Blood Quantum: A Zombie Film

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

The last lesson that I taught for the 2020-2021 academic year was unbelievably interesting and completely unlike anything I have ever taught about.  

So. Much. BLOOD Fun.

Dr. Miriam Villanueva, faculty in the History department, taught a course during Spring term on understanding history through zombie films. She used films such as Ojuju and Zombi Child to explore various cultural, social, and economic issues impacting the cultures that the films center on.

The film that I got to collaborate with Dr. V on was Blood Quantum by director Jeff Barnaby. 

The indigenous people in the isolated reserve of Red Crow are immune to the zombie plague that has taken over the nation, but that doesn’t mean their lives aren’t at risk. It’s up to Traylor (Michael Greyeyes, “Fear the Walking Dead”), the tribal sheriff, to protect the families residing on the reserve and a flood of desperate refugees from the hordes of bloodthirsty, walking white corpses that are closing in.

Click here to rent/purchase Blood Quantum.

The term “blood quantum” refers the racist concept that one’s “Indianness” can be quantified by the amount of “Indian blood” that one possesses. Historically, the idea of blood quantum emerged as a way to construct racial identity to benefit the dominant white society. The idea was as the blood of indigenous people became “diluted” that they would disappear – and with them any legal obligations the government had or any obstacle that they represented for the growth of white society.

The premise of Blood Quantum –that the Indigenous people of Red Crow are immune to becoming zombies–seems to be incredibly positive (as much as anything can be in a zombie film), students in Dr. V’s class were quick to pick up on the quote from the movie that being “immune to the plague doesn’t mean immune to being eaten alive.” They saw how the immunity actually served as another method to ensure the destruction of Native people – there would be no Indigenous people left while hordes of white zombies still roamed everywhere. However, their immunity did give members of the Red Crow reservation a power that was denied to all others in the movie.

As you can see, there was a lot for the students to unpack while watching the film. Below are just a few of the issues/metaphors that students investigated. 

If they’re red, they are dead. If they’re white, they bite.

By no means are these all the ways that the movie serves as commentary regarding historical and contemporary issues in Indian Country nor are the examples given below the only ones that can be found in the movie.

Current conditions of Native reservations

Early on in the movie, there is a discussion about how all the tetanus shots in the clinic have been taken by the emergency department.  Students saw this scene as connected to reservations given the historical and contemporary actions of resources being taken by the government and other for profit industries.

Students also discussed that how the compound was set up to protect against zombies was similar to modern reservations given its lack of electricity, heat, sanitation, and other vital supplies.  

Red Crow Reservation during the zombie apocalypse. 

Dishonesty towards Native people(s) and communities 

There is a scene where a father is trying to bring his clearly sick/injured daughter into the compound. When asked if she had been bitten the father denied it, however the bite mark was easily found on her neck.

There was also a character named Lilith who showed up with the father and daughter who also had a bite wound on her stomach, which she never disclosed while accepting the help and security being offered.

The dishonesty by the father and Lilith in their attempt to get what they wanted – no matter the cost to those who were trying to help them – reminded the students of both the historical and contemporary treatments of Indigenous people where information was intentionally kept from them and did not allow them to make informed decisions (such as the abhorrent lying that took place when Indian Health Services forcibly sterilized young women in the 1970s)

Father holding his infected daughter.

Destruction of Native families

The deaths of numerous characters throughout the movie is not the only way that the destruction of Indigenous families is portrayed within the film. One of the aspects of the movie that students noticed in connection to this was the fact that the character of Lysol had been placed within the foster care system. The statement in the movie that “he left an Alan and came back a Lysol” also demonstrates the trauma that is prevalent within the system and how it can change the entire personality of a child.

Placing Native children into the foster care system is a direct result of the same federal policies which lead to the creation of native boarding schools. The foster care system has played such a destructive role in the harming of Native families and communities that the state of Maine convened  the Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the trauma that resulted from decades long policies related to Native children in the state of Maine. (Dawnland is an award winning documentary about the Commissions work)

Joss, Joseph, and Joseph’s newborn daughter on the run from zombies.

Missing and murdered indigenous women

The absence of a person makes it easy for them to be overlooked, however students in the class were very aware that the mother of the character Lysol was mentioned a few times but never seen. One part of dialogue that the students brought up was when Joseph says, “The whole reservation knows what happened to his mom” but then nothing more about what happened is said.

The fact that the audience never learns the name of Lysol’s mother is another connection to missing and murdered Indigenous women. While the shooting of unarmed Black men is a crisis within society, at least we know the names of George Floyd, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and countless others. It is a sad commentary on our society that the average person cannot name even one Indigenous woman who has been murdered or who is currently missing.

Joseph and Joss talking about Lysol

Biological warfare

There is a scene where the father of the daughter who died outside of the camp due to a zombie bite brings in the blanket that she had been wrapped up in. When Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs’ character Charlie notices the blanket she grabs it from the man and throws it into a fire while yelling at him that he cannot bring that into the reservation.

The students immediately understood that this scene was meant to evoke the histories of blankets infected with smallpox being given to native people as a method to murder them.

Charlie taking the infected blanket to be burned

Destruction of natural and other resources

One of the topics with which students were already familiar was protests against the destruction of the environment and areas of cultural significance by the construction of gas and oil pipelines. Many Indigenous communities have set up blockades, particularly on bridges, to stop the movement of workers and machines.

The imagery created by the barricade on the bridge to stop zombies from crossing into the reservation is incredibly similar to the pictures from protest sites such as DAPL/Standing Rock.

Barricade on bridge to stop zombies from entering Red Crow Reservation

Christian God used to defend the treatment of Native people(s) and communities

The use of biblical words and the concept of God has been used for centuries to rationalize the inhumane treatment of native people.

“For it pleased God to visit these Indians with a great sickness, and such a mortality that of a thousand above nine hundred and a half of them died, and many of them did rot above ground for want of burial”   – Gov. William Bradford

“For the natives, they are near all dead of the smallpox, so the Lord hath cleared our title to what we possess.”  – Gov. John Winthrop

In the first moments of the movie an “Ancient Settler Proverb” appears:

“Take heed thyself that thou make no treaty with the inhabitants of the land for when they whore themselves to their demons and sacrifice to them, you will eat their sacrifices. And when you chose some of their daughters for your sons they will lead your sons to do the same.”

Some of the students were aware that the “Ancient Settler Proverb” was in fact Exodus 34:12. 

Ancient Settler Proverb

Another interesting connection the movie made was to something that director Jeff Barnaby experienced as a child.

In June of 1981, Lucien Lessard, Quebec Minister of Recreation, Hunting, and Fishing instigated conflict with Mi’kmaq living on Restigouche (now Listugui) by demanding that they remove all nets from their traditional fishing waters. Salmon fishing was vital to the survival of those on the reservation there were, unsurprisingly there was intense pushback from community members. Instead of dealing with the issue peaceably, Lessard sent about 400 Quebec Provincial Police to engage in a brutal raid on the reservation. 

Documentary “Incident at Restigouche”

These events were captured in the documentary “Incident at Restigouche” and Barnaby has commented numerous times on how this film influenced his career. One of the scenes is that of an elder talking about how he took an ax and drew “a line for them not to come any further.”

Elder speaking about how he stood up to the forces illegally entering Restigouche.

A hyper-specific homage to the violent events of 1981 at Restigouche and this elder in particular is found in the animated scene were Gisigu takes a sword to defend against zombies.

Scene from movie that references the attack on Restigouche

So, if zombie movies are your thing, you might consider watching this particular movie and I hope that this blog post will make your viewing richer in your understanding of how it serves as a commentary on issues within Indian Country.

For more about Blood Quantum:

Jeff Barnaby Made an Apocalypse Movie to Watch the System Fall. Then a Pandemic Hit

PODCAST: Jeff Barnaby talks about his indigenous zombie film Blood Quantum

Decolonizing the zombie apocalypse:  An interview with Jeff Barnaby about his new film ‘Blood Quantum’

JAE Publishes Special Issue on Doing and Teaching Archaeology Online

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

May 2021 saw the publication of special issue “Perspectives on Teaching, Learning, and Doing Archaeology and Anthropology Online” in the Journal of Archaeology and Education. Nine timely articles address the big picture and specific case studies in teaching archaeology and anthropology online—something that many of us have gained new experience in during the pandemic. And, while most institutions are looking to a return to in-person teaching, these articles, organized by David Pacifico and Rebecca Robertson, and based on the 2018 American Anthropological Association roundtable session “Teaching and Learning Anthropology Online,” make the case that teaching archaeology and anthropology online is not only possible, but can be done well and comes with some benefits. For example, Russ Bernard makes the case in his article that “online education is the only way to scale up training in statistics and research methods for both graduate students and undergraduate students of anthropology,” helping to forge more and better connections between our academic departments and employment. Michael Wesch, in his contribution, describes anth101.com, an online course that “is organized around 10 big lessons that attempt to help students embody the ‘ethos’ of anthropology, including … the ability to ask big questions, try new things, see patterns, see the big picture, see the little things that matter, and overcome fear, hate, and ignorance to empathize with others and understand cultural differences.” Check out this great special issue and all it has to offer at JAE today! And, many thanks to JAE editor Jeanne Moe and JAE guest editor Katie Kirakosian for their work on the special issue, and to the authors for sharing their work in JAE!

The Journal of Archaeology and Education is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal dedicated to disseminating research and sharing practices in archaeological education at all levels. We welcome submissions dealing with education in its widest sense, both in and out of the classroom—from early childhood through the graduate level—including public outreach from museums and other institutions, as well as professional development for the anthropologist and archaeologist. The journal’s founders recognize the significant role that archaeology can play in education at all levels and intend for The Journal of Archaeology and Education to provide a home for the growing community of practitioners and scholars interested in sharing their first-hand experiences and research.

JAE was founded at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, where archaeology is used to support high school curricula at Phillips Academy, and is hosted at the University of Maine’s Digital Commons website.

From Decolonizing to DAMS: the Beauty of Online Learning

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Over the last couple months, I was fortunate to take two online professional development courses – Decolonizing Museums in Practice and DAM for GLAM. These classes covered very different topics but overlapped in some really surprising ways.

The Decolonizing Museums class is directly applicable to so much of the work that I do every day. We have taken steps at the Peabody Institute to incorporate decolonizing into our collections management policy, researcher access policies, and NAGPRA implementation. I am proud of that work, but also wanted to take a step back and immerse myself in the scholarship behind this approach to museum management.

The class was filled with fascinating, thought-provoking, and occasionally uncomfortable readings that stretched my assumptions and gave me a new framework to view my role, as a white settler female, in managing an archaeological collection full of Indigenous material culture. The instructors and my classmates could not have been better. We represented a wide variety of museum roles and perspectives from across three different countries. We were all open and honest about when we were challenged by the readings and I found listening to others work through their decolonizing journey could be enlightening about my own.

Fortunately for me, one of my classmates was local to the Boston area and we were even able to meet up in person to discuss what we had been learning. She works with the collections at the Boston Children’s Museum. We bonded over our shared decolonization journey, but also our overall museum experiences, and an interest in knitting. We also discovered a collections link between our respective institutions and could seamlessly begin to support each other in repatriation consultations.

I loved the course.

DAM for GLAM was completely different. DAM = Digital Asset Management. GLAM = Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums. This course walked me through what a DAM is and what it can do for cultural institutions. Basically, a DAM is a system to track the digital surrogates of the physical items in the collection and the born digital materials that derive from them (think image of an item in the collection, a scan of an excavation map, digitized archives, a video of a presentation, or a course catalog). This course was less intuitive for me, but ultimately really valuable as I had previously struggled to even understand what a DAM was.

During the course, we were asked to use the collections that we were affiliated with as examples to answer the teacher’s prompts. As the questions were regularly about data management, access, and use rights, I would always answer them through a decolonizing lens. It was really helpful at times to apply the slightly more abstract concepts from the decolonizing class to something as practical as metadata. It forced me to think about how challenging the data management will be to make digital surrogates available to tribal partners, researchers, and educators.

I made some positive professional connections in that class as well through conversations about digital repatriation. I think I helped some people understand that making digital copies of everything that will be repatriated so that you still have access to a version of the item doesn’t really jibe with the idea of repatriation. If a tribe asks us to destroy digital copies of repatriated items (images or 3-D scans), the Peabody will abide by that request. Their cultural authority does not end at the physicality of the item, it encompasses the totality of the item. I am grateful for the opportunity to conduct these thought experiments and share with others.

While both classes were really valuable experiences, I want to discourage any of you out there from taking two courses at once while working a full-time job… just sayin’…