I was doing a series of documentary commercials for an AT&T Special. The idea behind them was how the private sector was able to help minorities by providing jobs in those communities. In truth most of these were scams but I didn’t know that then. One of the stories involved the Navajo community around the Albuquerque area. The actual story was dull so I decided to film some Navajo ritual to bring a sense of the culture into the piece. I met with an elder of the tribe and he gave permission to film a Buffalo Dance in a pow wow that was happening soon. I showed up at the pow wow with my gear and watched for a bit. I was disappointed in what I saw. The Navajo were dressed in normal clothing, not traditional tribal gear as I had expected. I picked up my Nagra and started to record the music that was being played. Stupid. Within minutes I was arrested by the tribal police and brought before a consortium of elders. I was informed that I had violated their laws and was subject to arrest, imprisonment, and confiscation of my equipment. I stated that the specific elder had given me permission and was then informed that he didn’t have authority since ALL the elders had to meet for that. I felt betrayed, uninformed, impetuous, naïve, and STUPID. The notion ran through my mind that they would subject me to a strange torture that I had seen in all the clichéd Western movies. Of course, they were kind and understanding and let me go but had confiscated the tapes I had recorded.
The elder that had made the initial promise was mortified but set up a private Buffalo Dance at a beautiful location, I think it was the Acoma Pueblo. The dancers wore ritual clothing and it became a far better piece that would have happened at the pow wow.
All is well that ends well.