Resurgent Visual Sovereignty: Film and Native Representation


Location: C103, Hesburgh Center for International Studies


Justin de Leon

Kroc Institute Visiting Research Fellow

Indigenous resurgent political praxis, through story and film, act as ways to reclaim community and self, allowing for the revitalization and flourishing of marginalized communities. Native communities, however, are under-and mis-represented in mainstream media, and corrections are not well-developed aside from a few stereotypical books or films. By using the guiderails of sovereignty and story, two concepts that have come to define contemporary Native survival, this research focuses on creative claims to sovereignty and personhood. Drawing from an understanding of ontological security – the notion that finding a sense of normalcy, consistency, and routine can provide the foundation for the navigation of (in)security – this research is connected to my book project on traditional Native American approaches to storytelling through a critical and indigenous filmmaking praxis.

Expression is a basic human function that displays the uniqueness and perspectives of an individual and community. Expression is the outcome of stepping into one’s humanity and a manifestation of the divine qualities of the human spirit. It is a stepping into the complexities and depth of what it means to be human. Expression in the academic and legal sense typically comes in the form of writing. Accessing writing, however, is particularly limited within Western elite frameworks. Under two percent of the American population hold a Ph.D. This brings into focus the need to examine underlying epistemic convictions that gird knowledge production.

As a result, in our current Western academic knowledge system, certain populations are left out of this dominant form of expression, and the marginalized remain at the margins and the oppressed struggle for visibility. Expression through storytelling and film, on the other hand, particularly with newly emergent technological advances of this era of mass communication, is an ever-more accessible means of expression and creativity. Storytelling and film act as important corrections for not only epistemic marginalization, but also as means of building political, cultural, and social visibility and sovereignty.