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OPB history series puts lens on state's Indian tribes

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'Broken Treaties' opens eyes to Oregon Native experience March 20

COURTESY: EDWARD CURTIS/THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS - Shown is an Indian from the Klamath tribe. OPB producer Eric Cain traveled all over the state to talk to tribes who still live in Oregon for a new documentary, 'Broken Treaties.'A new documentary by Oregon Public Broadcasting aims to tell the little-known story of the state's Indian tribes.

"I think that the average Oregonian is missing out on something by not knowing more about the history of our state and knowing more about the people who are from here," says Eric Cain, the show's producer and writer.

The documentary, called "Broken Treaties," is part of the "Oregon Experience" series and examines the history of Oregon's natives, and how they went from possessing 100 percent of the state's land to almost none. It airs Monday, March 20.

The "Oregon Experience" series aims to tell stories that help Oregonians understand the state in which we live and reinforce our shared identity. It's co-produced with the Oregon Historical Society.

Cain and his crew spent 10 months putting together "Broken Treaties" in what he says was "probably the biggest project I've had" in more than 30 years of work.

"I was enticed by the whole notion of treaties," Cain says, adding that the government would trade things like rights to fish or hunt in return for land, yet "somehow the Indians wound up with not a whole lot of land and a whole lot of them are not doing very well. Like how did that all happen?"

So the team set out to see what was still "hanging out there."

According to Cain and the group's research, in 1850, before any treaties were signed, Congress passed the Donation Land Act, which gave 320 acres of Indian land to any settler who desired it.

In only five years, the settlers claimed 2.8 million acres. The government continually took advantage of the tribes, which were weakened by disease and feared extermination. Despite some treaties not actually becoming ratified or legally binding, the United States kept taking the land and moved Indians to reservations. He calls the "legalities of this stuff" crazy and complicated.

"I became aware of this whole network of Native people out there in the state who are kind of under everyone's radar," Cain says. He traveled all over the state to interview several chiefs of Native tribes such as the Coquille, Coos, Siuslaw and Lower Umpqua, and the Klamath tribes.

Cain says he's curious how the tribes will react to the documentary.

"When I began the show ... no one was chomping at the bit for me to come and do the story, because most stories haven't serviced the tribes really well," he says. "Either not really thorough or they've been wrong."

Cain says putting the show together was an effort, and that he had to really spend time talking to tribe members about his intentions, gauging what they thought was important.

"I was like, OK, what are the real issues? What are things that people don't get about the tribe?" he says.

"It's a crazy story, and we barely touched the surface of it in this, but it's more than most people know," Cain adds.

He thinks there could be a spinoff.

"It opens the doors to many kinds of things, I think," Cain says.

If you watch

"Broken Treaties" airs at 9 p.m. Monday, March 20, on OPB-TV and will be available to watch online at www.opb.org/brokentreaties at the same time.

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