Osawa, Sandra SunrisingLighting the Seventh Fire1994Seattle: Upstream Productions

As is the case with many contemporary documentaries taking cultural phenomena as their subject, Sandra Osawa’s LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE was made without the collaboration or association of anthropologists. Rather, it was created by a Makah activist more intent upon achieving a specific political objective (presenting the Chippewa side of the spearfishing conflict) than upon creating a film that would fulfill particular anthropological objectives. However, this does not prevent Osawa’s film from having heuristic value for the field of anthropology, since a filmmaker’s intention never wholly determines how a film is received and used. While the filmmaker can guide the audience through the viewing process, ultimately, it is the audience which decides how to interpret the film. Consequently, the film may be of relevance to its audience for a myriad of reasons, including some unforseen by the filmmaker. So, in lieu of looking to the filmmaker, I argue that it would be more profitable to look to the filmic content in order to assess the significance of LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE for the study and practice of anthropology.|||LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE records the story of and the events surrounding the decision by the Tribble brothers (Lac Courts Oreilles) to reassert the fishing and hunting rights accorded them under the 1837 treaty signed between the Chippewa nation and the United States government. Through interviews conducted by Osawa with a number of Chippewa, the audience learns that, although these rights were secured by the ancestors of living Chippewa to ensure the survival of their descendants, the state of Wisconsin, through a phenomenon called *creeping jurisdiction*, barred Chippewa from exercising these rights for the greater part of this century. Chippewa caught fishing and hunting in areas to which they had legal access were often arrested and their equipment confiscated. In their efforts to obtain justice, a number of Chippewa organized a council which appealed to the U.S. courts for a ruling that would affirm their rights, and, in 1983, the Chicago Court of Appeals decided that the state of Wisconsin lacked the legal authority to prevent Chippewa from hunting and fishing. However, the Chippewa found themselves confronted by another opponent in the form of sportfishers and non-native locals. As the film so poignantly shows, hostile protesters chanting racial slurs and employing other intimidation tactics met small groups of Chippewa at the boatlandings in the hopes of deterring them from fishing. This racism is underscored in a couple of key interviews with people, both native and non-native, in which the interviewees provide evidence in support of the film’s implicit argument that the Chippewa have been made the scapegoats for the region’s diminishing supply of walleyes. With all attention directed at Chippewa spearfishers, the damage done to the region’s lakes by local fishing industries, environmental pollution, and tourism went unremarked and unchallenged. Fortunately, the Chippewa prevailed in this most recent battle over fishing rights, and, using the Chippewa prophecy of the seven fires as a metaphor to interpret these events, the film suggests that the Chippewa have entered a period of cultural renewal in which their fortunes will take a turn for the better. However, it is equally clear that while the battle may have been won, the war has yet to end.|||With respect to anthropology, LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE is an interesting and instructive film. First, unlike many classic ethnographic films which aspire to paint a neutral and descriptive portrait of a given society, LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE focuses upon an issue of great political and cultural relevance to the subjects of the film, thereby making a positive contribution to their, rather than simply *our*, community. Second, it shows how the Chippewa have used the U.S. legal system as a forum in which to conduct their fights against discrimination and oppression. Furthermore, it shows how they used the jurisictional hierarchy to their advantage by using their status as a nation invested with treaty making powers to bypass county and state courts for federal courts possessing the authority to overrule illegal and discriminatory decisions made at the local level. Third, LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE reveals the injustice and irony in people’s condemnation of Chippewa spearfishers for the depletion of the Great Lakes’ walleyes when sportsfishing and fishing industries proliferate in the area, and, thus provides the catalyst for either critical inquiry or class discussion regarding how economic inequalities and downturns not only aggravate pre-existing racial/ethnic strife within a community, but how they often lead to a situation in which problems that are primarily economic and ecological in nature are racialized. Fourth, LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE raises the issues of cultural continuity, change and renewal, and puts forth the tantalizing idea that cultural innovations and modifications are a necessary condition for the preservation of that which is most important or central to a people or community. Last but not least, Osawa’s film stands as both a stirring testament to and indictment of the United States’ continuing inability to recognize and accomodate cultural difference.|||One of the current projects within anthropology is to make anthropological studies relevant to the subjects of analysis and description, as well as to the society which provides such studies with their legitimacy. While not an avowed anthropological text, LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE fulfills both objectives. On one hand, it is a story of a native people’s struggle told from their point of view in a manner congruent with their cultural values. On the other, it is a work that transcends the boundaries of time and space to render itself applicable to communities other than that featured in the film. However, this is not to argue that no fault can be found with this film. On the contrary, one could accuse it of being too one-sided in its representation of the spearfishing conflict. For example, the events and dynamics responsible for the organized protests are underexplored, with the result that the protesters appear, for the most part, as an amorphous, homogeneous body of racists. In a related vein, the film suffers from a relative lack of attention to events external, yet integral, to the conflicts between Chippewa and non-native locals at the boatlandings.|||However, as Osawa has indicated in a press release for the Point of View series which included LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE, these *oversights* were intentional, for Osawa is not a *fan of the back-and-forth documentary where you’re supposedly objective, but you’re not*. Instead, she aimed to *focus more on [personal] experiences and give voice to Native American viewpoints, because most Americans don’t know what it is like to be Indian in twentieth century America*. Furthermore, LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE represents her *honor song video or [her] way of honoring people who make a stand*. Consequently, what appears from one angle to be bias or an uncritical presentational style, appears from another perspective to be a concerted attempt to redress imbalances in media coverage of and public discourse on issues regarding Native Americans. As the social science most concerned with studying its subject matter in context, LIGHTING THE SEVENTH FIRE should not be analyzed only as a self-contained document of culture, but as a cultural document in its own right, constrained and responding to many of the same social dynamics, power constellations and historical legacies invoked within the film.||||||

Elizabeth NozneskyAnthropology Department, Temple University