A Navajo boy stoically endures hardship, hunger and the death of his family.
Nominated for two Academy Awards in 1952, NAVAJO follows a young “Indian” boy named Son of the Hunter (played by Frances Kee Teller) in his search for what “home” means to him following the death of his parents. After being shuffled into an oppressive Indian boarding school designed to assimilate him into US culture, he shakes himself free and runs into the cavernous homeland of his ancestors with representatives of his school in hot pursuit.
“Unusual, truly picturesque and convincing” – New York Times
Filmed almost entirely on reservation land (specifically in majestic Canyon de Chelly) with tenuous permission from what was then called the United States Indian Service (the agency repeatedly tried to ban production of the film), it’s equal parts character-driven plot for the main character and advertisement for the supposedly untouched natural beauty of the West.
“Memorable – stirringly beautiful” – Christian Science Monitor
The film touches on a number of different issues pertinent to the experience of “Indians,” as they were called in the film (and as some refer to themselves, reclaiming the term). The 72 minute movie examines the dispossession of Native American peoples, the Indian boarding schools set up by the 1887 Dawes Act to “kill the Indian to save the man,” and environmentalism, all through Indigenous eyes. Our lens into this world is a child, meaning our dives into each of those topics never get too deep, but each leaves us with more to think about and look into in future investigations.
While the film may well show its age, it is still important to our understanding of how film (especially lower-budget indie films) can change minds and hearts and push for systemic change as well. It’s very much a piece of its time.
The cast features:
- Francis Kee Teller
- John Mitchell
- Mrs. Kee Teller
- Sammy Ogg
- William Draper
- Hall Bartlett
The DVD version features a wonderful selection of bonus materials including:
- Commentary by Francis Kee Teller
- ‘Canyon de Chelly’ Photo-essay by Deborah Lem, Diné
- ‘The Canyon Matters” by Genny Yazzie, Diné
- 1952 National Publicity Tour with Mr. Teller (age 8)
- ‘Our Navajo Neighbors’ 1952 documentary
- 2K scan from the Academy Film Archive preservation negative
1952 / 72 minutes / Docudrama / Black & White / English / A film by Norman Foster
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Watch the trailer