Sousa On The Rez

Documentary (30 min)


When you hear the phrase "Native American music" you may not think of tubas and Sousa marches. Yet this rich musical tradition has been a part of Native American culture for over one hundred years.

Combining profiles of contemporary bands with fresh historical research, SOUSA ON THE REZ: Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum offers viewers an unexpected and engaging picture of this little-known Native music scene. The documentary challenges viewers to expand their definition of Native American music and broadens their understanding of contemporary Indian life.

SOUSA ON THE REZ: Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum is a co-production of Desert Penguin Pictures with Vision Maker Media, produced in association with the Center for Independent Documentary and is distributed to the WORLD Channel by American Public Television (APT.)

About the film


SOUSA ON THE REZ: Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum profiles two contemporary Indian community bands: the Iroquois Indian Band from upstate New York and the Fort Mojave Tribal Band based in Needles, California.  The documentary traces the origins of these groups from their founding over 100 years ago and uncovers a secret history of the 20th century when "All Indian Bands" toured the US and abroad.

In the 1800's and 1900's, dozens of Indian bands existed in the United States. Many Indian boarding schools had their own bands, including the band at the Carlisle Industrial School in Pennsylvania. School bands were not the only Native groups performing marches and parade music; many tribal communities organized their own community bands that performed for both Native and non-Native audiences. Professional ensembles toured both the US and abroad – providing employment opportunities for musicians in a time when opportunities for Native people were limited. As march music became less popular, however, many of these groups disbanded.  

Today, four multi-generational community-based tribal bands remain in the US, carrying on the rich tradition of Sousa in their communities. In addition to the Iroquois Indian and Fort Mojave bands, the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo host vibrant bands.

Reading List

Read more and go deeper! 

Indian Blues: American Indians and the Politics of Music, 1879-1934
by John Troutman
This fascinating book documents how music and politics intersected to impact the lives of Native Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Indians In Unexpected Places
by Philip Deloria
Deloria's terrific book uncovers a "secret history" of Native American agency in music, sports and technology.

American Indian Performing Arts: Critical Directions
edited by Hanay Geiogamah and Jaye T. Darby
Essay by Janis Johnson in this collection entitled "Performing Indianness and Excellence: Nez Perce Jazz Bands of the Twentieth Century" which is an in-depth look at one tribe's jazz heritage. 

Schedule a screening

SOUSA ON THE REZ has been shown at the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian, HONK! Festivals in Austin and Seattle, the American Indian Film Festival, Red Nation Film Festival, Native American Film and Video Festival of the Southeast, Native FilmFest, Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, and Best of American Indian Film Festival. Contact us to schedule a screening at your school, library, event.

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