November 27, 2003

Corwin v. Cornell Review

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Jason Corwin ’02 has had a long-standing feud with the Cornell Review. It began during his senior year when he spoke out against Columbus Day, exposing the racism and genocide he believed are inherent in the holiday.

“[The Review] hail Columbus as a hero, and I’ve been outspoken against this ideology,” Corwin said.

Despite tension with the conservative publication, Corwin emphasized that he is not a leftist.

“I’m equally as hard on the left wing. Their constructs don’t reflect the viewpoint of the indigenous people; our world-view is different,” he said.

Responding, Joe Sabia grad, a Sun columnist, said that “Through his public actions, Mr. Corwin has revealed himself to be thoroughly un-American. He has described the founding fathers as ‘murderers’ and has claimed that George Washington is a ‘terrorist.'”

“He parasitically feeds off of our free society and at the same time denounces the Constitutional principles that preserve his liberty,” Sabia added.

Corwin, media assistant for the Department of Theater, Film and Drama, is a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians. His people place importance on “the interconnectedness of life — humans, plants, animals, soil, air [and] water. We have a practical scientific knowledge of the natural world, and a spiritual connection to the world,” he said.

The Cornell graduate lived in Philadelphia for many years, and has held many occupations over time. A former EMT, paramedic and radio host, Corwin now owns his own film production company, Ongwehonweh Digital Video, and writes for the underground music magazine AWOL: Absent Without Leave, based in Philadelphia. He discovered his love for film while working as a paramedic.

“I helped one of my friends make a documentary — I’ve always had a love for utilizing multimedia, particularly visual communication about relevant issues,” he said.

As a filmmaker and human rights activist, Corwin has explored indigenous peoples, civil liberties and the issue of political prisoners. Corwin recently put together a set of DVDs which include talks by various Native Wisdom keepers. The set is being bundled and distributed free to all tribal colleges in the country, as well as to primary schools on reservations.

“The footage is from a conference at Cornell, the American Indian Millennium Conference. It brought together notable community activists and leaders to present a message to the 7th generation,” Corwin said.

The goal of the DVDs, Corwin said, is to “share some of this wisdom with young people in hopes that it empowers them to carry on acts that will have positive impacts for their families, communities and nations.”

Besides these DVDs, Corwin has received recognition for his documentary “The Flickering Flame: Life and Legacy of Chief Turkey Tayac.” The film was shown at the Smithsonian, as well as to the National Film Board of Canada, in Montreal.

Corwin does not only use his talent in his own films; he also serves as a mentor to students in film classes at the university. As media assistant for Sr. lecturer Marilyn Rivchin’s film classes, Corwin has a chance to work closely with Cornell undergraduates. He manages the equipment and teaches students how to create their own movies.

“He not only knows the technical side, he’s been through the process. He knows how to do everything,” Rivchin said. Students often refer to Corwin as the “Zen Master,” explained Rivchin.

Rivchin has also had the opportunity to see bits and pieces of Corwin’s films.

“He is thoughtful, he reads a lot and he debates very well. These qualities serve him well in his political work as well as in support of

the film program,” Rivchin said.

Sarah Jacobs ’05, a film major, said of Corwin: “He’s always very outgoing. I’ve seen him stay late before to help students.”

According to Jacobs, Corwin is dedicated to students and their Cornell film experience. His dedication does not end there. He speaks out against things he feels are wrong, and continues to protest the Columbus Day holiday because of its genocidal connotations.

Corwin does not feel threatened by the Cornell Review: “I think it’s good that they are so upset. It says I’m doing something right,” he said.

Archived article by Jessica Liebman