Today, we mourn the passing of filmmaker and friend Gary Rhine, who died
Jan. 9 in a tragic plane crash. This remarkable man was a different breed
of Hollywood filmmaker; and in his death, Indian country has lost an
important champion of American Indian justice issues.
His award-winning documentary films include "Wiping The Tears of Seven
Generations" (1992), "The Peyote Road" (1993), "The Red Road to Sobriety"
(1995), "Your Humble Serpent: The Wisdom of Reuben Snake" (1996), "Rez
Robics" (2000), and "A Seat at the Table" (2004). Equally important, he
worked to bring indigenous issues and Native-made films to world audiences
through his groundbreaking First Peoples film series aired on Link TV. At
the time of his untimely death, Gary was collecting material to document
the life and contributions of the late Vine Deloria Jr.
First and foremost, Gary's films addressed pressing American Indian social
justice issues and featured some of our generation's most powerful leaders,
such as Oren Lyons, the late Reuben and Vine, as well as hundreds of Native
participants who appeared in the films to speak in their own words.
Importantly, each film is marked by collaboration with Native advisers and
lets Native people present Native issues on their own terms. Uniquely, the
films address vital issues from an unabridged American Indian standpoint
and with that unmistakable Native heart.
Through his work, Gary left a wonderful legacy. For instance, the world is
a better place for the 250,000 members of the Native American Church, who
secured a landmark federal law to protect their way of worship, in
important part, through the public education made possible by "The Peyote
Road." He selflessly devoted literally thousands of hours to that project
alone because he understood how important it was. His films empower
American Indians by giving their voice on their issues. They also fulfill
the most ancient and venerable function of art, which is to make the
invisible visible. Because of art like Gary's, Natives are no longer
His close collaboration with American Indians illustrates how media can
effectively support Native social justice issues; and it shows how
non-Indians can truly work to empower Natives in the world today -- a
sorely needed model for those in Hollywood and other mass media.
On Jan. 9, we lost an important friend who championed Indian country. Gary,
a non-Indian friend and brother, was a good man who did so much for so
many, in so short a time. However, he was always the first to say that his
myriad accomplishments were not about him. His deepest dream was to pass
"the talking stick of filmmaking," as he put it, to Native people. The
depth of Gary's motivation was so rare that we wonder: Who will step up and
continue that work on issues that lay ahead? When pressed on the issue,
Gary once said, "Don't worry; Indians were also the first poets."
We urge the National Museum of the American Indian to show the historic
films made by Gary Rhine for all the reasons stated above. We also hope
that the families involved in making the film on Vine Deloria Jr. will
continue that important project as intended by Gary and Vine, both of whom
now reside in the spirit world, in order to memorialize them.
Walter Echohawk is an attorney at the Native American Rights Fund. James
Botsford is an attorney for the Native American Church of North America.
Phil Cousineau is co-director of "The Peyote Road" and a writer for Kifaru