The Native American Bigfoot Experience

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 22nd, 2009

The thought that all those cellphone cameras out there might result in more Bigfoot proof, in a roundabout way, actually has a new real-life footnote. You never know when a good idea might lead somewhere else.

“When me and my sister were coming home from my aunt’s funeral…I decided to go on the back roads hoping that we could talk because we were both upset about the funeral. I was joking around that we should get our camera phones out because we might see Bigfoot. Then there it was on the side of the road as we got closer. It saw us and then it took two steps across the road and it was gone,” recalled Clarissa Archilta of Apache, Oklahoma.

Archilta and her sister had their sighting of Bigfoot, the huge ape-like creature that has been legend in Oklahoma, about a year and a half ago.

How is this important and newsworthy versus routine and mundane? Well, the sighting has resulted in Archilta’s involvement in a new film project. She is putting her story on film with the help of the long-running history series on PBS, “American Experience.”

The Native American Public Telecommunications news service shares this:

The unique project is part of the debut of American Experience’s newest mini-series, We Shall Remain, an exploration of 300 years of Native American history in America slated to air in April.

The first workshop for the film project called ReelNative was held in Phoenix in 2007 and Native people of all ages with little or no filmmaking experience began on a two-week crash course of film production. Participants in the first workshop shot their footage with cell phones, representing the technology available today.

Since then, ReelNative participants have been given mini-DV cameras because of the higher technical quality. But whether cell phones or cameras were used, the stories themselves were unaffected. According to ReelNative organizers, it was the Native perspective—the voice of real Native people living in present day America—that was sought.

“By asking people to share their experiences, we were opening up a creative opportunity for a population that is underrepresented in American media,” said Sharon Grimberg, We Shall Remain executive producer. “I hope that these participants’ voices, and the stories we are telling on other platforms, will come together to create a mosaic of the Native American experience.”

At ReelNative workshops, which also have been held on the East Coast and recently at Comanche College in Lawton, Okla., participants are taught the basics of filming and interviewing, and then are set on their own to do their stories. The result has been films about childhood memories, personal struggles with identity or concerns about their future of their tribe or diminishing culture.

Other participants have shared their tribe’s creation stories or chronicled history, such as the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

“It was hard to tell the world something I keep so close to my heart, while wondering if people will understand what the film is really trying to share and teach,” said Rebecca Nelson of the Salt River Pima Tribe, one of the first workshop participants whose film, A Freeway Christmas, tells of Nelson’s desire to have a Christmas for her younger brother as she had as a little girl when her family had more money. “But then I remembered the reason I agreed to participate in the first place—I knew my story needed to be told. It needed to be told the way it should be told, directly from me.”

Tvli Jacob (Choctaw), an experienced filmmaker who led the workshops on the East Coast and at Comanche College, said he hopes that ReelNative will entice workshop participants to continue telling their own stories or compel other Natives to get in the business.

“It’s about giving Natives a voice where they don’t have one,” Jacob said. “There is very little representation of Native people in filmmaking and this is a way to empower them.” Clarrisa Archilta (Apache) agrees. While she isn’t going to change her career anytime soon, she is glad she’s getting this chance to learn about the industry and tell her story. Tales of Bigfoot are large part of Native American Oklahoma history. Some tribes believe that Bigfoot protects cemeteries. Other tribes believe they are like medicine men and turn into trees.

“I know that some people aren’t going to believe it and I’m OK with that,” Archilta said. “…But some people think all Indians do is drink and powwow, and, really, you have all these Indian artists or musicians or doctors or massage therapists like me. It’s better to get these films out there to show people that we’re not just drunks or savages, and that we’re interesting and normal just like them.”

Films from the ReelNative project are available to view now on the We Shall Remain website and will be shown nationwide when the series premieres on PBS on April 13. For more

information about the series, go to here.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

4 Responses to “The Native American Bigfoot Experience”

  1. cryptidsrus responds:

    I’m looking forward to Archilta’s film. In my opinion, some of the most believable testimony and evidence for the existence of Ole Hairy are to be found in Native American experiences.
    Plus, unlike Anglo-Saxon experience, Native American folklore, legends and interaction with Bigfoot go back hundreds of years.

  2. Alligator responds:

    American Indian lore about Bigfoot has come to be ascribed to many tribes across the continent. However, the traditional stories about “hairy giants” that I’ve found primarily seem to focus in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. Indian place names in this region are frequently connected to Bigfoot. This is one reason I’ve thought it more likely such creatures live in the northwestern mountain and coastal forests, than say Ohio or my home state of Missouri.

    An Abnaki friend from Maine told me that the creatures are part of their lore too. He said it was something you wanted to avoid in the woods. A Seminole acquaintance got very serious when I asked and said “I can’t speak of such things.” But on further reflection, I think I fell prey to the Indian style of humor. Contrary to popular perception, traditionalist Indians like a good joke and if you start asking about their lore and legends, they may tell you some whoppers just to lead you on. I was warned about this by a clan elder. It’s not malicious, but just having some fun at the white man’s expense. That’s small payback for everything that’s been done to them.

    Sometimes Bigfoot are not recognized as physical creatures, they are spirits. In addition to the Bigfoot, there are widespread stories of races of giants that look like perfectly formed humans. In many creation stories, the earth had to be cleared of giants and monsters of all kinds before humans could safely inhabit it. I’ve wondered if some of these stories are an ancient vague memory of mammoths, mastodons, dire wolves, lions, giant sloths, glyptodonts and short face bears. Maybe even Gigantopithecus?

    Several other creatures are more commonly found in the lore of native tribes throughout the continent. Water Spirits are described even by tribes living in arid areas. They are nearly always serpentine although they may show the characteristics of other animals such as deer antlers or the heads and claws of mountain lions. In some quarters the water spirits are known as “underwater panthers. These creatures lived in lakes, the deep pools of springs or whirlpools of rivers.

    Another creature that was very widespread were the “little people.” Sometimes they looked like perfectly formed humans, other times the head was larger and out of proportion to the body. I find that the little people are always feared and avoided at all costs – even today. The stories about them are very similar to Celtic stories about gnomes and leprechauns and fairies.

    Thunderbirds and giant eagles were another nearly universal creature but enough has been said her so I don’t need to repeat it.

    To be sure, each tribe had its own description of these things. But they are sufficiently similar to point to a common origin. These creatures were not to be trifled with and usually avoided if possible. If they approached you peacefully it was all right, but it was not a good idea for you to approach them. These are terrific stories when you get into them and most are much deeper and impart a moral relevance that western culture has overlooked.

  3. amstar responds:

    Thanks for telling us about this project! Native American stories and oral history about Sasquatch and other “supernatural” beings should definitely be told and recorded for future generations.

    This is a topic I am familiar with having traveled and lived with a Native American Elder and Medicine Man for over a decade. I had been privy to many stories told by him about such beings– some I have mentioned before on this website. My husband also had the belief that Sasquatch — the English translation of what his people called such beings is “Mountain Man” — had the capability of being flesh and blood and supernatural, appearing and disappearing at will. My husband once had a very detailed dream where he came up against a Sasquatch, fought him and beat him in battle. After that dream, he said that the Sasquatch spirit became his friend and protector and would be present at many of the ceremonies he would conduct — including sweat lodge ceremonies.

    My husband was also quite familiar with the Little People and had many encounters with them throughout his life (he passed away last May). He was not afraid of them, he just said they were michievious and loved to play tricks, particularly on people undergoing a fast. The Little People would come to their fasting circles at night and try to trick or scare people into leaving their fasting circles. When I fasted (and I have fasted 8 times in my life), I never was bothered by the Little People because I did what my husband told me to do and left offerings of tobacco and candies (they love sweet things). A few times during my fast I would wake up at night and hear mysterious music playing and voices singing right outside my tent when no one was there. Most Native people who fasted under my husband’s direction would have encounters with Little People.

    My husband used to see them sometimes in our home in Canada. They would be standing in the room where he was and he would later describe the clothing they were wearing. I would rarely see any kind of “spirits”– sometimes just a fleeting glimpse of something running by.

    When my husband would drive on long trips in the car, he would see them in the back seat waving in the rear view mirror at him. He used to say how he picked them up somewhere on his journey and they stayed with him! They would sometimes hide his shampoo when he stayed in motel rooms. Once, he got a bit angry and asked them to bring the container back. When he opened the door to leave his room to get breakfast, the container was outside the door.

    He had witnesses to many of the tricks they played. He was also thoughtful about seeing them– often trying to determine the meaning in their visits. These beings are not just stories of the past– many people are seeing them in the present!

  4. DWA responds:

    I do know this, and I think I’ve said it here: dismissing Native American accounts of the sasquatch – in fact, any native accounts of any cryptid – out of hand is one of the less-subtle forms of racism still remaining in today’s world.

    It’s as if people’s brains aren’t big enough to get around the concept of open minds. It’s why, among other things, medicine is only now starting to recognize how many native remedies really work, and work better than “modern” equivalents.

    You don’t have to swallow everything you hear. Just open yourself to the possibility that if a lot of people are seeing the same thing, it might be because they are, well, um, seeing the same thing.

    (Oh. While we’re on pervasive myths: let’s see what we can do about the one that mentally healthy people “see things.” They don’t. They see what they see.)

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