FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (AP) – Manuelito Wheeler isn’t sure why Navajo elders admire Western films.
Many of them may have watched films in off-reservation boarding schools decades ago. Or, like his father, they told stories of how they gathered around the TV as children to watch shooters fight good and evil in familiar landscapes.
Whatever the reason, Navajo elders have been asking Wheeler to duplicate the Western in Navajo since Star Wars IV: A New Hope was translated into Navajo and released in 2013.
Result? “Béeso Dah Yiníłjaa” or “Fistful of Dollars,” an iconic western starring Clint Eastwood, who plays a stranger known as “The Man Without a Name” entering a Mexican village in a family power struggle. The 1964 film is the first in a trilogy of spaghetti westerns directed and directed by Italians.
Unlike many other Westerns made in the US, it doesn’t have Native Americans. Wheeler, director of the Navajo National Museum, liked this.
“There are usually inaccurate, if not offensive, portrayals of indigenous people in westerns, so there were no indigenous people here, period,” Wheeler said. “It just eliminated that aspect for me.”
The cast and voice actors of All Navajos are slated to premiere on November 16 at a cinema in Window Rock, Arizona – the first show since the venue closed in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Restricted spaces are available to members of the public who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and agree to take a rapid onsite test.
Later this month, the film will be screened free of charge elsewhere in or near the Navajo Territory, which stretches as far as Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
Other popular films dubbed in indigenous languages include Bambi in Arapaho, Frozen 2 in Sami, and Moana in Maori. The Berenstein Bears animated series has been translated into the Dakota and Lakota languages.
At least 20 indigenous languages are spoken in films being screened by the National Museum of the American Indian in November during Indigenous Heritage Month, program manager Cindy Benitez said Thursday. Indigenous peoples are increasingly creating and directing their own stories, she said, including some entirely in indigenous languages.
“Indigenous people as a whole were so underrepresented that having something like a movie here in 2021 without having their voices heard is unfair,” she said.
Fistful of Dollars is the third major film dubbed in Navajo, part of the effort to preserve the language. Elbert Jumbo voiced Bruce’s shark and other fish in the 2016 Navajo version of Finding Nemo.
Jumbo, who has retired from the US Army and lives on many farms, also voices Ramona in the western film. The character commands, terrorizes the city and considers himself untouchable. Jumbo said he nailed the overly villainous laugh typical of spaghetti westerns.
Jumbo speaks, writes and reads Navajo – the result of growing up in a home where it was the only way out.
“People are a little more proud to know that we have come a long way in learning our language,” said 47-year-old Jumbo. – Unfortunately, we lose some of them before the younger generation. But at the same time, I think films like these inspire them to learn, even if it’s just a little word here and there. “
It was supposed to be released last year, but has been delayed due to the coronavirus.
The Navajo Peoples Museum teamed up with New York-based film distribution company Kino Lorber and the indigenous studio Native Stars in Gallup, New Mexico to create the film.
“I can’t wait for my uncle to see this, my dad will see it,” Wheeler said. “Another feeling – I want those who left to be here to see it.”