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Indigenous People's Tactical Media
by David Garcia
Since the first Next 5 Minutes our definition of tactical media has been broad enough to encompass media made by indigenous peoples, namely Australian Aboriginal group who made use of satellite TV called Satellite Dreaming. But once the festival became more centered on net-discourse we have tended to lose sight of this critical and extremely active dimension of tactical media.
Broadly speaking we need to take account of the fact the "availability of new cheap forms of audiovisual media, above all *video recording*, has given rise in the past decades to an unprecedented phenomenon: the appropriation of and use of new technologies by indigenous peoples for their own ends"? The peoples most involved in this development have been among the most culturally and technologically distant from the west: Australian Aborigines, Canadian Inuit, and Amazonian Indians.
Among the latter the Kayapo of central Brazil one of the most striking and varied examples of the indigenous use of videos. "Although Kayapo are accomplished in their own cultural modes of representation, an extraordinary feat of creative mimesis has undoubtedly been the enactment of themselves in their self-presentations to Brazilians and other non-westerners, from environmentalists to world bank executives. These self representations have played a central role in their successful political actions over the past decade?There has been a complex feedback relationship between Kayapo self dramatization in their political encounters with Brazilians many of which have taken on the aspect of guerilla theater, and the Kayapo use of video media."
"In fact early as the 1970?s the Inuit Tapirisat, a pan Inuit activist organization began agitating for a license from the Canadian government to establish their own Arctic satellite television service, the Inuit Broadcast Corporation (IBC), The creation of the IBC ?a production center for Inuit programming of all sorts ? became an important development in the lives of contemporary Canadian Arctic peoples, as well as a model for the re-purposing of communications technologies for indigenous people worldwide."
In this edition of Next 5 Minutes we have a unique opportunity to be more systematic in our representation of this important, complex and controversial field. This is because one of the most committed members of our editorial network is the Department of Media, History and Culture in NYU who number among their faculty scholar/anthropologist/activists who could provide with the necessary expertise needed to approach this field, in terms of access to the appropriate networks and an awareness of the sensitivities. Faye Ginsburg (the director of this department) is the co-editor of "Media Worlds: Anthropology on a New Terrain" which unique compendium of anthropological insights into media practice in "out of the way places", which is already proving to be an invaluable source of information for us.
Below is another extract which enables us to see how the approach of a number of visionary anthropologists has been able to situate indigenous tactical media slap bang in the middle of our terrain but in ways which help us navigate beyond the narrow definition of tactical media that see it as no more than part of a historical trajectory leading to "the new social movements" (wrongly labled anti-globalism). Those who ask how to go beyond "beta" need look no further Kayapo media production or IBC.
"Since the early 1980s, indigenous and minority peoples have begun to take up a range of media in order to "talk back" to structures of power that have erased and distorted their interests and realities. Faye Ginsburg called this kind of work "cultural activism" to underscore the sense of both political agency and cultural intervention that people bring to these efforts, part of a spectrum of of practices of self mediation and mobilization of culture that took shape at the beginning in the late twentieth century (1993, 1997), similarly George Marcus has coined the term "the activist imaginary" to describe how subaltern groups turn to film, video and other media not only to persue "traditional goals of broad-based social change through a politics of identity and representation" but also out of a utopian desire for emancipatory projects?raising fresh issues about citizenship and the public spheres within the frame and terms of traditional discourse on polity and civil society" (1996:6) The section focuses mainly on indigenous media as a key arena where these processes are being enacted.."
When I attend the NYU TML in December I look forward to discussing with a number of contributors to this volume how to proceed with this aspect of media activism and how it makes sense to connect it to our localized forms of practice practice.