Appendix: Workshop Designing a Teaching Unit on Chris Eyre’s Skins (2002)

Materials at the Start

  1. The movie Skins
  2. Interview (in written form) with Chris Eyre, who made the film based on the novel by Adrian C. Louis
  3. Alexie’s short story “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock”

Goal and Focal Point

  1. Developing ideas for a unit which could include some or all of the above materials
  2. Working title: “Deconstructing Stereotypes: Adding Layers / ‘Skins’ to our Image of the Native American”

Possible Openers

  1. Mind mapping: what images of the North American Indian are already present in the minds of the students? (in all likelihood everything from the noble savage to the fierce, belligerent warrior)
  2. Opening trailer of the movie (part of a documentary on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation), which gives social statistics on life expectancy, deaths from alcohol, low annual income, etc., as a source of information on present-day situation
  3. Which approach you choose would, of course, depend on factors such as age and competence level of the students, your own predilections, etc.
  4. If you have lots of time, you could even pave the way to a critical discussion of stereotypes as a general phenomenon; broaden the topic by first talking about how Germans are perceived by other nationalities in other countries

Possible Ways of Moving on (Depending on Individual Factors)

    1. The interview with Chris Eyre: gives a Native American perspective on what it means to be Native American at the beginning of the 21st century, explicitly addressing certain issues which could become the topic of discussion or closer study, e.g.:
      1. John Wayne movies as “detrimental to the Indian”
      2. “Huge disparity between taking bits and pieces of what you want to see and the reality of the whole”
      3. “Indians are the most exploited cultural icon in this country”


    1. The short story, specifically: Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock
      1. music plays a pivotal role in Alexie’s story
      2. preparation: talking about Hendrix as an icon himself; especially comparing the classical version and text of the “Star Spangled Banner” with Hendrix’s subversive version (available on YouTube)
      3. different layers of meaning, what exactly is Hendrix subverting? (mainstream culture vs. subculture; Vietnam War; music as means of protest, survival, and asserting one’s identity; etc.)


    1. The short story from different angles:
      1. the role of music
      2. the role of ceremony
      3. the role of humor
      4. different constructions of reality and how they can become means of survival: If you don’t like the things you remember, then all you have to do is change memories different perceptions of reality: seeing the same thing or phenomenon from the different perspectives of different figures


  1. The movie Skins—very complex with different layers of meaning
    1. Preliminaries (pre-viewing exercise):
      –   map, geography, Pine Ridge
      –   Mount Rushmore: information on deeply-rooted icon of white mainstream society, of American patriotic tradition
      –   basic decision: to view only sequences or the whole film
    2. Overview of the different aspects/facets worth delving into (to name a few)
      –   which stereotypes are recognizable/presented in the film?
      –   relationship between the two brothers
      –   male/female relationships: role played by white people: no characters of substance; symbolism = important and many-faceted, e.g. trickster spider: neither only real nor only magical, travelling between the spiritual and the real world, connecting the two
      –   Mogey as trickster figure (see, e.g., his role as instructor, connection to the past, his ‘return’ in the end)
      –   humor: important even in tragic moments, the intention of the movie = to give people a good laugh? function: cathartic experience for characters and audience
      –   cinematic techniques employed: premonitions, flashbacks, visions
      –   mixing of popular and traditional Native American culture
      –   recognition: good and bad in each character, thus breaking up binary oppositions
      –   more abstract: overriding theme = the acceptance of contradiction and ambivalence which is inherently part of deconstructing stereotypes — which brings us back to the starting point!

What the Group Did Not Agree on:

  1. To what extent should we embark on a political debate over who is to blame for the plight of Native Americans? Who has the political, historical responsibility?
  2. Are their solutions, ways out of the dilemma? (Now figure that out for yourself!)
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