This weekend I attended the California American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival at Pechanga Resort & Casino. Despite having lived in Murrieta for over ten years I have never actually visited this casino. It was a beautiful resort & casino with a high American Indian influence in both design and aesthetic. I can see why the casino is so popular amongst distant visitors. When I first stepped into the room where they would be showcasing the film I was greeted by a few volunteers who were helping to sell both art and jewelry hand designed by local American Indians. The art pieces that were on the wall were incredibly beautiful while the jewelry was so unique that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a piece for myself. I hadn’t even stepped into the theater fully yet and I was already enjoying myself. The film that I attended was Dances with Wolves (1990) starring Kevin Costner.
Dances with Wolves is about a Civil War lieutenant who finds himself developing a relationship between a tribe of Lakota Indians. What started out as the Indians originally deeming all white men as killers trying to take their land and white men deeming Indians as “thieves or beggars” eventually turned into them respecting one another and seeing who they truly are. John Dunbar, later nicknamed Dances with Wolves by those in the tribe, is unlike any other man who fought for the Civil War. He was open minded and curious about the land that lived on. He wasn’t afraid of the Indians when they first approached him with such hostility but neither did he shoot them on the spot as the rest may have done. These rare traits of his is what made it possible for him to establish such a strong friendship between Kicking Bird, Wind in His Hair, and the rest of the tribe members.
Although this was a three hour film, which if I’m honest I was absolutely dreading once I found this out, ended up going by rather quickly once John finally encountered the Lakota’s. I was so enraptured by how they began trying to communicate with one another and how this communication progressed. It started out with a simple yet silly interpretation of a buffalo on John’s behalf, huffing at the dirt with his hands in place of horns, until this charade clicks with Kicking Bird and he says “Tatanka!” As the film progressed so did their ability to communicate. Overall, it was an incredible film and I see now why it had such high praise after its release. Finally there was a film that showcased American Indians in a more accurate light rather than one that simply stereotyped them as a whole. While there has been debate that this representation still has its flaws it is safe to say that it is still a better start than those prior.