Saturday, March 8, 2008

Alcoholism and the Indigenous Navajo Native American Peoples: Excellent New Movie

Mile Post 398

Meet Cloyd and his two best friends Marty and Jimmie. They are Dene Native American indigenous peoples who are living a life of alcoholism on the Navajo Nation. Cloyd has grown up with alcohol and domestic violence ever since he can remember. Now he is following in those same footsteps, drinking heavily all night and all day while neglecting his wife and child. These are the opening scenes of the very powerful – and award winning – movie Mile Post 398 by Sheephead Films.

The first feature length film ever produced by indigenous Native Americans using an all Native American cast and crew, Mile Post 398 is an amazingly well done and powerful movie. Shot as a kind of docudrama, the movie follows Cloyd as he tries to set his life straight after a particularly long day and night of drinking with his buddies in the middle of the Navajo Nation. Almost killed when a coyote runs across the road and the car he is in has to swerve, Cloyd decides to stop drinking and begin taking responsibility for his family. However, too hung over to make it to work on time the next day, Cloyd losses his job and resorts to the bottle again.

Alcoholism is a common problem on many Native American reservations – abuse, lack of employment opportunities, the cultural manifestations of the U.S.’ colonial and imperial past all contribute to a high rate of alcoholism and suicide among Native Americans. The problem of alcoholism on Native American reservations is well known, and there are numerous academic papers and books on the topic (see, for example Antle and New Mexico State Dept. of Health and Environment Santa Fe. 1985; Garrity 2000; Owens, et al. 1990), but this is the first film that gives such an insider (emic) perspective. Because the film was shot on the beautiful Navajo reservation and used an all Native cast and crew, the film delivers its message more powerfully then any other film that I am aware of. Obviously I’m not the only one who thinks so. Thus far Mile Post 398 has won:

Best Feature Film – Fargo Film Festival
Best Drama – Tulalip Film Festival
Best Screenplay – Tulalip Film Festival
Best Supporting Actor – The 2007 American Indian Film Festival
Official Selection – The 2007 American Indian Film Festival

You can buy the movie from Sheephead Films and view clips and other projects currently in the works. Anyone concerned with, or interested in, current life on the reservation will find this movie to be an excellent resource.


Antle, David, and New Mexico State Dept. of Health and Environment Santa Fe. 1985. New Mexico Adolescent Health Risks Survey. Pp. 54. New Mexico.

Garrity, J. F. 2000. Jesus, peyote, and the holy people: alcohol abuse and the ethos of power in Navajo healing. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 14(4):521-542.

Owens, Mitchell V. Comp, et al., and Indian Health Service (PHS/HSA) Rockville MD. 1990. Bibliography of Health Issues Affecting North American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts: 1950-1988. Pp. 275. Maryland.

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Anonymous said...

Smoke Signals, written and directed by Sherman Alexie was actually the first movie ever produced by Native Americans with a cast of Native Americans.

Peter N. Jones said...

That's right, I forgot about Alexie's movie. It really is a classic.

Shonie De La Rosa said...

Although Mile Post 398 features and entire Navajo cast and crew, it was the first feature film that was 100% written, produced, and funded by Navajos. Every aspect of the film was entirely Navajo. Smoke Signals is a great classic Native film, but Smoke Signals was not entirely 100% Native produced.

Shonie De La Rosa
Sheephead Films

Peter N. Jones said...

Thanks for that bit Shonie, it is important to distinguish between the first movie produced by Native Americans and the first that was entirely 100% Native produced.

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