we-shall359The PBS series, We Shall Remain, starts later this evening and ends, five episodes later on May 11. It seems like a very ambitious undertaking – document four centuries of interaction between North American natives and those who came later from Europe.

Each 90 minute episode covers a specific period of time by focusing on specific individuals and events. As the Los Angeles Times reviewer states:

Of the many elephants occupying the room that is the history of the United States, none is larger than the official mistreatment of the Native American by the new neighbors from over the water. Like slavery, it is a subject at once much discussed and somehow fundamentally ignored, and because the story has been so sensationalized on the one hand and romanticized on the other, there is a continual desire to tell it right.

The latest attempt is “We Shall Remain,” an ambitious, largely gratifying series of five feature-length documentaries that begins airing weekly tonight on PBS as part of “American Experience.” They do not attempt to encompass the whole of that history, a task for which many more documentaries than five would be needed, but pick signal stories, beginning with Thanksgiving 1621 and ending with the 1973 Indian takeover of a small town on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

I’ve seen just bits and pieces of trailers but like what I see. Some of the earlier segments rely on re-enactments which can seem a bit cheesy at times. But the overall feel of the series is typical of PBS projects – high quality and historically accurate.

What I like is the attempt to be truthful to both sides of the story:

What all their stories have in common is the White Man: The series is not an exploration of the way Indians lived among themselves but rather the way their way of life was put under stress by white interests and attendant, imported ideas about land, money, humanity and God — and the various ways the natives accommodated or resisted new political realities and continually rewritten rules.

There is plenty of nuance to the telling: This is not a story of heroes and villains but of ordinary flawed humans, most of them doomed to failure.

And like all PBS stuff, they have created a useful Educators page with post-viewing questions, discussion starters and student activities. Things are aligned to standards, you can check out bibliographies and there is an extensive Resources page.