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Reclaiming Diné Film: Visual Sovereignty and the Return of Navajo Film Themselves


  • Leighton C. Peterson


In the summer of 1966, seven Navajo community members from Pine Springs, Arizona, were the subjects of one of the most provocative experiments in cognitive and visual anthropology yet completed, the Navajo Film Project, resulting in Sol Worth and John Adair's seminal work Through Navajo Eyes, as well as seven short films produced by Navajo filmmakers that garnered worldwide attention in their own right. In 2011, the films were repaired and returned to the Navajo Nation for public screenings, the first step in a process of repatriation and resignification that mirrors the repatriation of other visual media to Navajo and indigenous communities. The return of the films offers a unique opportunity to reexamine the meanings of the films and the project itself, reframing the discussion around issues of visual sovereignty, community reengagements, and “reclaiming” Diné/Navajo histories.