rights movement. Yet the issues of Indian rights were and are quite complex, and must be considered in terms of an internally colonized peoples attempting to regain legal and cultural self-determination as well as an ethnic minority group seeking civil rights as members of the larger American society. The ideological rhetoric of termination, as explained in the first part of Chapter Two, constructed the legal maneuvers proposed by the government as serving Indian interests by "freeing" the Indian from federal control (through elimination of tribal status) in order to assimilate individual Indians into American society, thus granting them full privileges and responsibilities. However, the termination movement was led by conservative congressmen from western states whose own economic interests would be served by termination of federal legal recognition of tribes. The economic advantages of termination included ridding the federal government of its bureaucratic payroll expenses in maintaining civil and criminal jurisdiction over Indian trust lands,

8 with a shift of such responsibilities to states, and the dispersal of communal tribal lands to individuals. The breaking up of tribal land holdings allowed states to tax such property and also pressured individuals to sell their land and its valuable natural resources. Termination of federal responsibility to American Indians was both a mood and a move by a conservative Congress of the 1950s to trim the nations budget, cut back on administrative bureaucracies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and turn any responsibilities for providing services to Indian people over to state and local governments. Terminationists argued that such a move served the best interests of the American Indian people, although this view was not shared by many Indian people. Little did such legislators realize (if we are to give them as much benefit of the doubt as we can) what crises would be generated by attempting to restructure the relationship of Americas tribal peoples to their land; to the national and local economies; to the federal, state and local governments; and ultimately, to each other. Most non-Indian legislators just didnt get it. Most Indian people, and even tribes, felt relatively powerless against the machinations of Congress regarding their future status. Lacking a historical tradition of political organizing beyond their local and regional groups, Native Americans of the 1950s had few ways to express their truths in ways that might be heard, understood and acted upon by white Americans in positions of national political power. Some tribes had non-Indian legislative representatives who were sympathetic to their positions, and many tribes had the support of non-Indian social and religious activists, in the liberal tradition, who espoused tribal causes. At this time, the fledgling National Congress of American

9 Indians (NCAI) was the only national organization with an all-Indian membership and leadership. 5 From the first stirrings of termination activity in the early 1950s until 1958, the national news media had steered away, for the most part, from engaging itself in the intercultural dispute over what the role of the government in Indian Affairs should be. In the second half of Chapter Two, I trace the medias involvement in covering these issues and in defining the terms and discourses of the public involvement in this debate. However, in the summer of 1958, an NBC reporter searching for a story lead stumbled upon what was to become the biggest story of his career. Pursuing a tip with the zeal of a detective but the method of an anthropological ethnographer, political journalist Robert McCormick began investigating the termination issue--but this time from the Indian perspective. He spent much of that summer traveling from one reservation to the next, mostly listening to tribal leaders who had never before had the ear of an interested national media figure. Gathering extensive research material, McCormick pored over proceedings of Congressional hearings, tribal records, local and regional political literature, Bureau of Indian Affairs documents--and established his credibility among the Indian people as someone who might represent their interests and tell their side of the story. Even more importantly, McCormick would let them speak for themselves on national television, an unprecedented opportunity for Indian leaders to express their truths--to try to help white Americans get it.

During the 1958-1959 television season, the television Western was the dominant and highest rated form of entertainment programming. That year, in fact,

10 seven of the top ten shows in the Nielsen ratings were Westerns. 6 In this genre, which romanticized nineteenth-century westward colonization by white Americans, the major narrative theme was the maintenance (by white male authority figures) of civil law and social order against the violent threats of those elements that the settlers were seeking to conquer and domesticate: namely, hostile Indians, lawless whites, and the wild physical environment. These representations of Indian tribes, constructed as exotic cultural Others whose customs and values were decidedly in opposition to dominant American values and whose behaviors were unpredictable and warlike, provided the majority of the American public with their primary information on Indian culture. The fact that these representations, however skewed in their construction, were supposed to portray characters of a century past, was misleading to most Americans since they were provided with few modernized representations of American Indian life or culture. This misperception was reinforced by other forms of popular culture, such as films, literature, toys and tourist attractions which perpetrated the myths either of the "bloodthirsty savage" or the more sympathetic but romanticized "noble red man"--often portrayed in headdress and living in teepees, struggling but failing to maintain a dying culture. Newspaper and popular magazine coverage of American Indian issues which might have countered the prevailing fictionalized stereotypes was infrequent in the 1950s. An occasional story in the popular press reported on a totally different version of American Indian life--tribes concerned with such modern issues as land claims, oil wells, and uranium mining, and facing federal government pressures to abandon

11 traditional communities and lifestyles and assimilate into mainstream American society through government-"assisted" relocation programs--though these stories did not concur with the more popular received stereotypes of Indians, and were easily ignored. Also, the lack of well-disseminated information throughout the nation left the majority of the American public uninformed about the contemporary realities of American Indian life and politics. The media images which predominated were those from the cowboy movies and television Westerns. Imagine, then, the cultural awakening that was waiting to occur for many non-Indian Americans. On the third Sunday afternoon in November, 1958, NBC television broadcast The American Stranger as the second episode of Kaleidoscope, an experimental hour-long series of entertainment and news specials hosted by quiz show champion Charles Van Doren. 7 The promotions for the program, which strategically played upon the prevailing television discourses about American Indians at the time, gave little indication as to the actual content of the investigative report, which was in fact a critical expos of the federal government's policies regarding Indian tribal status and land holdings, particularly the termination policies being implemented by Congress at the time. The documentary, produced by Robert McCormick with the cooperation of various Indian tribes and individuals and filmed primarily on Indian reservations in Wisconsin and Montana, immediately generated a great deal of controversy. The reaction from the general public (both Indian and non-Indian), Indian tribes, and professional Indian lobbies was overwhelmingly supportive. However, the broadcast drew an irate response from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which was deluged

12 with letters from concerned television viewers about federal policies and procedures regarding the management of Indian Affairs. Chapter Three provides a historical context for the broadcast within the television industry itself, an account of the process through which Robert McCormick researched the story for the documentary, and a detailed descriptive analysis of The American Stranger as a televisual text. Using a combination of visual montages, dramatic musical scoring, and a great deal of voiced-over commentary in conjunction with filmed interviews, McCormick reported upon the U.S. government's bureaucratic efforts to "sandbag the Indians into selling their land" and rights to highly sought-after natural resources under strong pressures from commercial interests. The documentary demonstrates what Indian people claimed to be the results of such unscrupulous practices--the loss of cultural and economic resources which accompanied the dispossession of land. The persuasive rhetoric represents a strong editorial stance, supported by interviews with articulate Blackfeet tribal leaders, a leading anti-termination proponent in Congress, an activist Jesuit priest, and footage of a tribal council meeting. McCormick shamelessly wallpapered the piece with emotion-laden visuals of impoverished and polio-stricken Blackfeet children, closing on an ironic note with a schoolroom shot in which young Jolene Comes-At-Night haltingly recites the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America. The documentary was designed to tug mightily upon the humanitarian and Christian sensibilities of its assumed audience, ennobling the Indian through overt Christian rhetoric, and linking moral responsibility to a liberal political position.

13 Reactions to the broadcast of the documentary were immediate and overwhelming, as I discuss in Chapters Four through Six. In the minutes following the Sunday afternoon broadcast, telegrams began pouring in to the White House, followed by letters and phone calls to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, NBC, local television stations and Congressional leaders. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of the Interior were reportedly overwhelmed with communications from the public, as were the offices of Representative Lee Metcalf of Montana, the National Broadcasting Company and many of its affiliates. Sister Providencia Tolan, the activist nun and sociology professor at Montanas Great Falls College who worked closely with the Blackfeet Tribe and Great Falls Hill 57" community, wrote to McCormick the following day proclaiming this ground-breaking documentary as a momentous media event for Native American causes: No article, no magazine illustration, no argument has ever done what television has done--given us proof beyond dispute, beyond prejudice, beyond stereotype. 8 NBC and its affiliates received hundreds of letters from viewers regarding the broadcast, almost exclusively appreciative of the documentary for enlightening them about the situation of which they were previously ignorant. Like Sister Providencia, many lauded the harnessing of the potential of television to reach the American public with such a message. Many also sent letters to government agencies and legislators, urging the government to reverse its actions and take responsibility for the Indian situation. Most viewers expressed shock, outrage and collective white guilt about the historical treatment of the nations indigenous peoples, a treatment which they were generally unaware was continuing in the contemporary

14 politics of 1958. Generally, the emotional responses from the American television-viewing public revealed two primary impulses: first, an angry political impulse which involved trying to change the legal and political system (generally by writing letters to legislators and federal agencies), and second, a nurturing humanitarian impulse to provide charitable relief and material aid to the economically-deprived victims of conditions of poverty on Indian reservations. From those viewers touched by the humanitarian plea, including church and community groups, shipments of food and clothing begin pouring in to the Blackfeet reservation and Great Falls Hill 57. Indian interest groups such as the NCAI and the Association for American Indian Affairs (AAIA) reported surges in contributions. Many contributions were sent to NBC or even the field offices of the BIA to be forwarded to the "needy Indians." Those who chose to take political action to try to change the Congressional policies, and the systems of policy implementation represented by the practices of the bureaucratic Bureau of Indian Affairs, demanded both immediate relief efforts as well as long-range policy changes. In general, however, they found themselves facing a wall of bureaucracy and a profound chasm in cultural and political understanding between their understandings and those of the conservative white government. McCormick and NBC received many letters of applause from tribal leaders, individual Indian viewers, pro-Indian interest groups and from many of the other people who had helped McCormick with research and preparation for the show. McCormick received an NCAI citation for "courageous interpretive reporting" on Indian issues, while AAIA leaders cited the program as "magnificent" and "courageous,"

15 noting that it "added a chapter to the history of the free American press" and calling the broadcast the "finest single piece of public education in years. The AAIA also reported that their organization was deluged with letters and calls "from surprised and grateful Indians who never expected to see and hear their story told." 9 The Indian Rights Association (IRA) sent congratulations and appreciation for "what you have done to present the case of the American Indians to the nation." 10 Several tribes passed resolutions offering sincere appreciation and support [to NBC and McCormick who] courageously and frankly reported the true conditions of many . . . reservations and for using all avenues of public information to present a tribal perspective on Indian problems and issues. 11 The press reception was also positive, generally praising the program for providing a different view from the usual television and media fare. For example, one Montana newspaper reported on the broadcast and its local reception that through the program many Montanans got their first close-up view of life on the reservation, the struggle of its people and claimed that The American Stranger demonstrated the stature that television can reach. 12 Farther away, an editorial in the Springfield, Massachusetts Union lauded McCormick's disclosure of the "shameful treatment of the American Indian by the Department of the Interior through its Indian Bureau. . . . It is a sickening picture of what a government has the power to do." 13 Reacting to the sudden public scrutiny of their administration over Indian Affairs by a newly-politicized American public, the Department of the Interior took to the press with a call for equal broadcast time to present their rebuttal (a request which NBC President Robert Kintner eventually denied them). They also produced a primary

16 document, an official 31-page point-by-point rebuttal of the "charges and accusations" made by the broadcast. This statement claimed to use "true" facts to "correct the misleading impressions," the "distortions and false statements" of the NBC documentary, which the Interior Department claimed was a "thoroughly slanted and false picture" of the Indian situation based on "sensationalism and phony emotional appeal" rather than the objective "true facts." The often-quoted document was widely distributed to all who contacted the government in the following months, and became a major policy piece on Indian affairs for some time to come. 14 In addition to direct responses to the broadcast, another wave of social action occurred as a secondary reaction to the show. Localized movements spun off from the impetus of the broadcast: inspired, aroused and energized by it. As one community activist summarized the power of television, "Television shouted the things that we have been whispering with our weak voices from Montana." The Great Falls community group Friends of Hill 57" collected thousands of signatures in a statewide petition drive to urge Indian Affairs Commissioner Glenn Emmons for immediate relief for Montana's Indian population. A Pennsylvania woman, upon seeing the broadcast, wrote a compelling letter to the editor of her local newspaper and motivated a large group of newspaper readers to send donations to the Blackfeet tribe. Numerous schoolteachers, church groups and school classes moved by the broadcast started community-wide relief efforts. Efforts to get kinescope copies of the broadcast for circulation in the heartland began even before the original broadcast, since many of the affected people in rural areas and on Indian reservations did not have access to television. The film was

17 screened for the Blackfeet tribe at a special council meeting, before the Montana legislators at Helena, at open community meetings in Great Falls, and was shuttled around the state to various tribes, schools and church groups like Vertov's agit-train. Sister Providencia requested that it be sent to several Canadian tribes as well, "to give them some courage to speak up for their own interests from the example of the Indian councilmen in the picture." NBC also reported receiving hundreds of requests for the kinescope, and interest groups such as the NCAI and AAIA circulated their copies among their members around the country. In February 1959, The American Stranger was screened before the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, followed by a testimony from BIA Commissioner Glenn Emmons. Back in the hinterlands, community groups such as the Friends of Hill 57 were working to produce official statements of their own, rebuttals to the rebuttal, "true true facts" to counter the Interior Department's claims. Several lengthy and detailed documents rebutting the Interior Department Statement were produced by Montana community groups, challenging the federal agencys manipulation of discourses of statistics and scientific evidence to shore up its own dominating political, economic and cultural interests. In the year following the broadcast, McCormick and NBC were honored by numerous tribes and Indian organizations for the work. In May of 1959, six full months after the broadcast, U.S. Representative Lee Metcalf used the broadcast as the centerpiece of a "blistering attack" on the Eisenhower administration before the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. The mass distribution of his speech, through mailing lists compiled from viewers who had originally responded to the NBC

18 documentary, reignited a wave of grassroots response and sparked further local and regional community activism. A year after the original broadcast, donations and shipments of clothing were still coming in to the Blackfeet and Flathead tribes. On the first anniversary of the broadcast, Blackfeet tribal leader Iliff McKay wrote a letter on behalf of the tribe to David Sarnoff and the NBC television network clarifying the powerful political effect that a single television show could have upon public policy and practice. Before the broadcast, he claimed that Indian people had felt their pleas and protests to the government, were simply shrugged off as echoes of voices of aboriginal people from the past--people too stubborn to accept the inevitable loss of their racial identity, their property, and even their history of contribution to development of the world's greatest nation. However, McKay claimed that the public response to The American Stranger had effected revisions by the Interior Department in Indian land policies and practices, with greater care taken to insure that interests of other Indians and of Indian tribes will be protected. But the most important changes, McKay noted, involved the Interior Departments re-examination, in the wake of the public controversy surrounding The American Stranger, of their position and practices regarding termination of federal responsibility for the development of both material and human resources in reservation communities. On the same date, one year to the day after the broadcast, Robert McCormick carefully gathered all of the documents and correspondence surrounding the production and reception of the documentary and presented them to the Mass Communications, Film and Theatre Archives at the State Historical Society of

19 Wisconsin for safekeeping, perhaps aware of the historic nature of the broadcast and the social movements it had joined, spawned and nourished. Pro-Indian publications during 1959 were already noting the "turning of the tide" in Indian Affairs--"the termination forces are on the defensive . . . [and] a fresh constructive policy guides the Interior Department," they reported. Yet the same writer warned against relaxing too much in "this hour of justified self-congratulation," noting that "the old vigilance is necessary still": "It may be said that in Indian affairs the undertow is dangerous, as it has always been, but the tide is favorable, as it has not been for many years." 15 By insuring the archival documentation of the cultural and political controversy which had swirled around his pet television project--and which had produced repercussions far beyond anything he had ever imagined, Robert McCormick hoped to commit to historical memory a crucial episode in the early life of television journalism and in the history of the troubled relationship between Native America and the United States Government.

During the 1980s, cultural studies and reception theory approaches to media encouraged a move away from textual analysis to look at the interaction between texts and viewers. In cultural studies, this led to theorization of "active viewers," and interrogations of the ways that mass cultural forms could empower their consumers socially, culturally and politically. However, the historical reception of television programming, particularly news and documentaries, has evaded scholars in cultural and critical studies of media. Historical evidence for such reception is meager, and usually limited to institutional reception, such as press accounts and reviews. A major

20 historiographical challenge which plagues scholars interested in historical reception studies of television is the question of how to locate and conceptualize the historical television audience. This process is messy and incomplete, since we are forced to rely on fragmentary evidence and to make use of every resource at our disposal. Even then--to use as a metaphor the tradition (born in poverty to Appalachian mountain women) of weaving colorful, braided rugs from the scraps of rags left over from earlier sewing projects--we become weavers and braiders of historical narratives from the seemingly randomly-saved archival pieces of correspondence, documentation and memory which are left to us. Our "rags" are found in a variety of archives: from the highly-protected, official vaults which preserve and institutionalize memories, to the dusty, mildewed forgotten files of attics and garages. Interwoven, they provide a rich tapestry of colors and textures, though there are inevitably many gaps, holes and flaws. The existence of an extensive body of responses and reactions to the 1958 broadcast of The American Stranger, from the general public as well as from special interest organizations, tribes and government agencies, allows us a rare glimpse into the ways that discourses generated by the media intersect with, and engender, other cultural and political discourses. My project has been to reconstruct the practices and discourses of the historical television audience of this single 1958 television documentary, an undertaking which has proven to be much more complex than I imagined. It has involved examining the circular dynamics surrounding the influence of regional cultural, political and economic issues on the production of a national network television program, and in turn researching the impact of this television program on

21 regional politics and culture, especially as they interfaced with national politics. Ultimately, such a project has necessitated an analysis, which I take up in Chapter Six, of the cultural politics of regional representation, understanding that the "local" and "regional" are not defined only by their pure and romanticized essences, but are situationally and strategically constructed in distinctive opposition to a larger, hegemonic concept, such as the "national." The historiographical challenges are boundless: one is unable to provide any definitive and exhaustive account of every aspect of the dynamic interactions which occurred, and the existing archival evidence leaves many gaps in our knowledge. Such evidence forces us to turn away from traditional methodologies for "writing history," and to seek as our object of analysis not some sense of a knowable, empirical, objective accounting of events of the past, but rather to study and examine the discourses--the strategies, the tactics, the rhetoric, the explicitly voiced ideological motivations and interests--which were operative in, and ideologically structured, the cultural and political controversy which crystallized around a particular media event. The potential for a poststructuralist historical analysis is promising: examining and interrogating the available traces of the past to construct a representation of the multiple and competing discourses (connected to political, economic and cultural interests) which surrounded and converged upon a single historical moment which has been archivally "frozen" and admittedly only partially preserved. The discourses which were mobilized in the conjunctural moment which is frozen and documented in The American Strangers archival materials expose the various ways that contesting notions of "truth" are constructed, negotiated and fought

22 over by different social and cultural forces. In Chapter Four, I discuss the way that this case, and particularly the rhetoric of the subsequent controversy and exchange of correspondence between the various players and the public, provides insights into the political nature of all claims to truth and facticity, and the different bases of knowledge, logic and power upon which such claims are made. The longstanding argument between the government and Indian people was based upon a seldom-acknowledged difference between the bases of their fundamentally divergent truths--one, based in Western scientific reason and mathematical logic shored up by statistics (an If weve spent X number of dollars on them we must have done everything right attitude), and the other based upon a deeply emotional cultural knowledge rooted in a history of genocide, cultural oppression, and frustration over the continuing paternalistic management of their affairs. This fundamental difference in ways of knowing and historical experiences--the source of the you just dont get it sentiment--was further enabled by a profound inability (or perhaps an unwillingness, by some parties) to communicate effectively across cultures and through an uneven power relationship. Listening for alternative cultural truths is not something that Congressional leaders have historically done very well. The case study of the 1958-1959 intercultural political controversy into which The American Stranger became imbricated provides historical evidence which challenges our usual notions of reception and of audience behaviors in television studies, and particularly our notion of nonfiction viewers as passive recipients of information. This case demands that we reconceptualize such constructs as

23 "reception," the "audience," and the "public"--to account for the complexities of the viewing experience as well as for the multifaceted discourses and practices which may be mobilized by viewers in response to, or as a result of, a television program. In Chapter Eight, I explore the need to extend our examination of the concept of audience beyond the individual, psychological level to investigate the social and political aspects of television "audiencehood," especially as it is constituted locally and regionally in a variety of public spheres. Our definition of reception studies, then, goes beyond looking at the personal meanings and uses made from the text, shifting to incorporate the subsequent actions taken (by social agents alone and as members of alliances and coalitions) as a result of, or in response to, a television program. This may involve exploring the impact of a television program on the cultural, political or economic life of a community or region, extricating the discourses which circulate surrounding a television program and the ways that those discourses are taken up and mobilized to serve a variety of interests, and ultimately, to look at the implications of television's impact on the dynamics of race, ethnicity, gender, class and region. In so doing, we are able to see the formation of not one, but many public spheres operating to serve a variety of political, social, economic and cultural interests. Oskar Negt, Alexander Kluge, Miriam Hansen and Nancy Fraser have radically reconceptualized the notion of the public inherited from Habermas and instead conceive of the public sphere as a site of discursive contestation for and among multiple, diverse and unequal constituencies. In their terms, a counterpublic is born from hegemonic efforts to suppress, fragment, delegitimize, or assimilate any public formation that suggests an alternative, autonomous organization of experience. 16 As

24 Hansen explains, a nation will have multiple and competing counterpublics, each marked by specific terms of difference (class, race, gender, sexual preference, regional difference) from the dominant, "yet each understanding itself as a nucleus for an alternative organization of society." 17 For these theorists, the utopia of such a public sphere would ultimately be a radical form of democracy--involving not just the empowerment of formerly excluded constituencies, but also a radically different concept of public life. In the case of The American Stranger, we are able to see the processes by which an alliance of various publics and counterpublics were forged to effect social and political change. The controversy which followed this broadcast represented a conjuncture of ideological and political discourses surrounding the so-called "Indian problem": those of conservative legislators hoping to "free" and assimilate the Indians, the paternalistic Bureau of Indian Affairs wanting to trim its budget, Indian tribal leaders seeking self-determination, Catholic missionaries supporting tribal rights, corporate interests seeking to exploit natural resources on tribal land, and national Indian lobbying groups working with Democratic legislators in their attempts to shape government Indian policy, among others.

One of my goals in writing this dissertation has been to address interdisciplinary theoretical issues about the role of journalistic and documentary discourses of truth and objectivity in our society, using the archivally-rich case study of The American Stranger as the empirical foundation upon which to speculate on implications of these issues for public policy and the mobilization of an informed

25 citizenry/media audience within the public spheres created and maintained by the media. I would like to bridge the schism that has been traditionally reproduced in structuralist discourses which have dichotomized fact and fiction, narrative and non-narrative, actuality and art--and in turn have effectively separated such cultural productions into several grossly simplified categories in terms of their modes of production, their textual structures and their reception. Media scholars have generally accepted and perpetuated this distinction, and theoretical approaches to fictional and documentary forms of film and television have varied tremendously. An entire repertoire of analytical tools dealing with both textual construction and issues of spectatorial pleasure has been developed for the criticism of fictional films, primarily of the dramatic narrative products of the Hollywood film industry. Nonfictional, non-narrative and/or non-dramatic media forms have often been collapsed into a general category which Bill Nichols, in Representing Reality, has called discourses of sobriety: perceived by critics and the public alike as tranparently authoritative, objective and generally non-artistic. Such discourses have been considered to serve primarily a social or informational function, outside the realm of pleasure (aesthetic or intellectual) or entertainment. As a result, critical scholarship about documentary media has been marginalized; what little there has been has dealt primarily with formal textual analysis or the conditions of production by a documentary auteur such as Flaherty or Grierson. Also, whereas some documentary has been considered an artistic form, the journalistic presentational mode has been treated by critical media scholars as even more marginal and less worthy of critical analysis. In Chapter Nine, I bring some critical tools of poststructuralist ethnographic theory to bear upon a

26 reading of this example of classical television journalistic documentary, and also interrogate the cultural politics of media representation of the cultural Other. Throughout the dissertation, my interest is in the role broadcasting has played in mediating these intercultural and ideological struggles. During the first decade of commercial television, the potential power of the medium as a social and political instrument became increasingly evident. Many television historians, focusing primarily upon dramatic and comedic fictional forms, have emphasized how the screen images and narratives of the 1950s reinforced dominant ideological systems: patriarchy, consumer capitalism, and white racism--particularly by glorification of these value systems and the structured absence of alternatives to it. As Charlotte Ryan has noted, "Mainstream media promotes visions of society that endorse the status quo while silencing, marginalizing and/or absorbing alternative and oppositional voices." 18 However, the ideological positions framed by and expressed through early television were anything but consistent and univocal, and the political or ideological stances of television did not always necessarily correspond to the dominant ideologies of the conservative ruling political class. In particular, as the medium came of age in the 1950s, nonfiction television's relationship to structures of power increasingly provided spaces for counterhegemonic sentiment. These spaces were sometimes fleeting and not at all consistently allocated, yet they provided an occasional opportunity for alternative visions and voices to be heard by the public. Elsewhere, I have examined how public affairs programming in the early 1950s on NBC, during Sylvester Pat Weavers tenure as network president, was predominantly situated to reinforce the elite ideologies of high culture. 19 However, as

27 the decade progressed, and particularly with the advent of Murrow-style investigative TV journalism, there were significant historical moments which crystallized the ability of TV documentaries to take on the power bloc and serve as a catalyst for changes in political policy and social attitudes. In such cases, documentary power was vested in its ability to provide visual "facts," to convey a supposed empirical reality heavily laden with emotional appeal which could stand up against the most articulate rational and statistical arguments which might counter it. By exposing the underbelly of hegemony in action, such television documentaries could denaturalize the process by which power exerted itself and the assumptions upon which it rested its case. This case study upon which this dissertation is based represents a particular conjunctural moment in television broadcasting history, American social history and Native American political history--a moment which captures the intersection of various political, social, economic and cultural interests in a temporary configuration of opposing ideological configurations and power formations. This configuration was not just documented by, but was in part actually constituted by, the process of researching, producing and broadcasting the investigative documentary called The American Stranger. Although the lines of debate were pre-existing--represented and articulated primarily by discourses of tribal members and the Indian advocacy/lobby groups on the one hand, and the discourses of representatives of the federal government on the other--one significant aspect of the documentary is that it brought this debate into public discourse. In so doing, it temporarily constituted a national social formation from disparate localized American Indian tribal groups and organizations, and it also involved and aligned uncounted members of the general

28 viewing public, who previously either had no knowledge or no opinion, and mobilized them into some sort of action. The act of writing letters to a network is in itself a significant expression of interest and action, and we can assume that for each person who wrote a letter, countless others were similarly inspired to consider their opinions on these issues. Any time we talk about the political effectivity of media discourses, however, we must be careful to situate those discourses in the social and historical contexts and periods in which they originated. Although The American Stranger appeared at the time, during the conservative era of the late 1950s, to be a bold and scathing attack on the status quo which provided a large national audience for Native Americans to voice their political concerns, there were certainly limits in its ability to represent the cultural Other in American society. The representation of Indian people in The American Stranger diverged intentionally from the predominant images of bloodthirsty savages in the TV westerns, yet these new representations were framed by non-Indian political and cultural sensibilities, and "Indians" continued to be perceived as a unified group, lacking in tribal diversity or dissenting voices internally. The documentary demonstrated a respect for Indian cultures, yet constantly needed to validate this respect with the legitimating authority of white religious and political leaders. The American Stranger still focused on the views of mainly white men with liberal opinions acceptable within the legitimate political debate, such as Representative Metcalf and Father Byrne, whose clerical collar and religious rhetoric somewhat neutralized what might have been perceived as a radical message.

29 McCormick stayed within the journalistic norms of allowing a narrow band of dissenting opinions to enter political debates; he was unusual in that he looked beyond the white power structure and included an Indian perspective, allowing tribal members to speak with their own voices. However, this perspective did not and could not represent the feelings, experiences and attitudes of all Native Americans at that time. The choice of tribes was limited, and those empowered by the camera were predominantly tribal members whose perspectives had been validated by their election to tribal office. Women's voices were noticeably absent from the documentary; women and children were portrayed as victims, not active agents. This absence is particularly notable since there were several remarkable women playing major roles in the anti-termination movement, who served as consultants to McCormick, such as Sister Providencia in Great Falls, Helen Peterson (member of the Coeur dAlene tribe and Executive Director of NCAI) and LaVerne Madigan (Executive Director of AAIA). Just as whiteness in the 1950s can be understood as the often-unvoiced, unmarked and normative position from which racialized comments about racial and ethnic Others emanated, so too can the culture of masculinity in the 1950s be understood through the non-reflexive, naturalizing media discourses which silenced women and made them invisible. A significant historical aspect of this documentary is its place as probably the first time that Native Americans as a minority racial/ethnic group had been provided a voice on national television, a technology that enabled their message and perspective to reach hundreds of thousands of homes across the United States. Although the broadcast was produced and mediated by a non-Indian journalist, the involvement of

30 Native Americans in its preparation, and the fact that some Blackfeet tribal members were given access to direct media expression, was a radical change from previous treatment of Native Americans by the media, and this seems to have been seen as a progressive breakthrough by many Indian people at that time. The importance of being invited to participate in the process was perhaps of equal importance with the fact that pro-Indian issues were being entered into public media discourse. As discussed in Chapter Nine, representation, access (or having a voice), and control over production are three different levels of empowerment when it comes to the relationship between minorities and the media. Since the corporate interests of the television networks have generally supported and represented the interests of the dominant ideology (particularly NBC under the chairmanship of politically conservative David Sarnoff), the irony of this episode is the seemingly apparent lack of concern by the network about this potentially radical critique of federal policy and of many large capitalist interests. Many possible explanations for this network attitude exist: a sense that American Indian politics was an issue considered to be of minor importance by the public, a desire to attract and please the audience more than the Department of the Interior, a lack of concern about the controversial nature of an unsponsored program in the Sunday afternoon cultural ghetto, or perhaps just the influence of people in positions of network power who wanted to make this broadcast happen for personal reasons. Such questions require further investigation. Yet, for whatever reason, the documentary was indeed quietly broadcast and subsequently became the center of an intensely aroused exchange of discourses

31 between viewers, government agencies, Indian tribes, religious personnel, Indian lobby organizations and the network. Historically, this became a defining moment in which television entered into and became perceived as an active player in cultural politics, in the process of coalescing and nationalizing what had previously been considered multiple localized political, social and cultural issues. It signaled a shift in the hegemonic process which forced the networks to make efforts to accommodate ideological perspectives other than the dominant. Todd Gitlin has explained this contradiction inherent in the hegemony of the news media-- that the news media's claim to legitimacy, embodied in the professional ideology of objectivity, often encourages the entry of challenging social movements into the public ideological space, thus risking undermining the legitimacy of the social order as a whole. Through this and other broadcasting episodes, especially those of the following decade of militant social unrest, the hegemony of the medium became transformed from one speaking almost exclusively in a dominant voice to one which necessarily allowed for alternate voices, in spite of strenuous efforts by dominant power blocs to contain them.


1. Joyotpaul Chaudhuri, "American Indian Policy: An Overview," American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century (Vine Deloria, Jr., ed), Norman, U Oklahoma P, 1985, 15-33. 2. Robert A. Nelson and Joseph F. Sheley, "Bureau of Indian Affairs Influence on Indian Self-Determination,"American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century (Vine Deloria, Jr., ed), Norman, U Oklahoma P, 1985, 177-196. 3. Oliver LaFarge, "Termination of Federal Supervision: Disintegration and the American Indians," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 311 (May 1957) 41-46. According to anthropologist Malcolm McFee, Indian country is land owned by, or reserved for, Indians and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The reservation is one form of Indian country, and the federal government has jurisdiction over trust land and over any problems arising from its occupancy, use or conveyance. It has reserved jurisdiction over ten major crimes committed by Indians against Indians in Indian country. Yet Indian country remains part of the state in which it is located and Indians are subject to state laws only in matters not legally reserved to the federal government, or, by its regulations, to the tribe. Modern Blackfeet (Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1972) 26-27. 4. "Final Report of the American Indian Policy Review Commission," May 17, 1977, excerpted in Documents of U.S. Indian Policy (Francis P. Prucha, ed), Lincoln: U Nebraska P, 1990, 281-283. 5. The National Congress of American Indians was founded on November 16, 1944 as the National Council of American Indians to focus at a national level on broad problems facing tribes, to "define Indian thought" relating to the administration of Indian affairs by the U.S. government, and to serve as a link between tribes and the federal government. It serves as both a federation of tribal groups and an association of individuals, and membership was limited to persons of Indian descent. Major tasks of the NCAI in the postwar years were to keep tribes informed about proposed legislation, as well as representing tribal consensus to Congress. Papers of this organization are housed in the National Anthropological Archive, Smithsonian Institution, Suitland, Maryland. 6. These included Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, Maverick, Tales of Wells Fargo and Wyatt Earp. By the fall of 1959, there were 27 westerns in the prime-time schedule, according to Alex McNeil, Total Television (New York: Penguin, 1991) 1048, 917.

33 7. Kaleidoscope ran from November 1958 until May 1959, in the 5 to 6 pm EST time slot. 8. Letter to McCormick dated 17 November 1958 from Sister Providencia, F.C.S.P., College of Great Falls, Great Falls, Montana. McCormick Papers. 9. Various letters to McCormick dated November 1958. McCormick Papers. 10. Letter to McCormick from Lawrence Lindley, Indian Rights Association, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. McCormick Papers. 11. Letter to NBC dated 12 December 1958 from the Omaha Tribal Council. McCormick Papers. 12. Unidentified clipping, McCormick Papers. 13. "A Shameful Picture" (Editorial), undated. McCormick Papers. 14. The Interior Department Statement. . . is in the McCormick Papers. Documentation on Kintners denial of equal air time to the federal agency is in correspondence maintained by McCormick in his personal papers held by his daughter, Karen Skilling (hereafter referred to as the Skilling Papers). 15. "The Turning of the Tide," Indian Affairs (August 1959) 5. Also see "Federal Policy in Lower Gear," Indian Affairs (February 1959) 3-4. Published by the Association for American Indian Affairs, New York. 16. Miriam Hansen, Foreword, in Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere (trans. Peter Labanyi et al.), Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1993 (1972) xi-xxxi. 17. Hansen, xxxvi. 18. Charlotte Ryan, Prime Time Activism: Media Strategies for Grassroots Organizing (Boston: South End Press, 1991) 7. 19. Pamela Wilson, NBC Televisions Operation Frontal Lobes: Cultural Hegemony and Fifties Program Planning, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 15/1, 1995: 83-104.