Real Americans

Morris J. Kandel
Production Date: 
Ideal Pictures Corporation, Morris J. Kandel
There is an unnamed, male narrator
Run Time: 

NOTE: This film contains demeaning and condescending language that is a product of the historical period of its creation.  These attitudes are not endorsed by AIFG.

The film Real Americans uses multiple references to Native Americans in the past tense via the narration. Jean O’Brien, in  Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England (2010), discusses similar techniques used by non-Native authors of local historical texts of the 1800’s to relegate the “Indian” to the past.

Establishing shot: The establishing shot is of a traditional encampment, with several teepees set as center focus. One Indian rider can be seen on horseback and several other individuals and horses can be seen throughout the camp.
Named locations: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Arizona; Massachusetts; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Carlisle Indian Industrial School (Carlisle, Pennsylvania) .
Major themes covered: Overview of many different tribes
Native activities shown:  Apache men riding horses; Apache men preparing for tribal council; Many different Native Americans gathering for a powwow in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Women at powwow carrying baskets on their heads; Young Apache woman putting a baby in a cradleboard; Navajo woman weaving blanket; Hopi ceremonial dances (the butterfly dance and eagle dance); Hopi women grinding corn; Baking bread in outside dome-shaped ovens; Hopi women making baskets; Hopi and Navajo women playing tug-of-war at powwow in Flagstaff, Arizona; Men smoking pipes; A Wampanoag wedding in Massachusetts; Women and boys racing on foot; Navajo racing horses; Boys playing football and lacrosse; Cherokee playing a game similar to lacrosse; Ceremonial dances at a powwow; Religious dances of the Yaqui;
Individuals Named:  Chief Muskrat (Sioux)
Native language spoken: No native languages represented
--Michelle Boyer


Real Americans features footage of several different indigenous representatives attending a Native American “powwow” held in Albuquerque, New Mexico (date  unknown). The indigenous individuals and groups participate in inter-tribal social, traditional and ceremonial activities. The voiceover is in English.

Real Americans depicts a Wampanoag marriage ceremony. The ceremony appears to be similar to what some Eastern Woodland tribes refer to today as a “Blanket Ceremony”. The film’s narration characterizes the ceremony as “ancient and complicated”. According to the narrator, the Wampanoag as a whole “survived with some mixture of white blood”. The narration inaccurately determines that the Wampanoag do not live together as a tribe, and are an anomaly when compared to other “Atlantic seaboard tribes” that have become “extinct”.

Activities also featured include an Apache woman preparing her “papoose” for being carried; Navajo blanket-weaving; Hopi inter-tribal and ceremonial dancing (“The Butterfly Dance”; “The Eagle Dance); Hopi women grinding corn and baking bread; Hopi basket-making; Hopi and Navajo women playing tug-of-war; Navajo horse-racing (“Potato races”); Cherokee playing a game similar to lacrosse; Chief Muskrat of the Sioux speaking (“boss of this particular powwow”); “queer religious” dances of the Yaquis (“mixes Christian” and “pagan” rites); the “Deer Dance” (tribe not identified); and Tesuque dancing.

In his Key to the Language of America, Roger Williams wrote in 1643 of the “local Indians” of the Providence Plantations in the British colony of  Rhode Island. While Williams focuses on the Narragansett, his text looks at the language and culture of other New England tribes, including the Wampanoag. In his section on “Marriage,” Williams writes that the tribes of New England “solemnize” marriage “by consent of Parents and publique [sic] approbation” (146). Adultery in marriage is not tolerated: “if the Woman be false, the offended Husband will be solemnely [sic] revenged upon the offender, before many witnesses, by many blowes [sic] and wounds, and if it be Death, yet the guilty resist not, nor is his Death revenged” (146-7). Williams addresses the fact that the New England tribes’ men sometimes took more than one wife, for a “desire of Riches” shared between husband and wife, and the men “long sequestering themselves from their wives after conception” (147). Williams adds that “the Husband gives…payments for a Dowrie [sic],” but if the man is poor, his friends and neighbors contribute to a “Dowrie,” which is then given to the father, mother or “guardian of the Maide” (148). Williams also includes an Algonquin dialect key to matrimonial words and phrases.

Barry M. Pritzker, in his A Native American Encyclopedia, states that “social stratification” among the Wampanoag was historically “reflected in leadership and marriage arrangements” (474). 

In Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in Early New England, Ann Marie Plane states that the region’s “female sachems” in the 1660s “felt perfectly able to dispose of land, whether married or not, regardless of English laws about wives deferring to husbands” (21).

On Powwow:

The origin of the Native American “powwow” is not quite clear, although it may have begun with the Pawnee tribe and their ceremonial gatherings “filled with dancing and other rituals” (“Pow wow” n. pag.) . The origin of the word “powwow,” however, is believed to be an Anglicized form of the Algonquin term “pau-wau” or “pauau,” which refers to a gathering of “medicine men and/or spiritual leaders” (Schultz 1).

Ellis and Lassiter write, in their “Introduction” to the 2005 text Powwow, that the contemporary “powwow culture” began in the 1930s, around the time that Real Americans was filmed (viii).

Robert DesJarlait, an Ojibwe-Anishinaab, writes on how it is difficult for the “average” powwow spectator to understand the history of the powwow:

     Powwow history is essentially an oral history with emcees,      

     veteran dancers, and elders providing the role of narrators.      

     Therefore, what we learn is what we hear. And unless one

     goes to a lot of powwows, powwow history is, for a majority

     of spectators, disjointed and confused. The average

     spectator who goes to one or two powwows a year knows

     very little of the overall history of dance among his or her

     own people (117).

See also:

Axtmann, Ann. “Performative Power in Native America: Powwow Dancing.” Dance Research Journal 33.1 (2001): 7-22. JSTOR. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.

Browner, Tara. Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-Wow. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2002. Print.

(note: this text focuses Anishinabeg/Algonquin and Lakota powwow practices)

DesJarlait, Robert. “Contest Powwow versus the Traditional Powwow and the Role of the Native American Community, The.” Wicazo Sa Review 12.1 (1997): 115-127. JSTOR. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.

Ellis, Clyde, and Luke E. Lassiter. Introduction. Powwow. Eds. Clyde Ellis, Luke E. Lassiter, and Gary H. Dunham. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2005. vii-xv. Print.

“Pow wow”., 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.

Schultz, Becky Olvera. “Native American Powwow History and Description”. Pow wow Power, 2001: 1-4. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.

General information on Wampanoag and the Wampanoag’s five bands :

Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture and Peoples. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Traditional Wampanoag marriage customs:

Plane, Ann Marie. Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in Early New England. New York: Cornell University, 2000. Print.

Williams, Roger. A Key into the Language of America: or, an Help to the Language of the Natives in their Part of American called New-England. Bedford, MA: Applewood, 1643. Print.

--Eric Maynard (Mohegan), 2013