LOS ANGELES, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- As the Smithsonian Institution prepares to open the National Museum of the American Indian, a 1995 miniseries on the subject is getting a new life -- both in a DVD release and a two-hour special on the Discovery Channel.
The museum opens Sept. 21. On the same day, Warner Home Video will release the DVD of the eight-hour miniseries "500 Nations," and beginning Sept. 24, Discovery Channel will rebroadcast the miniseries over four nights.
But first, on Sept. 18, the cable channel will air a two-hour special that combines highlights from the eight-hour version with new footage -- including clips from an interview with retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.
The special also includes a new introduction by Kevin Costner, who won producing and directing Oscars for the 1990 Western epic "Dances with Wolves." In an interview with United Press International, Costner said Americans still don't know their own history when it comes to the treatment of American Indians.
"What we're talking about is a nation that has to move forward, but one that moves forward with a kind of amnesia about what's taken place," he said. "There's a certain period of time when we think we have addressed our own national past, and it's an illusion."
The miniseries uses historical texts, eyewitness accounts, artwork, photographs and computer graphics to tell the history of American Indians from pre-Colombian times throughout much of the Western Hemisphere. Bill Morgan, who produced and directed the two-hour "500 Nations" special, told UPI the project was intended to tell the story from the point of view of American Indians -- to the virtual exclusion of the version most people in the United States learned in school.
"We've all heard the one side of the story," said Morgan. "What we haven't heard is the other side. We're not necessarily taking one side or the other. Were saying the other side deserves to be heard."
According to Time magazine, the new Indian museum follows a similar course. It is directed, curated and staffed largely by American Indians, who are presenting themselves "as they see themselves, not as the white man has preferred to show them."
Jack Leustig, who produced, wrote and directed "500 Nations," told UPI that the miniseries is also about the broader issue of the use of corporate, military and political power to advance selfish interests. He said the issue resonates in contemporary America.
"If you look at the entire history of what happened on this continent and extrapolate it to today, it's always about economics," he said. "It's always the commodity that's tremendously valuable, and if you can use your power to accumulate it or control it, then the powerful always have done that."
Leustig said some of the violence occurring in Iraq today reminds him of violent episodes in American Indian history.
"When they slaughtered women and children in 1890 at Wounded Knee, to me it's the same thing as dropping a bomb on Fallujah," he said.
Leustig said he made "500 Nations" to reveal "a truth that has been ignored if not buried" throughout U.S. history. For example, the program features press accounts of the Battle of Little Bighorn, in which Army Gen. George Custer and 262 7th Cavalry personnel were killed in a confrontation with an estimated force of 1,500 Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. U.S. media at the time characterized the event as an ambush and slaughter of the soldiers, while "500 Nations" depicts at as an act of self-defense on the part of the Indians.
Costner said newspapers do not have the best record when it comes to historical accuracy. He said that during his research for the 1994 Western "Wyatt Earp," he found that the two newspapers in Tombstone, Ariz., carried conflicting reports on the fabled Gunfight at the OK Corral.
"Writers had their own personal feelings," he said. "The people in Tombstone were subjected to who sided with whom."
Costner said he has had ample personal experience with newspapers getting it wrong.
"I can't tell you that last time I read something truthful in the newspapers about something that I was there for," he said. "It's not to demean your thing. It's just the truth."
Leustig is aware that the conventional view of U.S. history with American Indians is firmly entrenched, but he is hoping that will eventually change.
"I don't imagine that my position is going to defeat the teaching of most of the parents in this country, who probably still believe in the Manifest Destiny for the United States," he said.
Still, he hopes "500 Nations," which has been adopted by many U.S. schools as a teaching tool, will help shift public perception somewhat about the expansion of the United States during the 19th century.
Costner said he thinks there is a public appetite for such a program. But -- given an American culture that seems preoccupied with celebrity over substance -- he also said he isn't too concerned about "500 Nations" reaching the largest possible audience.
"We're so mixed up as a people right now," he said. "We live in a culture where we look for thumbs up or thumbs down on who's hot, or who's best-dressed. We're so mixed up about how we value things. We just start with ourselves and that's all. To rail against something like that would render you foolish."
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