DOCUMENTARY FILM REVIEW
CHICAGO – Growing up, I was taught about my Native heritage. I am part of the Anishinaabe people that made up three tribes: the Potawatomi, the Ottawa, and the Ojibwe. Collectively, they were known as the People of the Three Fires and governed the territory that is now the state of Michigan and the surrounding region.
Recently, I saw a mural my friend’s husband did that involved four Native men, three of whom were engulfed in flames. Each man represented these three tribes and their attempts to work together with another Native named Sauganash. I had to explain to my friend the reason for the flames to which I assumed was common knowledge.
Native knowledge—even to other Natives—is not necessarily common knowledge.
A new documentary film called, “Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience,” released this year, tells part of the People of the Three Fires history, which is important so others be become educated about them.
Most important though, “Our Fires Still Burn” offers a glimpse into the lives of contemporary American Indians, who for the most part are from Michigan. This is important because it allows the viewer to know American Indians are still here and have learned to keep their traditions while functioning in modern society.
The world spits out a misconstrued, de-evolved version of Natives that does not truly reflect who we are.
My father, Levi Rickert, was asked to be in “Our Fires Still Burn.” As a father, he was a big factor in opening my eyes to the truth of being Native today. He taught me to respect my lineage and that it is up to us to make our voices heard.
While produced and directed by a non-Native, Audrey Geyer does her best to show respect to Native culture and represent all the varying aspects of mixed race Natives. Of those interviewed, there is a wide array of skin tones and involvement in the Native community but they all share their stories whether good or bad. Many have made the effort to make tribal policies, language resources, families, and even businesses better because of their experiences growing up Native American.
One scene in “Our Fires Still Burn” that is meaningful to me personally is the part where my great-grandmother, Ellen Whitepigeon, is mentioned. As a child she was taken from her home on tribal lands of the Prairie Band Potawatomi and placed in an Indian boarding school at Genoa, Nebraska. In the film it is mentioned she was tattooed at the Genoa Indian School. As an adult, my great-grandmother did not want her children taken away and put into boarding schools so she didn’t pass on the language and had her children live as “white.” It is incredible to me the sacrifices that people are willing to make for family, for love.
University of Chicago’s International House.
“Our Fires Still Burn” was screened on November 12th at the International House at the University of Chicago. Sponsored by Global Voices and Title VII American Indian Education Program—as well as several other Chicago Native organization, screening and panel discussion was a success because it brought together well-over 100 people. The audience varied in both age and race. The night began with dance performances by the American Indian Center and food provided by the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, then the screening of the one-hour documentary.
Afterwards, the audience was able to ask questions of the director Audrey Geyer, cast member Levi Rickert, the First Nations Film and Video Festival director Ernest Whiteman III, and University of Chicago anthropology student Kristen Simmons.
Geyer and Rickert have been part of several screenings and discussion about the “Our Fire Still Burns” during the past several months at tribes, universities and colleges spreading its wonderful message.
During the month of November, “Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience” has been broadcast on various Michigan PBS stations. Here is a list of remaining broadcasts of the film:
To purchase a “Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience,” go to: