Tribeca 2022: Lakota Nation vs. The United States ***½

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

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The history of the Black Hills is a microcosm of America’s “founding” …discovery, expansion, exploitation, and genocide (and not always in that order). I put “founding” in quotes because, of course, “someone” was already here when Columbus (and eventually, the Pilgrims) landed. In the case of the Black Hills (1.2 million acres encompassing adjoining sections of South Dakota and Wyoming), those residents were the Očéti Šakówiŋ (aka the Sioux Nation).

Writer-director-narrator Layli Long Soldier makes it clear in the introduction to her film that it is not going to be a chronological history, with reenactments of key events. In other words, don’t expect a Ken Burns joint here…but that’s a good thing, because essentially her documentary is a tone poem that embodies the spirit of the Oyate people and beautifully conveys their deep connections to the Black Hills (after all, Long Soldier is a poet).

There is plenty of history in the film; sadly, most of it bleak, revealing an endless string of broken treaties and general lack of respect for sacred land (from the Indian Wars of the 1800s to President Trump’s boorish Fourth of July rally at Mt. Rushmore in 2020). But Long Soldier holds out hope for the future as well, with profiles of longtime Native American activists and a new generation of community leaders and organizers. Powerful.

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