KUED will air Parkite John Howe’s documentary ‘Unspoken’

Native American children pray in a photograph that is included in Park City resident John Howe's new documentary, "Unspoken: America's Native American Boarding Houses." The film, which will air on KUED on Feb. 16, is about the Navajo children who were removed from their family and traditions and put into an environment that forced them to assimilate. (Courtesy of John Howe)

KUED TV Executive Director John Howe seems to have a fascination with the West.

The Park City resident is also a filmmaker and is known for his documentaries "Return of the Wolves: The Next Chapter" and "Wild Horses of the West."

His latest film, "Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Houses," which will air on KUED on Feb. 16, continues Howe’s mission to give viewers a little more understanding of the West and its culture.

"I think those stories have great drama and resonance, especially right now," Howe told The Park Record. "Like so many of the films I make, I try to include a lot of educational aspects, because there are so many good stories out there that seem to be symbolic of bigger stories in many ways. People may come to different conclusions or have different viewpoints, but I think discussion is a good thing and that’s what we tried to do with this film."

"Unspoken" examines the experiences and memories of Native American men and women who lived in boarding schools after World War II.

The men and women, who were children at the time, were removed from their family and traditions to an environment that forced them to assimilate.

Howe learned more about these schools while he made another film a few years ago called "The Long Walk," which was about the Navajo relocation to reservations along the Texas and New Mexico borders.

"When I talked to the Navajo people, I started to ask them as an aside about their boarding-school experiences," Howe said. "I thought that might not be something they wanted to talk about but it turned out many did."

Their stories were poignant. They and told Howe that they were often subjected to public humiliation and forced destruction of personal possessions that carried any form of spiritual comfort associated with their culture, and even trips to washrooms to have their mouths washed with harsh soap if they talked in their native language.

The boarding schools were discontinued as a result of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, Howe said.

"I had known from the ‘Long Walk’ days that this was a sentient moment in Native American history," he said.

The "Unspoken" documentary is divided up into simple and dramatic stories that have a beginning, middle and end, according to Howe.

"The beginning goes through everything from prehistory to the main events that affected Native Americans that led into assimilation," he said. "We followed that through during the second part and, in the final act, there are many things about the current situation of where people are at today."

Some of the things the Native American people encounter today still surprise Howe.

"During some of the current scenes we follow a Navajo boy to Utah in his high school basketball exploits and experience of some of the things that we hoped that we had been educated out of," he said.

In one scene, the boy enters the gym of the opposing team and finds himself face-to-face with controversial and humiliating images of Native Americans.

"It’s pretty self-explanatory when you see it from that standpoint, but you realize that there are still people who aren’t as sensitive as we thought," Howe said. "It’s surprising in terms of how much things regarding Native Americans are still going on and how hurtful it is for people who go through that."

Howe and his crew worked on "Unspoken" for a year and a half and traveled to different locations including Phoenix, Arizona, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Brigham City, Utah.

"One of the places we profiled was the Santa Fe Indian School and the segment is probably one of the more successful stories concerning the Pueblo people," Howe said. "The school is owned and operated by the 19 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico. They essentially took it over because they were not happy with the way a lot of the education was going."

The Brigham City section, featuring the Intermountain Indian School, also has some positive elements.

"There isn’t much of the school that’s left, but there is a lot of history and culture, in terms of photographs," Howe said. "We talked to a few people who attended the school and this was one of the few places where some people, not all, had a good experience in terms of education.

"A lot of these schools, because the people who attended them were so resilient, became sort of a cultural melting pot," he said. "Many people who attended the schools came from different parts of the country and as a result, they were exposed to different cultures that they might not, otherwise, have been."

As with all of his films, Howe doesn’t try to sway his audience to one side of the issue or the other. He just wants people to learn about these schools.

"You can’t make things cut and dry," he said. "Over the course of 40 interviews, including scholars to those people who actually experienced the schools, and we got a good cross section of different people’s opinions.

"To me, this topic is so important because I don’t know if there has been very much done on it," he said. "Hopefully people will get a good and balanced bit of information and they can come to their own conclusions."

KUED will air John Howe’s "Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools," on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. Prior to the airing, KUED will also reair Howe’s "Return of the Wolves: The Next Chapter" on Wednesday, Feb. 3, at 8 p.m. "Unspoken" will also be featured in a special screening at the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake, 120 W. 1300 South, on Monday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. RSVP by emailing . For more information, visit


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