Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

A new four-part documentary series titled “PBS American Portrait” highlights the myriad traditions and ways of life of cultures and races across America. One of the highlighted stories featured Yolonda Blue Horse, who joins Keller High School students to change the Indian mascot that has been recognized by the school since the 1940s.

The series, which premiered on Jan. 5, was produced by RadicalMedia as part of PBS’s 50th anniversary signature programming initiative.

According to the description from PBS and RadicalMedia, “each of the four new hour-long programs blends stories filmed by everyday people to create a chorus of voices sharing both common and unique experiences from across the country.”

The four episodes also each focus on a specific theme. Episode one, “I Dream,” shares perspectives on the dreams of individuals, episode two’s theme is “I Work” and explores the careers of Americans, episode three’s theme is “I Keep” demonstrates how people in different cultures and communities preserve traditions and family legacies and episode four is “I Rise” which shows how people are working to confront the obstacles of racism.

Blue Horse appears in the third episode with Keller High School students and family members who fear speaking out against the mascot. Opposing students say they fear retaliation from families and students who don’t welcome the change.

The activist got involved with the project when the producers of the show had researched and discovered her efforts to remove the mascot from the high school. The producers then sent her equipment to record her efforts, which is the basis for the series in which people across the country self-recorded their daily lives and associated struggles.

“They sent me a camera and they wanted me to film different aspects of my life, of what I do and what I get involved with down here in Dallas. A lot of the filming was just that … of how I became part of being an activist … a lot of what I've done, being Indigenous and being a female which barely get any coverage. I was pretty excited about this.”

Blue Horse appreciates that her struggle received attention.

“We've always been oppressed by media outlets and any of that very rarely gets out there to say, ‘Hey, we are still here and we, you know, we work beside you,’ so I was very happy to be a part of this project,” she said.

In episode three, in which Blue Horse appears, other stories in the episode include a man’s quest to retain the property owned by his families for generations and a woman’s efforts to keep her father’s iconic dive bar financially viable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bill Margol, the executive in charge of and senior Director of general audience programming and development at PBS, said the four-part series is a perfect project to amplify the voices of people across America.

“In many ways, ‘PBS American Portrait’ has proven to be the perfect project for a year unlike any other,” Margol said in a statement. “We’ve been honored to serve as a platform for people to share their stories, as it is in our mission to empower audiences to achieve their potential and strengthen their communities.”

Jon Kamen, CEO of RadicalMedia and executive producer of the series, said in a news release, "In this time of crisis, we have been challenged in the way we interact with one another, yet, we’ve witnessed an incredible sense of bonding and empathy through the inspiring stories of families, friends and colleagues across the country. These shared experiences from everyday people in America are the heart of our four-part series."

HOW TO WATCH:

The series is now on YouTube and can also be found posted on the “PBS American Portrait” website. Some of the episodes have already played on PBS stations nationwide and are still playing and available on all station-branded PBS platforms, to include PBS.org, the PBS Video App, and on the following apps and device platforms such as iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube TV and Chromecast.

Interested viewers can share comments or follow social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They can also use or follow the hashtag #AmericanPortraitPBS to view the thousands of stories that have been submitted.

Episode 3: “I Keep”

The list of episodes and descriptions as provided by PBS and RadicalMedia:

Episode 1: “I Dream”
Premiered Jan. 5, 2021, 9:00–10:00 p.m. Eastern Time

Self-shot stories explore the meaning and state of the American dream. From the desire for homeownership to ambitions for higher education or career success, they show the hard work, opportunities and barriers that come with pursuing this ideal today. The main stories featured are Mahsa A. from Fairfax, Virginia; Tyler M. & Bre R. from Joliet, Illinois; and Gunnar J. from Unalakleet, Alaska.

Episode 2: “I Work”
Premiered Jan. 12, 2021, 9:00–10:00 p.m. Eastern Time

Everyday people share self-shot stories about their jobs and careers as they navigate the changes they’re experiencing and the goals they’re working toward. From teachers to truck drivers, they explore what it really means to work in America today. The main stories featured are D’Artanian D. & Jonathan E. from New Orleans; Jessica M. from Chula Vista, California; and Laura H. from Stillwell, Oklahoma.

Episode 3: “I Keep”
Premiered Jan. 19, 2021, 9:00–10:00 p.m. Eastern Time

People film themselves as they try to preserve or change traditions in their lives and communities. From struggling to protect culture to eliminating toxic legacies, it’s an intimate look at the practices we’ve inherited and the ones we’ll pass on. The main stories featured are Emma H. from Seattle; Yolanda B. from Dallas; and Dwight S. from St. Helena Island, South Carolina.

Episode 4: “I Rise”
Premieres Jan. 26, 2021, 9:00–10:00 p.m. Eastern Time

Go inside the lives of people working to create an antiracist American future. They film themselves doing the hard work, confronting the obstacles and achieving the small victories that could add up to real change in the movement for racial justice. The main stories featured are Christine H. from Austin, Texas; Anisa O. from Mankato, Minnesota; and Lex S. from Sandy, Utah.

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Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. Email: vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com he is also the opinions’ editor, opinion@indincountrytoday.com.

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