Through a serendipitous stop back in Los Angeles after an international trip, I was able to attend a screening of the movie last night at the Red Nation Film Festival.
To put it plainly: This film will stay with me forever.
Shot in the poorest county in the United States, Director Deborah Anderson paints an intimate portrait of eight women making a difference for their people in the Lakota community of Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
Because the film is shot on location, in their homes and surrounding areas of the reservation, the narrative takes on a more personal vibe than traditional ‘talking head’ documentaries. As the women recount their stories of the rape, poverty and brutality they’ve suffered as a result of what’s become of their community, it felt more like a friend confiding in another friend than subjects on a screen informing an audience. This technique made the content all the more harrowing, but also more accessible. As a viewer, I couldn’t help but experience their pain right alongside them.
Each time a new, brutal statistic flashed on-screen I would wince in uncomfortable horror. I knew the situation was bad; I did not know it was that dismal.
Their stories tell of how the genocide by the U.S. government has created a cycle of poverty and addiction that threatens the continuity of their culture.
Most of us probably think of genocide as only mass killings, but featured Elder Carol Iron Rope put it best in her interview when she stated, “When you take a language away from a people, that’s genocide. When you take a way of life away from a people, that is genocide.”
And that’s unfortunately what’s happened to this formerly thriving matriarchal society.
The good news is that there are a number of Women Warriors working to reverse the damage and secure a better future by way of activism, legal action and an inherent motivation to right the wrongs of the past.
I was particularly inspired by the candid nature of Sunrose Iron Shell who is a teacher at St. Francis Indian School. Her passion to keep the indigenous culture alive for her students coupled with her refusal to sugar-coat the truths that they’re faced with give her an exceptional power to ignite change every day.
Only a small percentage of my blood is Native American, but I left the screening full of righteous anger for what has become of the first stewards of our land. The beautiful, spiritual people that the white man should have looked to learn from rather than extinguish.
One of the most touching things I learned from the film was that the Lakota people consider the next seven generations each time they make a big decision. If only our country’s leaders thought the same way.