El texto de esta página por ahora sólo se encuentra en
inglés. Si quieres averiguar sobre sitios que facilitan traducción
via Internet, entra aquí.
Larry Littlebird, interviewed by Joanna Hearne
University of Arizona campus, 9/4/03 and by telephone 9/25/03
House Made of Dawn - Interview 1
HEARNE: I want to start out by inviting you to tell the
story of your involvement with the 1972 film House Made of
LITTLEBIRD: It's good that I tell you this from the beginning
because of where it's brought me, the making of the film. Scott
[Momaday] wrote an incredible book, and it was such a blessing
that someone wanted to make a motion picture from it. I really
wasn't thinking of ever getting into motion pictures. I had an
idea that it would be fun to be in movies, riding a horse (laugh).
That's what I thought would be the extent of my involvement.
I was living in and around Santa Fe at the time, when there were
a lot of motion pictures coming into town, many of them Westerns.
And my brothers were getting jobs as extras, riding horses. They
were telling me how much fun it was, you know, to chase each other
around all over the hills and do crazy stunts, and then they fed
you so well (laugh). Plus you got paid for it. So it was exciting,
and we were young and crazy.
We went to try out for the next movie that was going to come
into town, because they encouraged me to do that with them. It
was Warner Brothers coming in with their big production for the
year, Anthony Quinn and a whole big cast of people. They were
shootingoh, this is interestingNobody Loves a Drunken
Indian, which is a story about this area, Phoenix, and how
the Indian people lost Phoenix. They were looking for extras,
and so we went to the basement of the La Fonda hotel, and stood
in a lineup. One of the assistant directors came up to me and
he says, "Uh, do you think you can jump onto the back of
a moving truck?" I said, "Yeah if it's not going too
fast." (laugh). He says "Great! Oh great, we want you
to do this little bit part." I think they picked me out of
the lineup because, at the time, my hair was long. I tied it in
a traditional manner, and young men in that period of time didn't
have hair like that, like mine. It made me stand out, and I know
that's what they were looking forthe visual look.
And so that's how I got into motion pictures. It was interesting
and I was excited"Wow, this is the way you make a movie."
Then one of the things I noticed wasmy goshhow much
money they were spending! And then I got to meet a lot of the
different actors that were part of that production. One of them
was Tony Bill, and he already knew about House Made of Dawn,
the book, because he had tried to purchase the rights to it when
it was still in galleys. He had an interest in producing it as
a motion picture, but somebody else had beat him to the rights.
He gave me the book, and he said, "Read this book, it's an
incredible story, and you're perfect for the lead." Ok, all
right. I mean, on the set everybody you meet is telling you, "Stick
with me kid I'm going to make you a star." And so I just
said "Oh thank you."
But I started reading the book and I was blown away by Scott's
writing. This was the first time I had ever read anything where
the reality of Pueblo Indian life and thought and feelings was
expressed in such an incredible, beautiful manner. I went around
with the book in my hands re-reading passages to people and tapping
people on the shoulder and saying "Look! Look at this! Look
at this!" I was reading it to everybody, not just on the
set but everywhere I would go. I was just blown away by it. I
liked the idea that maybe somebody might be making a movie but
I just didn't see myself as having anything to do with it, especially
since I was just finding out about the way motion picture got
It's pretty dismal being on a big set. I went to Hollywood and
that clinched it for me. I saw the way people were treated, with
not much respect behind the scenes, and what an ego-center it
is. I left that production and just came on home. But I kept thinking
about that book and how beautiful it was. And I said, you know,
if it gets made into a movie, I'd like to have something to do
with it, maybe just be around the edges of itat least try
to advise them as to what not to do with it, so it can stay as
beautiful as it is.
When I came back it was Indian marketmy brother Harold
is a potterthat year he made this incredibly beautiful big
pot with a lid
the photographers came around and they wanted
a photograph of the pot. Harold wasn't anywhere around, so they
asked me to hold it, and I just kinda held it out, hoping that
they were going to take a picture of the pot. Well, the next day
there was my photograph on the front page of the New Mexican,
in color: "Harold Littlebird and his award-winning pot."
Scott Momaday lived in Santa Fe at the time. His wife Gail cut
that photograph out, and she mailed it to the producer who was
in LA, and he looked at it and said, "That's the guy. That's
the guy, find him." Well, in the meantime, I went antelope
hunting. And one day from antelope camp when I went to refill
my gas tank, I called home, and my wife told me, "They're
looking for you." I said "Who?" "These people
who want to produce House Made of Dawn. The producer's
in New Mexico, and they're scouting locations and they're looking
for you." I said, "Well, tell 'em I'm antelope hunting,
I'll be home in two weeks."
Sure enough, when I got home, there was an invitation for me
to go to Scott's house. He lived just across the arroyo from where
we were presently living in Santa Fe. I didn't know that's where
he lived all this time. So, I met the producer, and director,
Richardson Morse, and I kind of interviewed him I thinkhe
tells me I didbecause I was wondering, "If they're
going to make a movie, do they know what are the good parts? How
are they going to handle all this stuff?"
HEARNE: What were the good parts that you were telling
Rick to film?
LITTLEBIRD: It wasn't so much about filming as much as
the treatment of the total story and treatment of the people who
would be cast, the Native people. If he was thinking he'd get
himself a Pueblo Indian to play this lead role, but then cast
from the line of people in Hollywood, Native people, or even non-Native
people in Hollywood who might pass as Indianif he was going
to do that, then I already knew where it was going to go. But
he had an interest in casting right from New Mexico, and he took
my suggestions of relating it to people of the Pueblo communities,
people who had the right sensibilities.
HEARNE: Why was it important that Native people play these
rolesor people from a specific community?
LITTLEBIRD: Well from my perspective, the difference is,
for example, in the Pueblo culture, there are things that are
just correct in the sensibilities. It's ingrained in them, in
the people. We have an unspoken understanding of presence. And
that presence, if it's going to be brought onto the screen, has
to play itself. You cannot duplicate it. You can bring in very
good actors, and they can learn mannerisms and they can learn
colloquialisms and they can learn ways of speaking that are peculiar
to these people. But when they're viewed on the screen, they stand
out rather than speak from the content of Pueblo people's history,
thousands of years of being. And so those are the sensibilities
that I think filmmakers wanting to tell stories of Native American
people have to be aware of.
HEARNE: How did the character of Abel resonate for you,
and how did you draw on what you knew to play the character?
LITTLEBIRD: Oh man, when I read the book, I knew everybody
in that book firsthandwell, it's true, these are my people.
I had so many close associations with the Abel character, on all
levels, everything from his development as a child, to everything
that he experienced and I'd witnessed in my own close relations
and close friends. I could identify with it. I could, more importantly
for an actor, become sympathetic to the person to the point of
having empathy. And it was not hard to translate, for me. All
I had to doand really this was the roleall I had to
do was feel it, and allow that to be seen. If I did anything in
the movie, that's all I did. I felt, and the camera recorded my
feeling. I did it instinctively, I didn't try to train for it.
HEARNE: You also talked [earlier] about drawing on your
own dramatic idioms to play the role. Could you expand on that
a little bit? Were there some dramatic traditions that you had
to go on or was it a more personal and intimate kind of empathy
with the character?
LITTLEBIRD: Pueblo culture has a great deal of dramatic
experience. The dramas that take place in our ceremonies, you
have to train for them and you have to prepare for them and you
have to understand how to communicate. And that's been going on
for thousands of years; it has its own language and its own forms.
The people are at ease in it, and I was at ease in it. And I knew
that's what I brought with me, and I was just given an opportunity
to express them. My expression was very instinctiveI didn't
try to analyze it, to any great degreeI think now I can
coach other people, and I can use my experience and help them
get in touch with things that I know that we both know.
One of the most rewarding experiences of House Made of Dawn
was watching my uncle [Mesa Bird], who plays Abel's grandfather
my father's generation, and I watched him bring all these things
I'm describing now, express that in this very contemporary form.
And he was powerful.
HEARNE: This brings us to the topic of Mesa Bird learning
his lines orally, right? He wasn't reading the script?
LITTLEBIRD: What was going on was [that] he was being
told the gist of the story, and the gist of the scene, and then
he was being allowed to improvise, to communicate what needed
to get across. I think a good example of that is the scene [after]
Abel has gotten home, and he and his grandpa are re-establishing
their relationship after Abel being away at war, and Abel is cleaning
that bridle and the old man is drilling turquoise beads.
HEARNE: I remember the scene.
LITTLEBIRD: It's so typical, because there's silence.
There's silence. They're involved in their own activities, yet
they're sitting side by side, and it isn't until awhile that they
begin to speak to each other, and the old man speaks to Abel.
This is what I mean about those sensibilitieshe so understands
the relationship between grandfather and grandson. He starts teasing
Abel about cleaning this bridle for the horse. Abel's been gone
for awhile, and the old man's got a new horse that he doesn't
think this young kid is going to be able to ride, and he starts
teasing him about it and it's just wonderful. There's a relational
context that's so steeped in care and love for his grandson, but
it's not, "Oh, grandson, I'm so proud of you!" which
is what you typically see on the screen.
HEARNE: What happened when it was released in theaters?
Where did it play, who saw the film?
LITTLEBIRD: I'd been watching the outtakes; I didn't know
you weren't supposed to do that. Actors don't like to do that,
it usually hinders them. I wasn't an actor (laugh) so I didn't
know that it could affect you adversely. I liked watching outtakes.
I liked seeing how a story was being built. So I saw the film
a lot, during the whole process, and then when it was finally
getting to the final-cut versions, I saw those with different
audiences as well.
But the screening that I really remember the most was close to
the last version. My relatives who were in the movie with me were
all flown out to L.A. and invited to a screening, which was the
largest public screening, at that time, for the film. It was in
a studio, I forgot whereMGM or somewherewhere they
rented the theater, and it was a big audience. I remember two
things. The entire audience was blown away by the presence of
my uncle on the screenthey couldn't get over it. What I
had always believed came truethe Native presence, when it's
allowed to express itself, is very powerful. I knew that that's
what was going on, and it helped me to be encouraged. I know that
movies can be made about Indians and they're going to look different,
they're going to sound different, and this is the beginning of
And then generally the audiences were very appreciative, even
though they didn't know what they were really viewing because
it was a culture in the middle of America that nobody really understood
or had much contact with. The story was a universal story, but
told in this context of tribal America; it was not easily recognizable
because general audiences had pre-conceived notions of who Indian
people are, and so there was a stereotype that was immediate.
There was an appreciation for the performances of the Indian people
who came on the screen, but I don't believe that there was an
immediate sense of "Wow, this is a new storytelling form,"
because people didn't recognize it.
.Language was a question in House Made of Dawn as
well, because we could've gone to subtitles. It could've been
in Pueblo language, Keresan, that is our language. However, it
was cumbersome and more expensive to do it that way. But then,
one of the ways that we handled that was for Mesathe grandfather,
Santiagoto speak using his own language, but the responses
could come back in English and help the audience understand what
was being spoken. And I believe it was effective.
HEARNE: I thought that was a brave move. I didn't understand
what he was saying, and there's a way in which that makes some
of the film unavailable to a white viewer. Hollywood films are
not interested in shutting off part of the film, they're all about
LITTLEBIRD: That's where in House Made of Dawn
there are hints of the integrity of tribal communication. A lot
of tribal communication is more in the unspoken than in what's
actually said. And the responses come in silence. It's a mulling
over, and the response doesn't have to be immediate. There will
be a response.
HEARNE: There are a lot of silences in House Made of
Dawn. Abel has very few lines in the book, and he doesn't
speak very much in the film. That's part of this inarticulateness
that is plaguing him in the book, but it's also, as you're saying,
part of a relational style.
LITTLEBIRD: Well, I just want to comment on that opening
scenewhere Abel is sitting there in his grandpa's house
and the old man is dying. The way in which that scene got shot
and plays as an opening to a movieimmediately you sense
that this is a whole different world. For me, that scene is a
hint at what Native filmmaking is really all about. If you could
start at that level, and begin to express the depths of what you're
viewing in those first opening sequenceswow, you're headed
in the right direction
.One of the things I learned from
that is that the best images are those that are silent, the transitional
ones that help you get the importance of a sequence, to make the
transition to the next one.
.We don't have enough examples to tell a full story using
that method. When that happens then we'll have what I would call
a Native American film. Now if the writer, the director, the producer,
are all Native, and they can get alongI mean agree on a
common visionand the producer has raised the money to allow
the director and the writer to realize the vision, then I think
this thing can evolve. I think [Atanarjuat-]The Fast
Runner's an example of that, where a vision gets realized.
But House Made of Dawn is, in my limited knowledge of the
history of motion pictures, one of the first examples of moving
in that direction.
HEARNE: You're describing a real collaboration between
yourself, Rick Morse, and the people who are producing the film.
LITTLEBIRD: Right, and that's what House Made of Dawn
woke me up to. It was the extreme opposite of Warner Brothers.
Here was this little group of people all working together, and
what I saw was, "Oh, that's like at the Pueblo when we're
going to clean the ditches." The whole community is involvedI
mean even those people who don't go out to actually put the shovel
in their hand and clean out the dirt and the weeds and trash out
of the ditch. We know what our common vision is, and the common
vision is the flow of water which brings life to our community,
and gives us life. That's a common vision, and everybody is connected
That's when I began to glimpse that, "Oh, you could make
movies like that, where everybody that's part of the set is tied
into the vision." And if they are, you're going to get better
sound, you're going to get better lighting, it's all going to
be moving toward that. Because productions try to do that, but
the reality is the departments are truly departments; they don't
overlap in feel or in community. They're not involved. And so
I began to see that
if you could get enough Native people
working together, there was a possibility that a whole new methodology
for making film could become available.
And essentially, that's the project that George [Burdeau] and
I later went to work onThe Real People seriesit
became really the first filmmaking by a core of Native peopleand
we were part of that. In Canada it's a different story; they've
always had the Canadian Film Board which has helped Native people
get films up on the screen.
.The stories are there, wonderful stories. I met a guy
at the Institute of American and Arts, a writing student. He brought
me a story: "Is this any good?" Man, he blew me awaysee,
there are people out there, they got it! They just haven't had
the opportunity yet. If there was some way in my power that I
could've taken that kid and said, "Let's go do this, this
is what you have to do, it's going to take us awhile, might take
us 5 or 6 years, maybe 10look how long it took to make Gandhi.
Are you ready? Let's go do it."
House Made of Dawn - Interview 2
HEARNE: When we first talked about the film you talked
a little bit about indigenous languages as having a very precise
relationship with cultural values. I wonder if you would talk
a little more about that.
LITTLEBIRD: I'm always being made aware because I'm constantly
going back and forth in translation. I could glean how this would
be communicated in English, what is this word in my language,
what is it referencing. And I know Scott Momaday is very much
aware of this. I think one of the best examples of his consciousness
of this concept of language and the values that are inherent in
it are in his book [The Way to] Rainy Mountain,
because he's dealing directly with his own ancestry there. And
I know when I'm dealing with my own lineage that's when it becomes
most clear. The value of a Native perspective is a spiritual context;
this is so apparent in any of the songs, any of the stories that
are communicated among the people. It's a different kind of a
listening than just everyday conversation, and yet the everyday
conversation cannot help but be influenced by that deeper consciousness.
English is not used in the same concept unless it is tied to
religion, and then when it gets into religion, it becomes so specific
that it begins to create theology, a category which then removes
the actuality of living to a very intellectualized concept of
I believe that this is one of the things that is most apparent
in the denominations of Christianityit's broken into all
of these different parts, which is a very Western way of categorizing
the world. As Native people, we don't categorize the worldthe
world is one. It's a whole. Life is a whole. Our concept of a
creator fits in it with us; we're not separate. Christ is available,
and always has been, and always will beit's us who have
to make ourselves available to receive it. In Scott's work he
deals with a lot of those concepts. I really do believe that House
Made of Dawn is a perception of Cain and Abel, Abel being
this Native person, and Cain the whole of American society.
This makes me think of the character of Tosamah. Momaday making
this character was very prescient, because people have emerged
who were a lot like Tosamah, coming out of Oklahoma and other
places. I've heard my dad and my uncle speak about the Christian
Indians that they met at boarding school, that these people have
a very strong faith, and they'd even met some of these charismatic
leaders, who are leading in their own denominations. Tosamah is
just more extremely flamboyant. They were flamboyant within their
own times; in the novel and in the movie, the character is flamboyant,
and today there are some of those kinds of leaders. They come
out of Indian country, and they're still striving for a sense
of their own identity as Indian people who have accepted Christ.
This is funnyI've already told you how I came to be in
that role [Abel]. Looking back, it's like, I can see that, oh
my gosh, that wasn't coincidence. And it's almost as if I could
be Abel, in recovery. I believe, because I've seen it, that Native
people who come out of alcoholism in those extreme casesthey
were just a down and out drunk one day, and the very next day,
they stop drinking and never touch another dropthey become
very gifted spiritual people. I've seen them again and again and
again. And there's a hope in that for Native people.
Looking back historically in my life, the book come along and
then the movie and my role in it, and it's all appeared to me
very naturally. I've gravitated towards the spiritual, as expressed
in that medium of literature and the medium of motion picture.
I'm now expressing it in actuality. And it's just a natural progression
of something that I see as God-sent.
I believe that one of the struggles for Native people is to
get that sense of perspective in their creative lives, because
they've been under such oppression that their artistic expression,
whether they're aware of it in the more conscious level or not,
has suffered from a lack of being free. It's still hampered by
unresolved anger, all those things that come to a people where
the oppression is so great that you just resolve to be like a
piece of driftwood. And wherever the current is going, you'll
find yourself drifting. You're out there in the current, like
Abel. He comes to L.A., and he just dives into that deep water,
that whole lost existence of big city life; you know, you're just
swept away....I think there's still a struggle for many Native
people to come to some kind of determination for self. For me,
that's part of the hope of a story like House Made of Dawn,
because the very title is one of restoration. In my version of
what happened to Abel, I believe he moved on to restoration.
HEARNE: I haven't really heard anyone talk about the actual
spiritual value of Native filmmaking in quite this way; it's interesting
to me to hear the way you're addressing a spiritual and restorative
aspect of the literature and the films.
LITTLEBIRD: I believe that the oral tradition, the spoken
word is alive, and that it frees you to action. It's not like
you have all these stories, and so they're in your memory. No,
the words free you to be reminded of all the stories that you
have as a resource, from which you can make choices that give
you action toward freedom. For me that's what our language is
Now I'm going to say something that may sound contradictory.
You see, whatever language a person has, this reality is true
in that language. And therefore, it's not because I have Keres
as my language. That just happens to be who I am and that's helped
me, but it can happen in Englishif I can grasp at the words,
the spoken word is aliveand that's a universal understanding
HEARNE: What about your later film career? You went on
to make one of the first all-Native-produced documentaries.
LITTLEBIRD: House Made of Dawn was a turning point
for me, because what I discovered was that it's possible to make
motion picture without the encumbrance of "Hollywood production."
Here was an independent film, here was somebody that was spending
their own money, and now a different kind of movie could be produced.
And so it showed me that it was possible to use this very powerful
medium and do it differently.
And then when House Made of Dawn was over, it was a pretty
incredible opportunity that was opened to me....film school in
Santa Fe, the Anthropology Film Center
And because the approach
to filmmaking was the telling of stories, it suddenly opened my
eyesthat there were many people who knew the technical side
of film, but there were very few with any kind of worthwhile story
to tell, or very few who could tell a story well. That's when
I really became interested, and it was after my time going to
school that I began to really understand that there were such
a wealth of storieswell actually I always knew thatwithin
indigenous people, but there were also these incredible storytellers
within indigenous people; they just had never been given the opportunity,
or shown the technology in simple terms.
....Rick has always been so generous and, one of the things that
he's always said to me is that, "If there are other stories
out of House Made of Dawn that you want to pursue,"
he goes, "just go for it." And I do. I'd love to do
the story of Santiago, the grandfather. That is an incredible
story. It's a whole other period of time. What does a man like
thatof deep conviction and traditionwhat does he do
with a grandson who just wrenches his heart? There's just so many
sequences that would just be spell-binding for an audience because
they come out of a culture that no one has ever witnessed. He's
that man, and that sets the tone for the values, and what comes
against those values is being expressed by his grandson.
Fotográficos: Larry Littlebird
- fotografía de Peter Morse © 1970