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Matthew Bell, NEH Summer Scholar 2015

Social Justice in Social Media

Outline by Matt Bell


This social media aspect of our unit focuses on the history of various artistic media in the United States.  Historically, publishing material was very costly and usually available only to the wealthy and literate.  Advances in technology and work by visionaries like Sequoyah lead to new uses of the published word to achieve goals that were culturally attenuated to non-Euro American society.

The advent of film coincides with the remnants of Westward expansion, which then serves as the foundation of countless films for nearly half a century.  The backdrops of these films are significant in that they represent the spoken and unspoken presence of Natives in North America at the time.  The population of Native Americans dipped to the lowest number in history and the time films spread from theatres to living rooms. Native Americans become the vanishing race in theme and represented by Euro American actors in roles.  At this time not only are North Americans natives without a voice, they are being spoken for.

Guiding discussions that move in the ideas of the later part of the century include imperialist nostalgia, American Indian Movement, Sacheen Littlefeather, Marlon Brando, Incident at Oglala.  We will discuss what other events of the 1960s and ‘70s  may have contributed to the more sympathetic view towards Natives/First Nations.  We will highlight the ramifications of a Native woman taking part in a nationally televised event and the access to media outlets for authentic Native voices to be heard.  This will lead us in the the current outlets for media including but not limited to Facebook, twitter, youtube, instagram, vine etc.  We will discuss how these outlets have impacted other movements as well, including but not limited to: Arab Spring, #blacklivesmatter, and other social movements spread rapidly by digital means.

Moving to the second section, we will be looking at current trends in social media and other arts by various North American Natives and a Sami rapper.  This list includes, but is not limited to: 1491s, A Tribe Called Red, Frank Waln, Supaman, Amoc, Tonia Jo Hall, Sherman Alexie, J.R. Red Dog, Sean Sherman, Post Commodity, Chris Eyre, Sterlin Harjo.  We will be discussing the social issues that they have been involved in including, but not limited to: Keystone XL pipeline, Native Mascots/Headresses, community, representation, humor.  In particular, we will discuss how humor/irony has played a role in identity/culture/community.  Many of the artists and performers are based in or around the North West and may be available for motivational speeches for the school/class.

This section will culminate in a project where students will work on their own social media topic, specifically using humor and addressing an underrepresented idea.  Students will find a topic that they wish to elaborate and open up discussion about and create social media campaign/video (per school rules).  Students will think about who they are trying to address and what criticisms others may have of their message.  They will also elaborate on how they think their idea will be of assistance to the community which they seek to represent.  

Working Bibliography

Amoc: Sami Rapper. and

Supaman. and

Corky Clairmont.

1491. and


JR Redwater.

Tonia Jo Hall.

Sherman Alexie.

A Tribe Called Red.

Frank Waln.

Sterlin Harjo.

Chris Eyre.

Rosaldo, Renato.  Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. 68-87

Sean Sherman.