Medium Rare 

A new view of television on the Flathead Reservation

The scene inside Salish Kootenai College’s television studio last Friday seemed like ordered chaos. The Independent paid the school a visit to take a glimpse at what goes on behind the scenes of “Wild Horse Island,” a brand-new weekly series produced by Indigena SKC, a student club and coalition of drama, dance and media sub-groups.

As I visited with executive writer Sky DuPuis and assistant producer Antoine Sandoval, executive producer Pat Matt Jr. conducted rehearsals of a skit by drama students, which had a couple of purposefully cocky young men playing a rez version of “the dozens,” trading scripted jokes about someone’s old lady’s fry bread being hard enough to wear into battle. Another bunch of kids socialized quietly on chairs pushed to the far edge of the studio while the steady stream of folks sticking their heads in to watch the action went on unabated.

And if you’re inclined to think in this post-Columbine shooting, Woodstock Is Burning era that young people don’t have much to offer anymore, you obviously haven’t met the Indigena crew. Don’t let the Johnny Blaze gear, baggy pants and backwards baseball caps fool you—these kids mean business.

The rehearsed skit’s humor was kind of goofy, sure, but it was also sharp, subtle and even a little subversive. Those adjectives could also be used to describe “Wild Horse Island” in general, an intelligent program that marks the first time SKC-TV has embarked on such an ambitious student-run media project.

“People have tried to do this before,” Sandoval says. “But this is the first time the group has been so dedicated.”

That commitment is evident in the way Indigena SKC conducts itself. The members are clearly serious about what they’re doing, but the atmosphere of the studio is simultaneously laid back and cooperative, lending itself well to the type of creative collaboration needed for successful television broadcasts.

Although last week’s first “preview show” focused solely on the War Dance Championships in St. Ignatius, DuPuis says future shows will cover a wide spectrum of topics.

“We’re going to cover every major event, like powwows, basketball games, tribal council meetings and conferences,” he explains.

With its newscasts, Indigena plans to integrate comedy sketches, using a “Saturday Night Live” format but with localized humor; a soap opera illustrating life on the Flathead Reservation, and something called “rez fu,” which is modeled after old-school martial arts movies.

“It’s going to have a lot of action shooting and high-intensity footage,” DuPuis promises.

Sandoval says the upcoming soap and comedy bits will depict a variety of different tribal characters, many based on actual people. He doesn’t worry too much about a potential negative reaction, hoping instead that certain issues will be brought into the open. Traditional dancing relating to the content of the skits will also be shown.

Roy Bigcrane, an award-winning SKC-TV media producer, is acting as a mentor to the students behind “Wild Horse Island.” The station has been in existence since 1988, he says, and mainly creates recruitment videos for various tribal government departments and agencies, profiles, public service announcements and documentaries. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are among the few Indian tribes in the United States to have their own TV station.

About Indigena SKC’s efforts, Bigcrane says, “I’m excited because they’re excited. They’re working hard at doing it right.” He adds that the students’ eagerness to learn has made his job easier.

One of Pat Matt’s wishes is that “Wild Horse Island” will help eliminate stereotypes of Indian people, both romantic and racist, by portraying real-life happenings and situations.

For the first installment of “Wild Horse Island,” Pat Matt’s brother Freddy anchored the powwow in St. Ignatius. He moved through the crowd wearing a pair of silvery sunglasses, informally interviewing both young and old, asking where they were from, whether they were participants or spectators, and what they wanted to get out of the experience.

“I want to see people to get off their butts and start dancing,” one older woman told him.

“How do you propose to do that?” Freddy asked.

“Pay them!”

“How much?”

“Anthing they want, as much as our tribe can afford.”

Gently but respectfully egging her on, Freddy asked who should provide the award money: the tribal council, the powwow committee or the people.

“The people, of course,” she answered firmly.

“And how would we pay for this, with raffles, arts, food...” Freddy continued, a barely detectable smile playing at his lips.

“No, donations!”

It’s hard to put into words why “Wild Horse Island” is so charming, but half of it seems to be the sheer unrehearsed comedy which sometimes results when a person wanders around an event with a camera and solicits commentary.

Of course, including plenty of footage of dancing “tiny tots” certainly didn’t hurt, either. Another nice touch was emcee Chaney Bell giving the show a shout-out as the equally youthful and energetic singing/drumming group Young Grey Horse thundered powerfully in the background.

As the broadcast progressed and Freddy became more comfortable with his role, you could tell that his questions were becoming more refined and complete. I predict a similar, polished quality to develop in all of Indigena SKC’s endeavors very soon.
Tune into “Wild Horse Island” on the Flathead Reservation’s SKC-TV (channels vary depending on location) every Tuesday at 6 p.m. or Wednesdays at noon.

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