11:27 AM

History Student's Work on American Indians in Film Nets Research Award

By Tim Meehan

A history major without much interest in American history, Katelyn Peterson decided to tap into her love of old Western films when taking a risk on a topic for a recent research paper for her class on Native California history.

The risk paid off.

Peterson eventually entered her paper on the representation of American Indians in Hollywood into the Cal State San Marcos Library Award for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity and came away as one of six winners, each of whom earned a $600 cash prize.

“Native Americans were actually some of the first people on film,” Peterson said. “And it's kind of a long and complicated history.”

Peterson, a junior who attended high school at nearby Mission Vista in Oceanside, began her research studying a documentary called “Reel Injun,” which walks viewers through a decade-by-decade history of American Indians in Hollywood in the 20th century.

What Peterson’s research taught her was that American Indians were often inaccurately represented on film.

Her paper showed that it wasn’t until the revival of the Western in the 1990s that a more accurate representation of American Indians, due to creating their own films, was occurring.

The end result was an award she didn’t envision winning.

“I was really surprised and really excited,” Peterson said about her reaction to winning the award. “It felt good knowing that what I was writing about was being recognized, and that not only was it good enough to get me a good grade, but it was good enough writing to be recognized by the school.”

Submissions for the library award ranged from written research papers to creative works such as art, music, lyrics, poetry and dance.

Peterson didn’t have to look far for examples of authentic representation of American Indians. The library is currently displaying a collection of paintings by Eric Tippeconnic, an enrolled member of the Comanche nation and assistant professor in American Indian Studies. Joely Proudfit, department chair of American Indian Studies,  is the founder and executive director of California’s American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival presented by CSUSM’s California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center.

“That’s actually something that I cover in my paper,” said Peterson, who said history professor Robert Miller was a major influence in her research. “California's American Indian and Indigenous Film Festival is a group of Native filmmakers that’s supported in part by Cal State San Marcos. And so it was really cool to find that tie in.”

As for Peterson’s future, she may combine her writing background with her history major and love for film to write and critique more about media and movies.

For now, it’s a hobby. Her senior year will determine which direction she’ll go next.

But wherever her career takes her, it will be greatly influenced by history.

“Learning about the place that you're from is really important,” Peterson said. “Not just for historians but for everybody. Taking a class relating to California history was really enlightening for me. And it's a subject that I was passively interested in. But this made me a lot more cognizant of when I watched movies, how people were represented and how that affects the way that we see other people in film.”


Library Award Winners

  • Daniel Crescencio Castro, “American-Anime: How Japanese Anime Influenced American Cartoons”
  • Kennedy Caudle and Courtney Johnson, “Examining the Impact of Human Presence on Native Insect Pollinators in Coastal Sage Scrub Habitat in North County San Diego”
  • Emily Culbertson, “Modernized or Industrialized”
  • Ariana Null, “The Hermits”
  • Katelyn Peterson, “Native Americans in Hollywood”
  • Ruben Sanchez, “Before Christ, There Was Augustus: Comparing the Imperial Cult in Hispania and Gaul”

Media Contact

Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist

ebreier@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7314