May 28, 2007

Film Review: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

As CQ readers have surmised, I have mostly taken today off after a long weekend of birthday celebrations. My sister flew out from California for a couple of days, and we celebrated her birthday as well as my son's and the Little Admiral's, who turns 5 on Wednesday. After a weekend of these celebrations, the First Mate and I found ourselves tired out. I bought The Reagan Diaries for later reading, and both of us caught up on our sleep.

This evening, though, we decided to take a look at HBO's new movie, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, which tells the story of the Native Americans in the Dakotas between the Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee. It has a stellar cast, including a cameo for Fred Thompson as President Ulysses S Grant, in what some will hope turns into dramatic foreshadowing in real life. Aidan Quinn, Adam Beach, and Anna Paquin star, but the focus remains on the Sioux tribes and their betrayal at the hands of those who thought themselves the advocates of the American Indians.

The history may not be well known by viewers before seeing the movie. If not, the film gives the audience a good tour of the fourteen years between Custer's idiotic attack and the uprising at Wounded Knee. An attempt to renege on a treaty with the Sioux in order to get to the gold in the Black Hills created instability in what little order the US had with the Sioux after Custer, and in the end forced the natives to repudiate the entire treaty process. This led, in the end, to a massive overreaction by the US and state governments in putting down what they saw as a dangerous uprising in the end of 1890.

The film brilliantly depicts all of these issues, using the historical characters of Charles Eastman and Elaine Goodale Eastman as the "witnesses" to the depredation and oppression of the Sioux, and Henry Dawes as the perpetrator the the betrayal by Washington DC. It's necessarily sympathetic to the Native American point of view, especially since Adam Beach as Eastman suffers betrayals from all sides. Dawes starts off by demanding of Grant a merciful and positive approach to saving the Indians from extinction, but Dawes becomes the architect of the land grab that eventually causes the tribes to reject the ever-changing demands to renegotiate the treaties with the US.

The acting is uniformly excellent. It features a cast largely drawn from the Native American community. Wes Study makes a cameo appearance as Wovoka, the Paiute visionary who taught the Sioux new dances that he promised would bring an end to white people and restore the Native American tribes to supremacy over the earth, as well as bringing back the buffalo. It's shot in a stylish and affecting manner, and gives a fairly accurate account of history in an manner which grips the viewer.

If you have a chance to watch this, make sure you do. It's a part of history that does not get taught well in the US, especially the post-Custer reaction that made that singular Sioux victory a Pyrrhic event.


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» The Captain Reviews “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” the Movie from J's Cafe Nette
When Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was first published in the early 70s I read the book. As a human being it broke my heart, but as an Indian human being it tore my heart to read what happened to the American Indians during the settling of the West. O... [Read More]

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I watched ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ last night on HBO and I was very impressed. Ed Morrisey also really enjoyed it. I’ll admit I mainly turned it on to catch Fred Thompson in his brief role as President Grant, but I thoroughly... [Read More]

Comments (21)

Posted by daytrader | May 29, 2007 12:34 AM

My first wife was a full blooded Sioux Princess and we were married under tribal customs. Then I sadly lost her two months later when she and her sister were coming down to me to set up our home and she was hit head on by a semi trailer driver who fell asleep at the wheel.

I was 18 then and it took a long time to heal.

Posted by Jeanette | May 29, 2007 6:25 AM


I am 1/2 Penobscot Indian, a tribe in Maine, although I now live in South Carolina.

I first read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee when it first came out in the early 70s and found myself angered and so sad over what had been done in the name of our government to these human beings who wanted nothing more than to live the way they were used to living: free and not confined to reservations.

By the time this happened my tribe had alread been "civilized" to the point my generation was no longer taught the language because we were living in a "white" world and had to assimilate.

I read the book again maybe 15 years ago and felt the same emotions as I read it.

I deliberately got HBO for the month just so I could see this movie.

Given all the history the book covers it is a bit disappointing HBO didn't make a series of the book, but what it did show still brings out the pain I feel for ordinary free human beings who were treated as animals and worse.

To see the photos of the dead and frozen chiefs in the snow in the book and in the movie, seems to be a dishonor to those dead. It is, however, a part of our history.

I was proud to read the Sioux have refused monetary compensation for the land and still hold a claim on the Black Hills as sacred land to them.

It was a well-done movie, and you have given an excellent review.

Posted by Gwedd | May 29, 2007 7:02 AM


Thanks for an excellent review. I, too, am quite familiar with the story, learning it first-hand from many descendants of the Sioux.

It is right and proper that we learn history as it was, not as we'd like it to be. That, of course, doesn't mean we need revel in America's mistakes, as so many leftist apologists would have us do.

What it means is to face reality, and learn from it. Our ancestors were as human as we are, and thus as prone to the same flaws as all humans. That does not condone their mistakes, just recognises them.

History is what it is. The great nations learn from their mistakes. The foolish repeat them.


Posted by Old Sarg | May 29, 2007 7:27 AM

I'm just tired of everyone claiming to be related to an Indian Princess. There was no "Indian Princess" or a "King" or even a "Duke". These were created by white people who want to make themselves seem a part of history. The Lakota people were a Prairie Nomad who had not even been in the Black Hills 50 years when the whites drove them out, just as they had driven out the previous occupants. The Lakota had no "civilization". No written language. No medicine. No permanent towns or camps. They wandered the prairie much like Hobos. Breaking camp when it became over run with insects. mice and disease.

Posted by daytrader | May 29, 2007 7:40 AM


You don't know the Sioux, they have a very complex social structure.

You can't lump all tribes into one simple one size fits all narrative.

One tribe that would counter your useless diatribe is the Seminole tribe in Florida, but I am sure you will dispute that.

Posted by Old Sarg | May 29, 2007 8:06 AM

I won't dispute your opinion of the Seminole. Maybe your right. Maybe I don't know the Lakota. I glad we have people as well educated as yourself to point out my ignorance. Maybe I should move as well. Working on and with the people from Pine Ridge has caused me to lump all "Indians" together. It reall gets "complex" when you learn the Lakota history. I guess I'll never understand it as well as someone who knows no Lakota and sits in their Ivory tower on the East Coast. Good think we have your guidance.

Posted by Gwedd | May 29, 2007 8:28 AM


Oldsarge didn't lump all tribes together. He was speaking of the Lakota, and he is correct in what he says. The Lakota were, in fact, nomads. Technologically primitive compared to the Europeans, and without a written language. That's neither good nor bad. It's not a value judgement, just a statement of fact.

They had a strong social order, and were well organised, and took advantage of the world and it's resources as they saw it. Excellent hunters and courageous warriors. Nothing wrong with that. It's how every society started.

And yeah, there is an entire frikkin' industry white folks built up to ride Indian culture's coat-tails and make a buck. Shamanism and other new-age crap. Folks using sacred sage a sweet grass without any knowledge of why, except some new-agey store clerk told them it was kewl. Sweat lodges and dream catchers and all sorts of crap.

The exploitation of these peoples hasn't let up one bit. It's simply been taken over by the ignorant masses of the left, who are the ones who REALLY lump all indians into one people, blending rituals and dance and stories together until nothing is as what it once was.

The new-breed new-age hucksters are, in many ways, worse than Custer's men. They are not only killing off what real history remains, but are feeding off the spoils, profiting from their lies and fantasies.


Posted by Jeanette | May 29, 2007 8:48 AM

It's nice that old sarg at least admits the Lakota were driven out of this territory.

And the Indians needed a written language because?

It's a shame that after all these years I still read comments that can be taken as prejudice against the Indians who are no longer holding any land of any real value and are on their reservations.

Just for the record, I'm against the gaming that goes on on some reservations so please don't throw that up at me.

Posted by Charles | May 29, 2007 9:24 AM

How in the blazes can a discussion of the sad history of Indian displacement by white settlers generate anybody using the words "ignorant masses of the left"?

The ignorant masses (nice, elitist, term, there) are the people who voted in George Bush -- or perhaps you didn't know that the average education level of a district closely correlates with its tendency to vote Democratic.

Posted by Natrium | May 29, 2007 9:55 AM


I might note here that your complaint about Custer's 'idiotic' attack at the little bighorn is fair and far off.

Custer, like General Crook understood the Sioux very well. He did not believe that the Sioux could a large army against his forces, because their lifestyle generally precluded that. The fact that the Sioux were able to pull this off says more about their brilliance in warfare than anything about Custer's incompetence.

General Crook himself was almost caught in a similar trap. As a matter of fact, the battle of the Rosebud, in which Crook defeated the Sioux was a major action.

I would suggest that those who call Custer's last stand 'idiotic' know very little of the conditions prevailing at that time along the frontier. Nor do they know much of Indian fighting.

Posted by Old Sarg | May 29, 2007 10:21 AM

It's nice that old sarg at least admits the Lakota were driven out of this territory.

Thanks for saying I’m nice. The Lakota were “not” driven out. They are still here in South Dakota. They were accorded the land they reside on now. I am sure it isn’t the land they wanted when the Lakota were driven out of Minnesota and in-turn drove out the Black Feet from the Paha Sapa (Black Hills). You might read “Black Elk Speaks”.

And the Indians needed a written language because?

To record their history and way of life. Passing on verbal stories is not conducive to accurate records.

It's a shame that after all these years I still read comments that can be taken as prejudice against the Indians who are no longer holding any land of any real value and are on their reservations.

It is apparent you have never been to Pine Ridge, Rosebud or any Lakota reservation. The land is some of the prettiest land in South Dakota. Go on-line and look at pictures of the Badlands or the Forest on Pine Ridge better yet, come out and visit sometime. We can use your support. Oh, value can also be demonstrated by the support the United States Federal Government provides on an annual basis. On an average Pine Ridge receives over $30,000 per resident per year.

Just for the record, I'm against the gaming that goes on on some reservations so please don't throw that

Just for the record. I too am against gaming. The Casinos built on our Reservations do not make enough to help the tribes. For the Lakota Casinos is a pipe dream.

Posted by Jeanette | May 29, 2007 10:45 AM

I actually based my comment about you admitted they were driven out of that territory by these words in one of your posts:

The Lakota people were a Prairie Nomad who had not even been in the Black Hills 50 years when the whites drove them out, just as they had driven out the previous occupants.

The "territory" I referenced was the territory mentioned in your comment as quoted above.

My question as to the Lakota, or for that matter, any tribe having a written language is why did they need a written language when they hadn't had one before the white men came to the continent?

Again, I reference my own experience growing up on an Indian reservation in Maine. Why did my elders determine I should not even know my history as well as they did and I should not even learn the language they knew because I was going to live in a "white" world?

The why is that they bought into what the white man was teaching and they thought they were doing us a favor.

If they could come back after just a couple of generations and see how it has hurt our tribe, their tribe, I think they would change it if they could.

Posted by Old Sarg | May 29, 2007 11:38 AM

I'm sorry that you have lost so much of your heritage. The point of needing a written language is proven in your loss. Had your family written the history down you would be able to find what you regret losing so much. In my own family my Grandmother and an Uncle took it upon themselves to write out our family history. I am sure that even in this case many things have been forgotten. To be able to read the stories to my children helps to create a sense of pride we too would have lost. I hope you can find the time so others that follow you can read of the remaining history before that is lost as well.

Posted by physics geek | May 29, 2007 1:16 PM

I read the book on which the film is based back in 1977-1978. I the story both illuminating and horrific, especially the massacre at the end. And while I didn't get a chance to watch the premiere last night, your positive review has guaranteed that I'll fit it into my schedule in the near future.

Posted by daytrader | May 29, 2007 3:47 PM


Sorry to respectfully dispute you, but his evident in depth knowledge of the Lakota tribe was extended by him to a blanket dismissal of the various social structures of tribes that does not hold up under full review.

Each tribe had it's unique characteristics and yes some generalities can be drawn, but there are very few areas that could come under a general statement of condition.

Posted by Stueben | May 29, 2007 3:54 PM

"The ignorant masses (nice, elitist, term, there) are the people who voted in George Bush -- or perhaps you didn't know that the average education level of a district closely correlates with its tendency to vote Democratic."

Nice try, Chuckles

Posted by Old Sarg | May 29, 2007 4:37 PM

daytrader, I cannot help but laugh. You cannot possibly be as arrogant as your words seem to indicate. What could you know of the Lakota? Who do you really think you are? Do you live in the community? Have you ever? You may have a read book or even two on the subject but until you live in the culture you do not have a position of knowledge. I have not spoken of other tribes. I have not even spoken of my neighbors from Rosebud. Even as close as we are our cultures are somewhat different. I’m sorry you already know so much. There is nothing you could ever learn from me. I’m sorry I wasted your time. Your name speaks for you “daytrader, beyond being able to listen”.

Posted by daytrader | May 30, 2007 8:33 AM



You have mis characterized my position from the start of this discussion.

In my prior post I deferred to your more likely personal knowledge of the Lakota tribe.

Perhaps if my original post had said daughter of a Chief it may have not put you on this path.

At no point did I claim knowledge of the Lakota tribe. I have knowledge on the Sioux and the Seminoles both of which I have had personal interactions with on a long term basis.

I believe if you re read my post you will see that I have been fair and equitable in my approach.

If I missed that due to my poor communication skills I apologize.

Posted by PHunter | May 31, 2007 4:32 AM

And now, TODAY, we have Indians destroying Indians.
Casino Tribes like the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians of Temecula CA have eliminated 25% of their tribe. It's not the white man anymore, it's greedy tribal councils. has details.

Also, there is a discussion of Disenrollments on POWERLINE's forum:


It's amazing what lengths some tribes will go to to get rid of their own people. Please take a look at the links.

Captain Ed, there is a big story here. Right now, the California Assembly is holding up amended compacts for Pechanga due to civil rights violations and union issues. Schwarzenegger wants them to get 5,000 more slots, when he should be calling for Pechanga to be shut down.

Posted by JPowell | May 31, 2007 8:58 PM

I read the book years ago and watched the movie until the evil military guy asked Aiden Quinn's character "Do you want us to cut and run?" Then I changed the channel. No half-baked Iraq war commentary in my 19th century history, thanks.

Posted by JM Hanes | June 1, 2007 10:10 PM

I'm a little late to the party here, but you might also be interested in the 1993 movie of Geronimo: An American Legend which showed up on the movie channels recently, (with Wes Studi of Last of the Mohican fame). My own impression that the film was well done seemed to be confirmed when I checked the internet with questions about the way Geronimo was dressed. I ran across a couple pix of the Council between Geronimo and Gen. Geo Cook, and to my surprise, not only were the costumes accurately detailed, even the way the actors were arrayed on screen replicated their positioning in the photos.

The pacing in both Geronimo and the new Bury My Heart was much more measured than the usual fare, which seemed to me to allow the story of the people to compete with the "action" for a change.