The Multifarious Writings of I. Agnimitra

storyteller and dreamer of dreams

Below are a handful of haiku reviews of films LRK and I have seen at the theater earlier this year:

PADMAAVAT

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the queen says, “let’s burn!”; Khilji cheats and wins the fight; Rajput honor fail

 

BLACK PANTHER

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Black utopia; say Wakanda forever; it is challenge day!

 

DEADPOOL 2

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better than the first; more heart and meta-humor; and so much more blood

 

SOLO

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Lando is the star; but Han and Chewie are cool; the slickest Star Wars

 

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

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a game of gem stones; golden left-handed gauntlet; Thor got a new axe

My last post on Afrofuturism explored the term’s origin and how I felt Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is the A-1 example of the intersection of African Diaspora culture with technology in 2018. I still believe that to be true, but should mention another stellar example of Afrofuturistic representation this year:

Lando

Admittedly, I threw heavy shade on Solo per the lackluster first trailer and all the drama that went down during shooting. Truth be told, it’s pretty good.

For those who have yet to see it, Solo basically reveals how Han Solo: got his name, captained the Millennium Falcon, acquired his blaster, met Chewie, met Lando, got his swagger, and became a smuggler. So, while the movie initially feels like a Solo get list, the overall project comes together in an slick, intergalactic swashbuckling package that’s entertaining even for those not totally into Star Wars.

Lando-Calrissian-Movie-Star-Wars-Spin-Off-PlansThe biggest surprise for me was finding out not only that Lando is in the film, but that Donald Glover would play the role. As a kid, I never thought much of the Lando character, first introduced in The Empire Strikes Back. He wasn’t a jedi; he was no longer a smuggler; he no longer owned a cool ship. He was just a businessman in a cape, a mayor of some city in the clouds, who double-crossed the main cast only to somewhat redeem himself after getting choked by Chewbacca. Boring! His appearance in The Return of the Jedi was only slightly better as he had some slick maneuvers in the Falcon near the film’s end.

As an adult, though, I can see the layers. First of all, he wears capes even though he isn’t a Jedi. Actually, his capes are better than all of the Jedis’. Second, getting out of the smuggling business to become a legit entrepreneur and boss who wears silky Count-von-Count-style capes is way better than getting hunted down by the Sith or galavanting around the universe with Yoda on your back, berating you with object-subject-verb commands.

While Lando may not get his own movie any time soon, there are positive rumblings Billy Dee Williams may be reprising his role as the caped crusader for Episode IX, which is great, but homeboy is 81 years old, so they should probably wrap production sooner than later.

The following article was written in July 2018 and published in the Fall 2018 edition of News from Native California

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, hundreds of people gathered in support of the West Berkeley Shellmound and Historic Ohlone Village Site, which is in danger of being developed.

A nearly 15-foot effigy of Dr. King blew in the light breeze on the overcast day as Ohlone activist Corrina Gould spoke to the crowd in the 2.2-acre parking across from Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto at 1900 4th Street in Berkeley. Against the backdrop of the University Avenue overpass, she asked supporters to imagine a five-story building on the site. “This entire space—not one inch will be left for us to come and say our prayers,” she said. “My children and my grandchildren, and other Ohlone people come, and many of you have come out at other times to lay down our prayers here for the ancestors that still remain under this asphalt.”

Gould, said the sacred site is 5,700 years old, the oldest of 425 shellmounds that used to ring the entire Bay Area.

For over five years, Gould, Indigenous activists, and other supporters have been fighting the development of the site by West Berkeley Investors, a subsidiary of Danville-based Blake Griggs Properties, LLC, who invoked Senate Bill 35 when filing its second application with the City of Berkeley in March.

SB 35, enacted in January, is designed to expedite the approval process for residential developments by requiring California cities that aren’t meeting state-mandated housing goals to approve more residential and mixed-use projects.

Jennifer Hernandez, an attorney who represents West Berkeley Investors, said the project is a prime example of the type of development SB 35 is intended to encourage and that it would single-handedly provide enough affordable housing for Berkeley to meet SB 35 standards, according to reporting by Mercury News.

However, the City of Berkeley Planning and Development Department issued a letter in June claiming the proposal could not be approved due to the submission of an incomplete Use Permit application and the site’s status as a city landmark.

In response, West Berkeley Investors refuted the city’s letter, stating that it will press charges against the city if the proposal is not approved by Sept. 4, the last of the 180-day legal time limit for the proposal to be considered. As of this writing, the project website, 19004thst.com, contains a countdown for city council approval under SB-35.  The slogan “Housing for People. Not Parking for Cars” overlays alternating images—one of an artist’s colorful rendering of the proposed site with people strolling, shopping, and generally enjoying the newly-developed space; the other, a black and white photograph of the Spenger’s parking lot populated with a smattering of stationary vehicles and no people in sight.

The website also contains a link to the history of project site, which illustrates through charts, historic maps, and other resources the developer’s position that the West Berkeley Shellmound was not located at the proposed project site:

“These areas were exhaustively excavated in 2014.  Ground-penetrating radar and hand excavation were used.  Shell residue in these locations had been deposited through secondary sources and did not constitute intact shellmound. No evidence whatsoever was found of the West Berkeley Shellmound on the site. Investigation was performed under supervision of an Ohlone Indian representative.”

Lauren Seaver, Blake Griggs Vice President of Development, echoed this message in an interview with KPIX5. “We’ve conducted five years of research—the most extensive research ever conducted—and spent millions of dollars doing so. And none of that research has ever showed that this was ever the site of the West Berkeley Shellmound.”

Human remains have been recently discovered in the area, however, according to Andrew Galvan (Chochenyo Ohlone), the curator of the Mission Dolores Museum in San Francisco and on-site Indigenous artifacts consultant to developers. One of the project sites for which Glavin consulted, the redevelopment of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto and adjoining parcels, was under scrutiny in 2016 due to “pre-contact” Indigenous remains found by construction workers while digging a trench on Fourth Street near Hearst Avenue, according to reporting by Berkeleyside.com. Jamestown, the corporate owner of the property, commissioned a bone expert, who determined that the remains, which lay among remnants of the ancient shellmound that sat for centuries in the area, were human. The Alameda County Coroner’s office has since confirmed the finding.

Seaver said Blake Griggs has spent over half a year working with tribal leaders and have made various offers, including an offer to give the tribe the entire property subject to a ground lease on which the developer would build the project, and then the tribe would own the entire parking lot thereafter.

Gould said there could be no further compromise and disputed the legitimacy of Blake Griggs/West Berkeley Investors’ claim that the land is not tribal property. She said it is unfortunate that the developers are still fighting to build on a historic site.

News’ Roundhouse Outreach Coordinator, Vincent Medina (Chochenyo Ohlone), works with Galvan as an assistant curator of the Mission Dolores Museum and is the spokesperson for one-third of the autonomous Ohlone Family Bands vowing in a letter released in late 2017 to stand together in opposition of the development of the West Berkeley Shellmound. Representatives of the united front—the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, represented by Gould, Himre-n-Ohlone represented by Ruth Orta, and Medina Family, represented by Medina—have worked diligently to raise awareness on social media platforms as well as in public gatherings.

West Berkeley City Council

credit: shellmound.org

As with the MLK Day gathering, hundreds of people showed their support at June Berkeley City council meeting, packing city hall to protest Blake Griggs Properties’ invocation of SB 35 to develop the West Berkeley Shellmound. The council reportedly gave the Ohlone 35 minutes to advocate for the site.

“We stand united because we know that this is bigger than any one of us,” Medina said.  “Developers ask us—they say, ‘Why?  It’s a parking lot?’  They don’t understand the depth and the history that’s underneath that pavement.”

He continued, referencing a saying in the Chocheyno language, “‘The ground had turned to stone but below the world is still alive.’ We know this is a sacred site because we know our direct ancestors.  We know our direct family members. Our direct ancestors are buried there.”

Gould said she thought the City Council meeting went well. “I want to thank the hundreds of people that showed up and gave up their time, and the wonderful speakers that spoke. I want to thank our legal team, Michelle LaPenna and Tom Lippy for coming and explaining and sharing our legal strategy with the city council members, as well as their legal council and the city department manager,” she said. “One of the things we want people to do, in order to make sure that the city of Berkeley does the right thing, is to send letters to the legal staff, the city planning department and the city manager asking them to do the right thing, to not qualify this project for SB 35 and to do it in a good way!”

Note: featured image photo credit: Berkeleyside.com;  for the latest information, visit: shellmound.org

Deets and Geets is a new pop culture podcast I produce and co-host with LRK.

AC15-May-Ms-Marvel-picThe first episode covers our deep thoughts about fate of heroes against the mighty Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, the possible Ms. Marvel entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and our love of country music, specifically that of Kacey Musgraves.

Episode two delves into recent Kollywood and Bollywood entries. We’re in the process of building up our social media pages, but you can absolutely follow us now on Twitter and Instagram @deetsandgeets, and, as always, you can follow my antics on Twitter as well.

Also, be on the lookout for an update to this site along with my visual site agnimitrakhan.com.

More later.

The bare bones story of the Modoc War, also known as the Lava Beds War, is one of institutionalized genocide and land theft in the name of Manifest Destiny. The fleshed-out version reveals the complexities of human nature while demonstrating what little has changed regarding relations between Indigenous peoples and the U.S. Government.  Robert McNally’s version, aptly titled The Modoc War, falls into the latter category.

themodocwarMcNally, author and co-author of nine nonfiction books, is known for his vivid, information-laden writing style. His telling of the armed conflict between the Modoc people and the United States Army near the California-Oregon border from 1872 to 1873 is true to form, a historical thriller that reveals the intricacies of the conflict:

“A mixed-race lieutenant who kept secret the African American portion of his heritage in order to command white troopers, [Lieutenant Frazier] Boutelle knew more than a little about playing a role. He unholstered his revolver and locked eyes with the Indian whose heavily scarred right cheek pulled an otherwise strong and handsome face into a perpetual sneer. His Modoc name was Chick-chack-am Lul-al-kuel-atko, something local settlers wouldn’t even try to wrap their mouths around, so they dubbed him Scarface Charley.”

Several chapters of The Modoc War focus on the national press coverage of the time. Modocs were demonized as savage and treacherous for fighting back against those who tried to dispossess and destroy them. A New York Times editorial on the Modocs referred to the “innate ferocity and treachery of the Indian character.” Ironically, the white settlers and governmental figures perpetrated the very savagery and treachery they projected onto Natives. After having fled the shackles of British rule, Americans sought independence for all men, though, when it came to Indigenous peoples, “the United States government approached Indians with a Bible in one hand and a Sharps carbine in the other.”

The Modoc once lived in villages on and near Tule, Lower Klamath, and Clear Lakes until the intrusion of fur traders and white settlers, who demanded that the Modoc be relocated on the Klamath Reservation with the Klamath and Yahooskin Paiute nations. The Modoc and the Klamath separated in the late eighteenth century and remained distantly familial, McNally writes, though other accounts say the Modoc and the Klamath were enemies and competitors. The Modoc described in the book were composed of three groups loosely following the waning leadership of Kientpoos (nicknamed Captain Jack by the settlers). Initially convinced to move to the Klamath Reservation, Kientpoos and other Modoc left the poor conditions of the reservation for their home on the Lost River. What followed was a series of attempts by the U.S. Army and militiamen to either move the Modoc people back to the reservation or exterminate them. The war resulted in the unfair trial of Modoc fighters who were charged as war criminals and hanged. The survivors were forced onto the Quapaw Reservation in Oklahoma where they again found little of the food, clothing, shelter, and medicine promised by the government.

In under 360 pages, McNally’s The Modoc War uses the power of hindsight to characterize historical subjects in thematic fashion, revealing deeper motivations behind the heart-rending war in the Lava Beds.

Told in segments, akin to short films unto themselves, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World hops regionally across the United States to examine Native American influence on American popular music, most notably rock music.

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Executive producer Stevie Salas (Apache) said during a 2017 Electric Playground interview that Rumble was conceived while he was playing a gig with Rod Stewart. “I said to myself, there’s not a lot of guitar players that look like me. So, I started to research if there were other, you know, Native American musicians out there, and as I dug in, I started to realize there were a lot, it’s just, people didn’t know it.” He then mentioned being interviewed later by music journalist Brian Wright-McLeod (Dakota-Anishnabe) in Canada during a rock music festival where Wright-McLeod mentioned a research project he was working on, The Encyclopedia of Native Music. “He really turned me on to these guys,” Salas said, “you know, Jesse Ed Davis (Kiowa/Comache) and Link Wray (Shawnee), and that really got the seeds going.”

As the title denotes, Link Wray and his hit rock instrumental, “Rumble,” with its distorted guitar and throbbing bassline, are the launching points and connecting themes of the documentary. The impact of “Rumble” and its reverberating influence throughout American popular music is expounded upon throughout the film’s 143-minute runtime, integrating photographs and archival footage with contemporary interviews from stars, such as Slash of Guns N’ Roses, musician and actor Steven Van Zandt, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, and Rolling Stone editor David Frick.

Rhiannon Giddens

Giddens

Directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana also feature interviews with Taylor Hawkins, Taj Mahal, John Trudell (Santee Dakota/Mexican Indian), Iggy Pop, Steve Tyler, George Clinton, and Tony Benet, who not only note the influence of Wray, but also of other musicians of Native ancestry, such as jazz pioneer Mildred Bailey (Couer d’Alene) and Delta Blues titan Charlie Patton (African-American/Choctaw), whose segment convincingly illustrates the Indigenous essence of his music. Other segments in the South feature such artists as the Neville Brothers and musician and actress Rhiannon Giddens (Occaneechi) of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and “Nashville” fame, that show not only the influence of Native music in the region, but the shared history and beautiful melding of African and Native cultures.

Buffy Saint-Marie

With a roster of Native musicians similar to that of the 2016 book  Indigenous Pop: Native American Music from Jazz to Hip Hop, the documentary also features jazz musician Buffy Sainte Marie (Cree), who speaks about being a target of the FBI due to her music’s activist essence, and other “Native Axmen” besides Link Wray, such as Robbie Robertson (Mohawk), Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee/African-American/Scottish), and Jesse Ed Davis, who formed the Grafitti Man Band with poet and civil rights activist John Trudell in 1985.

While Robertson recalls being told as a youth to “be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell,” Pat Vegas of Southern California band Redbone, on the other hand, recounts singing traditional songs and wearing regalia in shows, as evidenced during the live 1974 performance of the band’s hit “Come and Get Your Love” on NBC’s “The Midnight Special.” “We used to mic the floor,” Vegas says in the documentary, “so, when we came out, the stomping sounded like a heard of buffalo coming.”

Taboo_11Vegas’ segment blends unexpectedly into a joint segment with Taboo (Shoshone/Mexican-American) of the Black Eyed Peas (BEP). In a music studio, Taboo and Vegas share a moment of camaraderie, due to both having lived in East L.A., while Taboo loops a section of “Come and Get Your Love.” He demonstrates to Vegas how the bassline is similar to the BEP song “Let’s Get It Started.” He then explains how his Indigenous roots inform his musical style, but also how Vegas’ pride and positivity as an Indigenous man continues to inspire him.

Joined by Trudell near the end of film, Salas recounts the time drummer Randy Castillo (Isleta Pueblo), who played with Ozzy Ozborne, took Salas to Indian Country amid Salas’ descent into the darker side of rock star life. Trudell, who passed in 2015, adds, “The secret to Indian Country is, when you’re losing your mind, only lose the parts that need losing.”

1958-rumble-cover300Rumble concludes with footage from the Dakota Access pipeline protest in Standing Rock, North Dakota to the tunes of Taboo’s song, “Stand Up for Standing Rock,” and those of several other Native artists, before returning to titular “Rumble” and a reenactment of Wray in a garage, poking holes into a speaker to create the song’s infamous distorted guitar—a sound that contributed to the song being the only instrumental in United States history to be banned for fear it would incite gang violence.

 

 

Tucked away from the East Oakland streets, behind a series of large Victorian houses, a small art party was held on September 6th at Canticle Farm. Working with crayons and markers on sketch paper, activist and organizer Niria Alicia (Xicana) encouraged other party participants to create “Bring Our Salmon Home” signs and post them on Instagram with the hashtags #run4salmon and #salmonwillrun.

https_cdn.evbuc.comimages29572216747816980551originalThe “Bring Our Salmon Home” slogan stems from the effort by Winnemem Wintu’s Run4Salmon fundraising campaign, which aims to return the sacred winter-run Chinook salmon home to their traditional spawning waters along the McCloud River. At least four distinct runs of California Chinook salmon are now classified as threatened or endangered, per the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Dams are sighted as problematic for salmon because they impede access to historic salmon spawning grounds and change the nature of rivers by creating warm, slow-moving water pools that leave salmon more prone to predators. Other factors, such as climate change and drought, are also trouble for salmon, per a May 2017 report by UC Davis and CalTrout.

“We wanted to hold space for people to come and paint the reality that they want to see on those rivers in the face of everything that’s happening with the fish, with the proposal to build the tunnels, declining salmon populations,” Alicia said as she added an additional layer of blue to the waterfall she drew above a thriving salmon. “We think it’s important for us to envision what we want our future to look like and to manifest it in the form of art. Sometimes there’s things you can only communicate through art. There’s beautiful medicine in the silence of creating.”

20855852_1498171187.4085The Winnemem Wintu have been meeting with the United States Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for over seven years. According to the August 2013 Landowner and Stakeholder Workshop program report by the BOR, Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu spoke about the Winnemem Wintu’s history with the Chinook salmon. Chief Sisk made the case that the salmon were originally sourced from the McCloud River in the late 1800s and are genetic matches to the water shed. She advocated for the use of Chinook salmon from New Zealand as the root stock for re-introduction and indicated the tribe would like to be involved with the reintroduction program. Nearly four years later, the Bureau of Reclamation set aside partial funding for the sample gathering, but an additional $85,000 is needed to ensure proper sample collection. With that, the tribe partnered with GoFundMe to raise the balance. UC -Davis fish biologists are scheduled to perform DNA testing on the samples to confirm to the federal government that the salmon in New Zealand are the direct descendants of the McCloud River winter-run salmon.

Indigenous leaders, such as Alicia, Chief Sisk, Corrina Gould (Chochenyo/Kerkin Ohlone), and Desirae Harp (Mishewal OnastaTis, Diné) worked with a collective of Native and non-native supporters to organize the Run4Salmon campaign, now in its third year.

Desirae Harp1Harp, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area music collective Audiopharmacy, also attended the art party. Her piece was a colorful mélange of sky blue, sunshine yellow, and sage green with “#SavetheDelta” and “Bring Our Salmon Home” superimposed in black marker. She said she joined the campaign due to her people’s connection to the salmon, as well as to the Winnemem Wintu through ceremony and shared mountains. She said she also joined because the movement is women-led.

“I come from Mount Saint Helena and there are a lot of stories talking about the connection between the mountains here in California and the mountains in Hawa’ii,” Harp said. “I met Aunty Pua Case from Hawa’ii, who’s helping to protect Mauna Kea and Big Island, and I met Chief Caleen Sisk who’s helping to protect Mount Shasta, and I wanted to stand in solidarity with these Indigenous women.” Harp added she had also heard about the sacred sites work Gould has done and wants to support her efforts in the Run4Salmon. “As a young Indigenous woman, it’s very difficult to exist in a lot of different spaces. I feel like it’s safe space being with the aunties, and I 100 per cent trust to be under their guidance, and I will walk with them for the rest of my life.”

Events for Run4Salmon 2017 took place in segments by boat, foot, bike, and horseback from September 9 to September 23. The winding 300-mile trek followed the route of the winter-run salmon, commencing  at Segorea Te (also known as Glen Cove in Vallejo, California), traveling along the Bay-Delta Estuary up the Sacramento River, and concluding at a Winnemem Wintu ceremonial site on the McCloud River.