Doctor Jay Buckley of the BYU history department often asks his students “Where is Indian Country?” His point is that the concept of “Indian Country” is an imaginative construct, that there is no set geographical location or official descriptor that defines what or where Indian Country is. There is a vague notion among most Americans that Indian Country is a place, usually full of sand, buttes and old women selling pots somewhere in the southwest, but it comes as a complete surprise to many, especially in Utah, that the closest reservation is not too much further than a Sunday drive.
I decided to try a variation the poetic mode; perhaps it could be considered partly observational. On the way to the Uintah-Ouray Reservation to meet with the former state director if Indian affairs Forrest Cuch for a different project I filmed the trip to show that it is not quite the strange, exotic place that some of my acquaintances have imagined it as. I wanted the aesthetic of Maelstrom as a candid, home-movie production showing the journey from “normal” America into “Indian Country.” I say it is also observational, because nothing extraordinary is done with the footage as was done with poetic documentary like Francis Thompson’s To Be Alive!, but rather it is presented as it was captured from the car, showing the reality that “Indian Country” is not that different from the rest of the country, similar in concept (but not as masterful as) Bert Hannastra’s poetic/observational Glass. While Glass is arranged to a rhythm, it is a process, and it is difficult to do the same with a trip, so the same level of poetic arrangement is not present in mine. To accentuate the purpose, Through Indian Country closes with a quote by Forrest Cuch, which he told us during the interview – yes there are differences in culture and appearance, but in the end, the similarities between Native Americans and all other Americans outweigh the differences, and all of the country is Indian country.