River People (1948)

This film follows the plight of Akimel O'odham farmers and how local irrigation efforts, San Carlos Irrigation Project, and the Coolidge Dam factor into their modern practices. Also covers food preservation practices and basket weaving.

Opening titles over the Gila River and rocky hillsides: “Produced by U.S. Indian Service, Story Based on a Report by C.H. Southworth, Irrigation Engineer; Cameraman…Director F.C. Clark, Jr.”; a dual propeller Trans World America (TWA) passenger plane driving along a tarmac; orange illustration of the United States with a ride line starting at Tucson, Arizona, and ending off-screen near Chicago; close up of the line passing through the Great Plains states; two aerial footage shots of a tree-lined highway passing through farmland; back to previous shot of the map, then panning down to Tucson; aerial footage of a farmed field with irrigation ditch (vaika-ku:paḑag) running alongside, surrounded by desert landscape; close-up of the passenger plane’s nose and propellers from beneath; white sign that reads “Tucson Elevation: 2389 ft” nailed to a wooden plank; men in suits and a woman (oks) disembarking down the plane’s steps onto the tarmac; late 1940s sedan driving down a highway through desert landscape; the landscape from the inside the car, then of a farm field, dry shrubs with hillsides, a saguaro in silhouette, camera then pans up to the sky clouds above; close up of the midwestern states on the orange map with “35 inches” superimposed in white, then the camera pans down to the Southwest and “7 inches” is superimposed in white; desert landscape, mountains shot from inside a car, passing a U.S. 60 road sign; sedan from before driving down the highway past foothills; close-up of a roadmap with animated black line running along highway 60 running from Tucson, outlined by a black rectangle, through the “Pima Indian Reservation” highlighted in orange towards Phoenix also outlined by a black rectangle; grasslands and (Sierra Estrella?) mountains, saguaro in the foreground; sedan driving down highway, mountains in the distance, it slows to enter a dirt road driveway; shot between the back of people’s heads is an older Akimel O'odham (A/O) man (cheoj) gesturing and then the heads of a white woman and little girl as they turn to walk away; sedan parked and a person starts to get out; the woman and child from before stand with a white man who is shaking hands with the elder, then the woman does, they stand under a sun shelter where a chair sits; wider shot of the group from above as he, an A/O woman and the visiting white family pull up chairs into a circle, the little girl and a little A/O girl stand nearby; the little girls sitting on the ground next each other with their dolls (şoşobbiḑ), which they exchange; back to the group seated and chatting; closer shot of the A/O man smiling and talking; two shots of standing ruins at Casa Grande National Monument; different shots desert landscape of shrubs, Cholla cacti, and saguaros, mountains in background; the top of a giant flowering saguaro; close-up of the center of one of the flowers with a bee; cholla bush and saguaro cacti behind; close-up of a cholla bush; two A/O women and a girl walking along a ridge, (Sacaton?) mountains behind; the three stop at a cholla bush and a woman picks cholla buds (to'olvadaj) from the bush with wooden tongs and the girl hold a large shallow basket; closer view of both women now picking, the girl holding the basket; close-up of the tongs picking a bud; closer shot of her hands dropping it into the basket the girl holds; an A/O woman digging a hole with a shovel as a toddler boy stands nearby, another woman pours water onto a bundle of (wood?) that’s on fire, creating steam; closer view of the woman digging the hole and then placing small flat stones in it; closer view of the sticks in the hole, fire beneath, her hand reaching in to place another; back to the woman next to the hole as smokes billows out; a toddler boy and girl push a red wagon full of a bundle of “weeds” that’s being pulled by a woman; series of shots of the women placing the weeds upright in the hole; a woman pours from a large sack into the hole between the weeds; closer view of the buds falling from the bag into a nearly full hole; an elderly A/O woman with a bundle of weeds in her hand, then gesturing to the younger women tending to the fire hole; close-up of the older woman’s hands placing weeds over the buds in the hole, then wider shot of her doing same; woman’s feed and shovel head near a pile of ashes (?), she then walks over to place a rock on top of the weeds covering the buds in the fire hole; now two women place more weeds on top; a woman throwing a shovelful of dirt onto the hole now covered with a pile of dirt; a woman stands next to a giant woven (coiled) storage basket (vapşomï) in a thatched store room brushing cooked cholla buds from a shallow dish into a shallow basket, then a closer shot of same; close-up of the buds; shots of a girl kneeling next to a mano and metate (grinding stone) takes buds from the basket, then places them on the metate and begins to grind; shot from the front of her doing same; close-up of the basket at the end of the stone into which she pushes the ground meal; far away shot of same, which show she’s outside under a sun shade, and getting up to bring the basket to woman tending to a pot over a fire in an open-roof shelter; close view of the woman grabbing a handful of meal from the basket and adds them to a pot of water over the fire; close-up of her hands sprinkling meal into the pot and stirring; saguaros and mesquite trees in a field; a mesquite tree (kui) abloom with yellow flowers; a woman walks over to a large basket of dried French fry-looking yellow mesquite beans (kui-kai) with a shallow bowl, then closer view of her placing them in the basket and then turning to walk away; she then leans over a large wooden mortar and pestle and sits down; closer view of her placing dried beans into the pestle and then beginning to pound it with the mortar; her face as she’s working;  close-up of the mortar pounding into the pestle, then of her hand grabbing handfuls of meal into a nearby flat basket; the girl from before now ladles water from a large water pottery jug on a stand; she brings it over to fill a small bow next to the woman and the pestle; close views of the woman sprinkling water into a bowl on her lap covered with fabric and full of meal, then adding more meal from another basket and more sprinkles of water; a series of shots of a woman seated and weaving the a shallow basket with yucca leaves (ta:tşa), including close-ups; wide shot of desert, a farm field, and foothills beyond; rock formations with a dark cloudy sky above, trees in foreground, the camera pans down to a narrowing of a  river below; wide shot of the Gila River, and surrounding canyons, mountains, large saguaro in foreground; different shot of the river, trees in background, piles sticks and branches in foreground; similar shot from another angle revealing the sticks are part of a large dam; river flowing through a manmade irrigation ditch with high banks; water flowing onto a field, a person off screen shoveling mud; a muddy and wet ground, then the camera pans up to reveal growing crops of wheat (pilkañ); corn field and buildings beyond, other views of the corn plants (hu:ñ); the girl grinding on the metate as another girl climbs a ladder nearby up to the roof of the sun shelter where they’re drying corn cobs; a woman scrapes some hot coals from a pipe pit into a wooden bowl with a piece of wood, closer shot of her placing corn kernels over the coals, then shaking it to blend; wider shots of her seated doing same, then pouring the mix into a shallow basket where she shakes some more, then uses her fingers to take out the cooled bits of coal left over; an A/O man shoveling water and mud in a field; two summer squash plants with fruit and flowers, then close-up of the blossoms; the grinding girl in the store room grabbing a large orange squash, then her handing it to a woman seated on the ground before a large bowl; closer view of the woman carving into the squash on her lap as the girl watches, then another shot of the woman holding up the strips she’s cut, then wider shot of the girl picking up the strips and carrying them over to the ladder; closer view of her placing them on the sun structure’s roof; close view of a field of wheat blowing in the wind;  wide view of the wheat field, buildings, trees and mountains beyond, then another similar shot, and then two A/O men hoeing in the field; closer shots of a man grabbing handfuls of cut wheat in the field; a man stands with wheat sheaves in his hand and a a sickle in the other; in the store room a woman scoops of wheat kernels from the giant basket into a smaller shallow one; closer view of her hands scooping; giant pile of full grain sacks; back to the older man talking to the white man seated next to him; back to the orange map where an orange line runs along the southern border of the U.S. and bends up a notch north on the section around Tucson, Arizona; map showing Mexico’s (in red with its name in white) previous border over the region and a white sign that reads “United States” above, the A/O reservation in white; now the map shows today’s border; a white woman hand washes laundry in a metal tub next to a wooden dwelling, large field beyond, a toddler sitting nearby; different views of a white man and three small children hoe in the field, mountains beyond; two men (white man on the left and A/O man on the right?) and a small boy from behind as one of the men points to the field they’re looking at; irrigation ditch alongside the field; a white man shoveling mud on a wide field with smaller irrigation ditches between the rows; wider shot of the field and ditches; wide shot of the field and mountains, buildings and tree in foreground; wide field of dry dirt; different shots of a broken-down wooden wagon on dry dirt; a group of A/O farmers seated on a bench (vuplo) on a porch; close-ups of a few of the men’s faces; a shot of the group from behind; aerial shot of the Gila River Canyon; a white man plowing a seated horse-drawn plow; wider show of two other such plows working a field alongside; the same man shoveling alongside a large irrigation ditch; wide shots of a cotton field, then of the Gila River and canyon, two men on the shore, one with a telescope on tripod, the other with a large stick who walks down the shore; closer view of the man with the surveyor stick standing among some shrubs and bushes, then closer view of the man looking through the long lens on the telescope and gesturing, then back to the man holding the stick and then walking farther away; close-up of a cover of a document (tapial) that reads, “Appendixes A,B, and C, Indians of the United Sates, Hearings Before the Committee on Indian Affairs, House of Representatives, Sixty-sixth Congress, First Session on The Condition of Various Tribes of Indians, Act of June 30, 1919”, then a hand flips to the next page which reads, “San Carlos Irrigation Project. Department of the Interior, United States Indian Service (Irrigation), Los Angeles, Calif., November 1, 1915, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C. (Through Mr. W.M. Reed, chief engineer.) Sir: The following report on the status of the available water supply…”; closer view of the man looking through the survey telescope, river and foothills behind, then of the man holding the survey stick, river behind, then back to the man at the tripod writing on a small notepad, picking up the tripod and walking off; wides shot of an A/O farmstead with equipment, boxes, and vessels about, laundry handing from a line, thatched roof wood and clay house, a German Shepherd lazing; two younger A/O men constructing a wall from wood, hammering, saw horses and planks behind, then closer shot of one tightening some wire; another young man sweeping the work area; a man chopping down a tree, then him filing the ax head, and various shots of him.chopping limbs into smaller pieces and gathering them into his arms and turning towards his horse and wagon; the man putting the chopped wood into a wagon bed; the man drives his horse and wagon, stopping at the Olberg Trading Post and Texaco gas station (Pinal, AZ); the man carrying a bundle from his wagon to one of a huge field of enclosures full of wood, then closer view of him gathering from the wagon bed, and back to placing them on the wood pile; the man at the counter  inside the trading post, another possibly A/O store keeper (nolotakuḑc'eḑ-cikpandam) behind the counter smiles and turns to grab something off the shelf behind, another white man (the proprietor, a younger William E. Ellis?) lights a cigarette; closer view of the canned goods and crackers on the counter; the girl in the farm storage room carries a bowl with grain, then shot of all of baskets and jars full of dry goods, beans; two scorched corn cobs jammed between the wooden beams and thatch and dried pumpkin slices hanging from the ceiling; pile of empty tin cans, and a series of cans tossed onto the pile; a different wide view of the farm stead, a man walking by small animal hutches; close-up of a hand stamping the word “APPROVED” onto a document which reads, “Master Plan, San Carlos Irrigation Project” and then the hands initializes it with the letter’s “MO”; illustration of areas along the Gila River one in brown, with “Indian Farmers” in white text, and at the northwest edge an area in yellow with “White Farmers” in white; Gila River Canyon and large saguaro in foreground, then closer view of an area that appears black on the screen; front page of the Casa Grande Dispatch newspaper with “Coolidge Dam Is Dedicated” as the top headline”; wide shot of the top of the Coolidge Dam and the hills and river beyond; panning shot of the dammed father and foothills down to the top of the dam; a crane moves a steel beam over to a man standing atop a stone structure alongside the river and a giant piles of stones; closer view of the beam being placed atop a stone pillar where a man moves to help guide it into place; close view of an A/O man wrenching something into place on a board; wide panning shot of the dry fields and irrigation ditch over to three tractors leveling the ground; wide shot of the dam; view of a smaller dam (and irrigation canal?) with three sections, water rushing over; a white farmer plowing a dry field, then closer view from the front as he rides his John Deere tractor towards and past the camera; another tractor with  two men riding a tractor towards the camera; a white farmer turning a larger valve next to a field, then camera shows the water pouring into a small cement-lined opening; farmer shoveling dirt to the ridges of smaller irrigation ditches in the field; view from a lock over the ditch; a white farmer driving a combine over a field; a white farmer driving a riding mower over the field’s edge; shots from the front and back of farmers driving and riding on the back of a hay baler; wide shots of a cattle ranch, cattle, buildings and foothills beyond; wide shot of a dry irrigation ditches in a field, foothills beyond; shots of cattle eating among tall grasses, then cut grasses; back to the A/O men seated on the porch from before; the Gila River, dam and sky full of rain clouds; wides shot of irrigation lock and ditch; water rushing through the irrigation canal; back to the elder A/O man sitting and chatting with the white man; shots of an irrigation ditch at the lock, full of water and the camera panning over to the field; a group of A/O men digging an irrigation ditch; closer shots of same; various shot of a crane digging a much larger ditch, moving out dirt; various shots of a larger mechanical digger with buckets on moving belts scoops out a ditch; shot panning from a ditch to an untended field, then the field alone; an A/O farmer plowing with a horse and plow, then from behind as a woman follows throwing seeds; shots of an A/O man riding a horse-drawn plow;  a man sitting atop a huge pile of hay atop a horse-drawn wagon; wide shot of the dammed river over to the Coolidge Dam with lower water levels; the dam’s domed wall and then closer view of a building with a line of windows and power lines on top; huge rush of water shooting through an opening in the wall; a man climbing the ladder on a generator within the power plant; shot from below up at the power lines atop the power plant, then views of same from farther away between rock formations; “Casa Grande” painted on the side of a building, then camera pans down to the street lined with businesses and cars (Coolidge, AZ); the sedan from before driving down a two-lane road past buildings and a road sign for Coolidge; a white man at the door of the U.S. Indian Irrigation Service building, and he enters; inside he approached the counter where a Native man greets him at the counter; the man behind the counter reviews some paperwork the white man handed him, and then a close-up of him signing a form, a check nearby on the counter; wider view of him handing the signed documents back to the white man;  power line with mountains behind it; closer view of another then panning down to a pump it’s feeding electricity to; closer view of the pipe at the end of the pump out of which water rushes; shots of another pipe and water, then pan over to the irrigation ditch and lock; sign posted that reads “Keep Away, Danger, High Voltage”; to another pump and water rushing from a pipe into a ditch and over to a lock; wheat and sunflower fields; then a dried field, panning down to an irrigation ditch with brownish water; Coolidge dam wall, and then closer view of the power plant; smaller irrigation dam, different shots of a dried river bed; back to the man chopping wood (şoncek) and then back to the small irrigation dam; shots of idle plows and untilled fields; back to the A/O elder talking with the white man; overhead shot of two men on a tractor, the white man instructing the A/O farmer in the seat; various shots of the farmer learning to run the plow; an A/O man hunched over gardening, then closer shot of his hands inspecting a beet; interior of a classroom where a white home demonstration agent is showing how to can vegetable at a table full of A/O women and children; closer view of two women watching, children on their laps;  back to the woman instructing; an A/O farmer walking into the Agriculture Extension Agent office; the man walks in and a white male agent sits at the desk reviewing a document; he stands and greets the man with a handshake, and they both sit; close-up of the farmer talking, then the two at the desk as the agent fills out a form, and back to the close-up; the agent shows the farmer the form and he signs it; back to an A/O farmer driving a tractor ('oidag-cikpan = farming) pulling a plow on a dry rocky field, then closer view of the circular blades slicing through the soil; wider shot showing that plow and another working in the background; the farmer digging mud at the side of an irrigation ditch; close-up hoeing and then of the farmer’s head/shoulders, field and smaller ditches beyond; close up of wheat sheaves blowing; wide shot of a wheat field and the homestead; the home then the camera pans over to show a combine driven in the field behind; closer views of the farmer driving the combine through the wheat field, then a white farm agent runs over the inspect the machine, closer views of same; then the agent up on the rig talking to the A/O farmers; the agent picking up a handful of wheat grains from a sack, next to two farmers and a horse and wagon, then closer view of him discussing what’s in his hand; the two farmers are hauling sacks of grain from the wagon onto a large pile under a tree, closer view of the sacks; dirt road next to farmstead; a farmer racking a home garden; an older woman pours water from a bucket into troughs for chickens; close up of chicks pecking the ground; the farmer and the woman seated on a bench smiling and laughing; wide shot of the older farm buildings, then a newer spiffier home of same materials; back to the elder holding court with the white man; wide panning shot of an irrigation ditch alongside a field, foothills beyond, a man shoveling mud; closer view of the man shoveling, he looks up and smiles; views of the sun shelter roof full of corn; close-up of a toddler boy eating popcorn (shiosigam-hu:ñ) out of a small white box; back to the elder talking; the A/O and white girl playing with each other’s dolls; the group standing and the men shaking hands; the white family turns and walks away; the sedan driving down the highway past desert landscape as they leave. End credits over same image as the opening credits: “The End, An Indian Service Film.”