Sunday, July 29, 2018

Woman Walks Ahead, A Film Review

"This does not look like Standing Rock," he said. "...Standing Rock is supposed to look like New Mexico...," she replied.
Woman Walks Ahead, A Film Review
Can One Scene Redeem A Movie?
By Dakota Wind
Woman Walks Ahead. Directed by Susanna White. Produced by Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Erika Olde, Rick Solomon, and Andrea Calderwood. Written by Steven Knight. Music by George Fenton. Starring Jessica Chastain, Michael Greyeyes, Chaske Spencer, Sam Rockwell, and others. U.S.A. & U.K.: Black Bicycle Entertainment, Bedford Falls Productions, and Potboiler Productions. June 29, 2018. Film. 101 Minutes.

Some films are beautifully crafted narratives based on real-life people or circumstances. Others struggle in their telling to make a story bigger than it was. Still more only have one redeeming quality to them. Woman Walks Ahead has one powerful message in a beautifully constructed scene that contains a minimal presence of the film’s female protagonist.

Before the film began, I was milling around in the atrium of the Grand Theater, a locally owned theater in Bismarck, ND, with an old friend talking about life and church. We got there about half an hour early to get good seats. About fifteen minutes into our wait, a young native man comes up to me and shakes my hand. I introduce myself in Lakȟóta and ask him his name. Lo, he offers a confident reply and we exchange pleasantries. A quiet opened around us as we engaged in our language. I told him that I’m not a fluent speaker and that he spoke very well. He nodded his head before rejoining his mother. They went on to see “Deadpool 2.”

Sam Rockwell, pictured above, as Col. Groves on a mission to justify killing Indians and redeem himself, but can't escape white male paternalism, plays a perfect guilty asshole who hasn't slept since the Killdeer fight of 1863. His Lakhota is alright too. 

I knew I wasn’t going to see a historically accurate film. There are plenty of articles drifting in the internet atmosphere challenging the artistry of Susanna White and a rambling self-serving narrative by Steven Knight that pretty much cover my concerns, but I have one overwhelming question.

Why film the movie in New Mexico? There are a few shots where the landscape might pass for Standing Rock, but anyone who has made the pilgrimage to Sitting Bull’s camp knows the rolling hills and sinuous banks of the Grand River are shaded overwhelmingly by cottonwood. The story is as removed from historical fact as it is in location.

New Mexico and its mountains are beautiful, but a beautiful mountain sunset in the southwest is not the same on the vast open prairie steppe. The prairie features unique flat-topped plateaus, an open sky with bright sunlight unhindered only by passing clouds, and a constant wind that has been here since creation. Thítȟuŋwaŋ, or Teton, means “They Who Dwell On The Plains.” White removed the people from the land that made them.

Susanna White (above) goes for emotional truth, not historical truth. The emotional truth that existed between Sitting Bull and Weldon simply did not exist.

Agent McLaughlin (pronounced mick-LOFF-lin by the community and by the Major’s descendants) would have been better served by perpetual cowboy Sam Elliot, at least he’s got the mustache for it. Knight didn’t know whether to write the Major as an apologist or paternalist, and it shows. McLaughlin learned Dakhota from his wife; Hinds’s Major is as confused about hearing Lakhota as Knight’s apparent research about the time and setting of the actual story, and neither should be.

Sam Rockwell’s Colonel Silas Groves is the perfect asshole whose arc represents something of a mix between white guilt and white redemption. Groves tells Chastain’s Weldon of the Indian depredation as justification for the country’s punitive campaign against the red man, and just barely touches on the exchange of escalating violence on the frontier (the 1863 Killdeer Mountain conflict is mentioned in which Sitting Bull mentions seeing Groves there, who was on campaign against the Lakhota who had nothing to do with the events in Minnesota, but for Groves, an Indian is an Indian).

Where's the snow that Knight's script mentioned in Sitting Bull's recollecton? It was not snowing, as it was the middle of summer. 

The 1863 Killdeer Mountain conflict took place in late July, the Moon of Ripe Chokecherries, making it nigh improbable that there was snowfall, and though it could snow in July, there is none mentioned at all in the oral tradition. Maybe in England it snows in July, but not on the Great Plains, but snowfall, even in retrospect in a rambling narrative makes for good telling.

There is a lot to deconstruct and inquire about this film, but it has one powerful redeeming scene. Agent McLaughlin sat with his wife/translator and General George Crook to hear testimony about whether the tribe should sign the Dawes Treaty, which in fact was not a treaty but a congressional act, to break up the Great Sioux Nation into small reservations. These smaller reservations were originally part of official US Indian policy called “concentration,” and were prison camps, the legacy of which enrolled members of federally recognized tribes are assigned enrollment numbers (prison numbers in the concentration policy days).

Sitting Bull, played by Michael Greyeyes (Plains Cree), delivers a powerful oratory about Makȟóčhe (Grandmother Earth) and how the Lakȟóta cannot sell it, “not even this much,” he said as he reached down for a handful of earth and held it before the agent. Some films redeem themselves with the perfect music, others with cinematography. This moment is this film's redemption. 

Stone Man's pictographic testimony of the conflict at Sitting Bull's camp the morning he was killed on the Grand River. Soldiers' guns and cannon fired onto Spotted Elk's (Big Foot's) band of Mnikowozu as they fled. 

The film concludes with the arrest and death of Sitting Bull. Artistic licensing aside, there was just too much missing for me to appreciate this scene as the director intended (a dramatic close up of Welden in the snow in distress over the loss of Sitting Bull). There was a conflict there between the police and the people camped there at Sitting Bull’s home. Soldiers stood atop the bluff of the south bank of the Grand River and fired gun and shell at the camp. Sitting Bull’s death was not by a sniper, but by BIA police officer Bull Head after he was shot; Bull Head shot Sitting Bull twice, once in the side, then in the head.

Sitting Bull was shot and killed by the BIA Indian Police up close, not by sniper. 

Welden’s painting is on display at the ND State Heritage Center and Museum, torn by one of the BIA police officers, but it is not the same as the painting as depicted in Woman Walks Ahead. Sitting Bull was painted “old” because he was old.

Weldon's painting of Sitting Bull on display at the ND Heritage Center and State Museum. The tear in the painting came from one of the BIA police officers. 

There was no romantic love between Sitting Bull and Weldon, but she did things for him that were expected of wives while she lived there: cooked and fed him, chopped wood, and tended his fire. I remember hearing that Sitting Bull asked her just to be his wife since she was doing the things wives do, but there was no romantic attachment. The on-screen chemistry between Weldon and Sitting Bull is chaste and distant, but the introduction of that chemistry is introduced by White and Knight.

See the movie, then visit the North Dakota Heritage Center and Museum to see the real Weldon painting. Adjacent to Weldon’s painting is Stone Man’s pictographic testimony of the conflict that ensued as Sitting Bull was arrested. Both images are worth taking in. 




Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Hostiles, A Film Review

Hostiles, A Film Review
“You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.”
By Dakota Wind

Hostiles. Directed by Scott Cooper. Produced by Scott Cooper, Ken Lao, and Jon Lesher. Screenplay by Scott Cooper. Based on a story by Donald Stewart. Music by Max Richter. Starring Wes Studi (Mystery Men, Last of The Mohicans, Geronimo), Adam Beach (Suicide Squad, Windtalkers, Cowboys and Aliens), Q'orianka Kilcher (How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The New World, Longmire), Xavier Horsechief, and Christian Bale (Empire of The Sun, Batman Begins). U.S.A.: Waypoint Entertainment / Le Grisbi Productions / Bloom Media, Dec. 22, 2017. Film. 133 minutes.

American Western films have a checklist, and Cooper’s Hostiles keeps to the basics. Long panning shots of an undeveloped landscape of open plains, streams, and mountains. Guns, cowboys, soldiers, horses, Indians. Check. Unrepentant violence and moody discourse. Check. The anonymity and mystery of The Man with No Name are almost gone in this narrative. The only ones without names or identity beyond who they are are the Comanche. Their presence serves only to offer up a slice of motiveless Indian depredation.

Hostiles is a movie in the tradition of Last of the Mohicans, that is to say, that it is set in a world of political change and violent conflict. As Daniel Day-Lewis learned Mohican, Christian Bale learned Cheyenne for this film. Like Day-Lewis, and by the laws of Hollywood’s western genre, Bale “out Indians the Indians.” He speaks more lines in Cheyenne than all his native counterparts combined. Blocker is a better shot, a better fighter, a better killer. He’s the protagonist so bullets miss him. The only hurt Blocker receives is a guilty conscience, but tell him he’s a good man and he falls apart.

Hostiles is largely about Blocker. How can he live in a post Civil War, post Indian Wars, America? His paternalistic needs are indulged twice: taking care of the widow Mrs. Quaid and taking care of the last Cheyenne prisoner, a boy named Little Bear. Rosamund Pike’s Mrs. Quaid can wail. She’s allowed. Mrs. Quaid’s pain and fears are fully explored. Blocker’s and Quaid’s growing affection for each other is chaste.

Cooper delivers a fine western film, but he’s paralyzed with what to do with its native cast. Studi’s Yellow Hawk and Beach’s Black Hawk, are little explored. Their narrative is constructed only from interaction with Blocker. Their narrative isn’t even their own to tell. Their struggle, their imprisonment, their pain, their recovery, and their deaths need Blocker, and that’s what hobbles what could have been a great story.

At one point Blocker says, “When we lay our heads down out here, we’re all prisoners.” There is a difference in his imprisonment and the Cheyenne’s. Blocker’s prison of obligation comes to a conclusion. Maybe he lives in a mental and emotional prison. The Cheyenne are prisoners, even when they are set free.

Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi’s presentation of the vast open landscape is poetry. He captures the majesty of Studi’s Indian Head Nickle profile from the Cheyennes' concentration at Fort Berringer in Arizona to his burial at the Valley of the Bears in Montana.

Max Richter delivers a spooky, ambient, and minimalist western score. Richter’s “Scream at the Sky,” sounds like a broken heart should, shattered and desperate. “Never Goodbye” is an emotional punch, brimming with the soul of peace and sadness.

The highlight of the film rests on the shoulders of the innocent. He too is given very little narrative in this story, but at the conclusion of the film, when Little Bear has lost his family and he’s under the care of Mrs. Quaid (paternalism), Blocker gifts him with a book about Julius Caesar. Before Little Bear accepts Blocker’s western token, he raises his hands and offers Blocker the traditional Plains Indian sign of gratitude.

Little Bear has no words, perhaps at Cooper’s direction, perhaps because Cooper wouldn’t know what Little Bear should say, but this single moment is more beautiful, powerful, and perfect than Blocker’s and Quaid’s changing resolve to the Indian plight.

I don’t know Cooper’s intended audience. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be me. The story’s narrative revolved around two characters and their struggles with redemption, but this wasn’t enough. I like western films. I also like to ask, “Where're the Indians?” when watching westerns, but Hostiles left me wanting more than Cooper could deliver. It would make a good rental.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Revisiting The John K. Bear Winter Count

Drifting Goose, chief of the Húŋkpatina, a winter count keeper, along with his people were placed onto the Crow Creek Indian Reservation. 
The Drifting Goose Winter Count
John K. Bear Winter Count Revisited

By Dakota Wind
In 1976, James H. Howard published his Yanktonai Ethnohistory And The John K. Bear Winter Count in the Plains Anthropologist. Howard counseled with native informants from native communities in South Dakota. The strength of his work is determined by two things: his informants and his scholarly research. Howard genuinely cared for the subject and people he wrote about.

There are a few things which must be revisited in Howard’s work: the arrival of the horse is one. This is important because it establishes the earliest record of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (the Great Sioux Nation) encounter with the horse, its location, which places the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna (the Yanktonai) at the mouth of the Čhaŋsáŋsaŋ Wakpá (the James River), and a date of 1692.

A few things must be re-interpreted. An example is the 1841 entry regarding Thamína Wé (His Bloody Knife). Howard calls this record an “anomaly,” and assumes this entry is in regard to the Arikara US Indian Scout, Bloody Knife, a friend of the infamous Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, from whom the latter learned how to converse in Lakȟóta, Sahnish (Arikara), and the Plains Indian Sign & Gesture language. This Bloody Knife is the Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ chief, not the Arikara scout.

I’ve employed the LLC standard orthography in this “update,” and have expanded or amended some of Howard’s entries. Howard’s general format will be used: Numerical year in the Common Era, original text, the text re-written using the LLC standard orthography, a word-for-word translation, a free interpretation, followed by cultural/historical narrative.

Some biographical information about Maǧá Bobdú (Drifting Goose) can be found at American-Tribes.com. Go visit this website for its great forum on the subject of American Indian history and culture.


Download the PDF document of "Revisiting The John K. Bear Winter Count." 

For whatever odd reason, the citations didn't carry over when I converted the doc to PDF. Please contact me if you'd like a copy of the original document. 

Dakota Wind is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He is currently a university student working on a degree in History with a focus on American Indian and Western History. He maintains the history website The First Scout.



Friday, December 8, 2017

2018 Lakota Calendar

Bunting's "Moonstick" book showcases the counting stick tradition of the Lakȟóta. Sanford provides some wonderful illustrations for each moon. 
Haŋwí Wówapi Kiŋ Lakȟól Wičhóȟ’aŋ
A Traditional Lakota Calendar

By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, ND (TFS) - The New Year begins in spring when life returns, and lasts from spring to spring. A year is called Waníyetu (A Winter), because winter is the longest season on Makȟóčhe Wašté (“The Beautiful Country;” the Great Plains, and North America by extension). The new month begins with the new moon. A month is called Wí. Luminaries such as the sun or the moon are also called Wí. To differentiate between the luminaries, the moon may be referred to as Haŋwí (Night-Luminary), and the sun as Aŋpétuwi (Day-Luminary).

The phases of the moon are:
Wit’é (Moon-Died) The New Moon.

Wílečhala (Moon To-Be-Recent). The Waxing Crescent between the New Moon and the First Quarter.

Wíokhiseya (Moon Half-Of). The First Quarter of the moon.

Wímimá Kȟaŋyela (Moon-To-Be-Round Near-By). The Waxing Gibbous between the First Quarter and the Full Moon.

Wímimá (Moon-To-Be-Round). The Full Moon.

Wí Makȟáŋtaŋhaŋ Ú (Moon From-The-Earth To-Be-Coming Here). The Waning Gibbous between the Full Moon and the Third Quarter.

Wiyášpapi (Moon-To-Bite-A-Piece-Off-Of). The Third Quarter of the moon.

Wit’íŋkta Kȟaŋyéla (Moon-Wears-About-The-Shoulders Near-By). The Waning Crescent between the Third Quarter and the New Moon.

The Thítȟuŋwaŋ (Dwellers On The Plains; Teton; Lakota) regard the moon in a feminine sense. There is no “man on the moon,” but an old woman in the moon whom they call Hokhéwiŋ. When a ring around the moon appears it is called Wíačhéič’ithi (The Sun Makes A Campfire For Itself); when a ring appears around the moon they say that Hokhéwiŋ has vigorously stirred her pot and the light has spilled out and around her lodge.

Wíačhéič’ithi is also a reference to sundogs. Long ago, a man went out to pray when the cold gray winter seemed to linger too long. The constant bleak gray days began to effect the people’s dreams. He came back and instructed the camp to select two groups of youth to go out east of camp and build to fires, then to return. Everyone came together in the center of camp and prayed. The sun broke through the clouds and as it rose into the sky, the two fires rose into the sky with it. For the Húŋkpapȟa, the sundog is a promise of hope and light.

The Thítȟuŋwaŋ have two differing explanations for the cycles of the moon. The Húŋkpapȟa say that a large Itȟúŋkala (mouse) with a pointed nose gradually eats away the lodge of Haŋwí until there is nothing left (the waning of the moon). Haŋwí then has to reconstruct her lodge (the waxing of the moon). The Oglála say that Haŋwí draws her shawl over either side of her face as Wí approaches her or withdraws from her.

Like other cultures, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ recognize four seasons. These are: Wétu (Spring) which is two months; Blokétu (Summer) which is four months; Ptaŋyétu (Fall) which is two months; Waníyetu (Winter) which is five months. The changes of seasons are caused by the eternal conflict of two brothers: Wazíya (the North) and Ókaǧa (the South). If Wazíya plays his flute during summer rains, he causes it to freeze, making hail. When Wazíya wins we have winter; when Ókaǧa wins we have summer.

The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ used to keep track of the days, months, and year with Čhaŋwíyawa (Counting Stick/s). Some might use thirteen sticks, one for each month in the lunar year; others might just use one willow switch and notch it (one for a day, or one for each month). Čhaŋwíyawa are recognized more for their use in hand games (a traditional guessing game) than for tracking time.

This calendar includes Memorial days of massacres and conflicts. This 2018 moon calendar overlaps with part of December 2017 through part of January 2019. Note: All but eight photos were taken by me, two (4 & 9) come from the website Pixabay, the first comes from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Leonid Meteor Shower comes from SPACE. Download the calendar for yourself and print (11"x17").
















Dakota Wind is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He is currently a university student working on a degree in History with a focus on American Indian and Western History. He maintains the history website The First Scout


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

History Of North Dakota, A Book Review

History of North Dakota, A Book Review
Environment Determines Character
By Dakota Wind

Robinson, Elwyn Burns. History of North Dakota. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1966. Out of print. (Fargo, ND; ND Institute for Regional Studies, 1995. $40.00.) 610 pages + viii. Preface, table of contents, maps, illustrations.

Robinson’s History of North Dakota is a dense read. Twenty-three chapters take readers on a journey of remoteness from the formation of the prairie, a modest “Indian” occupation, through exploration, settlement, booms, WWI & WWII, to the culture and character of North Dakotans.

Robinson’s History’ features indigenous history, but the human occupation history only begins with Pierre La Vérendry’s 1838 fall encounter with the Mandan on the Missouri River. Robinson disguises ecological history as pre-contact history, describing the conditions in which the Indians lived and hunted.

The Opening of the West unapologetically includes frontier military history. Lt. Col. Armstrong gets a two-page mention here regarding his role in the Black Hills Expedition of 1874, and his last failed command which concluded at the Little Bighorn Fight of 1876. The military was placed in an odd position, to the natives, the forts represented a permanent advancing presence, and to the pioneer, the military represented the furthest most edge of western civilization. Robinson describes the military as practically impotent, a token might that couldn’t hold back its own citizens from entering and occupying the Black Hills, but a might that was exercised only after American citizens died in escalating conflict with the natives.

The environment, the dry, semi-arid plains, industrial technology, and a desperate need to help and be helped or utterly fail developed the cooperative character of the North Dakota farmer. If environment determined the pioneer spirit, it would seem that one could make the argument that the vast open plains did the very same to the indigenous for millennia. One simply couldn’t survive or progress without the help of another soul. For farmers, this real need to cooperate extended beyond the social confines of church and field, and developed into cooperations.

The completion of settlement teeters on a few things, not just immigration. War in the Philippines and Cuba, industrial and technological advances in agriculture, contributed to the development and settlement of the plains.

The Character of a People offers an answer to the spirit of North Dakota citizens: common experience and conditions of existence (the environment). It’s the environment that Robinson determines is the factor in character development and cites the work of psychologist and part-time ethnohistorian Dr. James H. Howard, that even the natives were affected by the environment because plains Indians differ in personality and disposition than their woodland kin.

Robinson touches on the “country mouse” mentality of North Dakota citizens, and feelings of inferiority and non-adjustment of rural citizens among city-folk, even among the city or townfolk in the state. Politicians reacted to their rural constituents by dressing down. The two characteristics that both the indigenous and colonist must posses are courage and faith in the future.

Robinson wrote his History’ for the citizens of North Dakota, perhaps to instill a sense of pride that the people of the state could live and thrive to a time then a history of book could reward their patience and faith. Though Robinson recognizes the struggle settlement, and acknowledges the displacement and confinement of the indigenous, his work is too optimistic. Fifty-seven years after the first printing of History and North Dakota is still dealing with the consequences of native dispossession and treaty issues decades before the territory entered the union as a state. Perhaps Robinson would attribute his optimism to the North Dakota experience.

Robinson’s book is dense, and it’s certainly not a recreational read. It’s dated material, but that’s probably why one should read it, for its insight to North Dakota as someone who’s experienced North Dakota; a retrospect from the middle of the twentieth century.



Dakota Wind is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He is currently a university student working on a degree in History with a focus on American Indian and Western History. He maintains the history website The First Scout.



Sunday, October 29, 2017

Comanche Empire, A Book Review

As if to belie the fact that this is a history book, the cover features a modern studio photograph. 
Comanche Empire, A Book Review
First Nation Recognized As Colonial Power
By Dakota Wind

Hämäläinen, Pekka. The Comanche Empire. New Haven, CT; Yale University Press. 2008. $40.00 (hardcover; out of print). 512 pages + viii. Introduction, abbreviations, notes, bibliography, index, illustrations, maps.

Taking a page from the late Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock), and what he said regarding native peoples making a cameo in American western history – of making a dramatic entrance and then fading away into the manifest destiny of colonial expansion, Hämäläinen makes the Comanche nation the focus of his work, which includes an inter-tribal narrative from the perspective of the Comanche people, and a narrative of the Comanche as seen from other first nations and the colonial empires.

The Comanche nation rises from quiet encounters with the Spanish at the turn of 1700 to a powerful dominate power of the American Southwest (the Spanish North?), a fiercely protected territory called by the colonial empires, Comancheria. The Spanish, Mexicans, Texans, and Americans at one point all sought aid from the Comanche on their terms, or fought long, desperate, costly campaigns against them.

The agent of change, that which made the Comanche nation, is the horse. The Comanche broke off from their relatives, the Shoshone, because of a dispute over game, but also to escape an epidemic, and to acquire the horse. Then they invaded the plains. Before the horse, the main agent of change was primarily reactionary to a changing environment (drought, the Little Ice Age). The last major agent of change was the gun.

Hämäläinen regularly describes the movements and advances of the Comanche as invasions, but how else to describe an expanding nation than an invasion? The Comanche turned west into Ute territory, but rather than invade and displace, they learned how to survive and adapt. Clearly their agenda didn’t mean the subjugation of other first nations. At that time.

Much of the premise of Comanche Empire is establishing Comancheria as a nation, recognized by Spain and the Mexico. As a nation, Comancheria did as the colonial empires did: expand or invade, displace indigenous, appropriate the landscape through military example, and absorb pacifist nations in a melting pot. In fact, because of Comancheria’s manifest destiny, because of deliberate Comanche planning, the region stabilized. They reached out to old enemies, even as natives were displaced from their homelands back east during the Indian Removal Act.

Mexico and the United States used Comancheria as a middle ground to trade. Mexico invited Americans into the region, but instead of trading with the Mexicans, they brought their trade to the Comanche. Americans moved in and discovered they wanted, needed, the landscape for its resources, resources that they didn’t see before, and after their war with Mexico, Texans turned an imperial eye to the landscape.

Comancheria was a real first nation State. Comanche Empire includes maps of this real State. Because Hämäläinen focuses on the development, invasion, expansion, and economy of this State, his work, by necessity, concludes with the collapse and deconstruction of Comancheria. In this, Hämäläinen does not carry through with a study of the Comanche Nation as a federally recognized domestic dependent nation headquartered in Lawton, OK.

There are other books out there that touch on the Comanche after the reservation era. One almost hopes that Hämäläinen decides to write a history of the Comanche that does just that. Comanche Nation. The Comanche were forced onto reservations in New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Chihuahua, Mexico. It was the only way for the United States and Mexico to deal with a powerful first nation. I’d buy that book too.

In the meantime, get yourself a copy of Comanche Empire. This is an investment for American Western historyphiles.

Dakota Wind is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He is currently a university student working on a degree in History with a focus on American Indian and Western History. He maintains the history website The First Scout.