Friday October 8, 1999
"Naturally Native," the first dramatic feature written, directed and produced by and starring Native American women, has lots to say but proves so stirring that it sustains its didactic stretches. A celebration of sisterly love and devotion, it focuses on the lives of three beautiful and intelligent siblings, and Valerie Red-Horse, Irene Bedard and Kimberly Norris Guerrero deliver such strong, committed portrayals that the sisters and the issues they confront become very real.
Red-Horse, who wrote the script, co-directed with Jennifer Wynne Farmer in making their feature film debut--and it shows--but as their heartfelt and illuminating film gets underway it gathers a good deal of steam.
Like so many good ideas, the premise of "Naturally Native" is simple. Red-Horse's Vickie Lewis Bighawk is a San Fernando Valley housewife and mother, raising two kids and not at all confident that at 33 and after 15 years of marriage she is still the desirable woman her husband, Steve (Pato Hoffmann), assures her she is. Meanwhile, her younger sister Karen (Guerrero), a business major with a graduate degree who's about to accept a big job, and their youngest sister, Tanya (Bedard), thwarted in a show-business career, are marking time for the moment. When Vickie tells her sisters about the recipes their father passed on to her for natural products and home remedies, the sisters decide to go into the cosmetics business for themselves.
They have no idea that the search for modest financing for their venture will lead to such a profound confrontation with their need to work out their identities as Native Americans. Along the way their experiences illuminate the social, political and economic realities that members of all minorities deal with--in addition to the challenges that face all human beings trying to live lives that offer meaning and the promise of better opportunities for their children. First of all, the Lewis sisters have to come to terms with the fact that as infants they were adopted off their reservation by a now-deceased Caucasian woman who gave them her name and left them the spacious home in which Vickie and Steve live with their young son and daughter.
They're hoping for a small loan from a government agency, for which they are well-qualified as Native Americans and as women--except that as adoptees they lack the papers that would help them get the all-important registered tribal numbers. And when they go to the private sector, they meet unexpected rejection, because as California Native Americans their Viejas tribe is involved in the gaming industry--never mind that they personally haven't profited by so much as a cent. When their alcoholic mother died under the strain of giving birth to Tanya, their father was too poor to keep them. Only Vickie had visited their late father since they left their reservation as infants, and none of them has a clue as to whether they qualify for tribal backing or even have a right to ask for it.
The three sisters have heretofore viewed their Native American ancestry differently. As the eldest of the three sisters and the most knowledgeable about their culture, Vickie has taken a militant activist stand and reacts strongly and swiftly to racism and discrimination in any form. With her business background, Karen tends toward pragmatic compromise while Tanya, who is steeped in guilt over her mother's death, would prefer to escape her Native American heritage entirely. In the pursuit of their dream, they and their lives undergo unexpected and challenging changes. Vickie, as the natural leader of the three, places her marriage under severe strain in the process.
By the time the film is over, the sisters have moved from the particular to the universal. Vickie is much like Helena Rubinstein was nearly a century ago when she started building a cosmetics empire from a face cream formula handed down to her in her native Poland. Vickie, Karen and Tanya are like women everywhere who gathered courage to gamble on their own abilities in defiance of traditional expectations of what women's roles should be.
Naturally Native, 1999. PG-13, for brief violence and some sexuality. A Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation presentation in association with Red-Horse Native Productions. Directors Jennifer Wynne Farmer and Valerie Red-Horse. Producers Red-Horse, Dawn Jackson and Yvonne Russo. Screenplay Red-Horse. Cinematographer Bruce Finn. Editor Lorraine Salk. Music Murielle Hamilton. Costumes Irene Fredericks. Production designer Kee Miller. Set decorator Diane Carvotta. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Valerie Red-Horse as Vickie Lewis Bighawk. Irene Bedard as Tanya Lewis. Kimberly Norris Guerrero as Karen Lewis. Pato Hoffmann as Steve Bighawk.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun