Thoughts on Columbus Day
Another Human Development paper…
Thunderheart, one person’s perspective
File Critique: Thunderheart, Skin Deep and Race Matters
On October 12 in the United States businesses and schools were closed for Columbus Day. This is a day set aside as the day that Christopher Columbus discovered America. While driving through New London that morning there were protestors on the parade with signs disputing the fact that Columbus discovered this land. How could someone discover something that has already been occupied? The body of land we now call the United States of America was very richly populated. We do not need a history lesson. We all know the stories we have been told through education and other history related reports. As I drove past I felt a pang of shame. Was I enjoying this beautiful day off from work and school under false pretenses?
In the 1970s a horrible injustice was taking place. This injustice started long before the 70s and continues to today. As I go along I will be discussing many concepts on human development as presented in three films: Thunderheart a film based on real events that took place on a Sioux reservation; Skin Deep a documentary on prejudice focusing on a group of college student in Texas; and Race Matters a documentary that focuses on Native Americans as well as Native Hawaiians and the way that they have and continue to be viewed and objectified.
As we all know, Europeans came and dominated this group of people we now call Native Americans and the land where they lived. This is an act of Colonialism. When someone from a foreign land lays claim over another through strength this dominance through emigration leads to the expansion of the world systems theory. This theory claims that control of wealth, natural resources and labor is split (not necessarily evenly) between the nations in control (Schaefer, 2015, p.19).
As identified in the textbook Racial and Ethnic Groups, there are three perspectives that are used by sociologist. These three main perspectives are: functionalist, conflict and labeling perspectives. The functionalist perspective is said to use a structure in order to have a stable society. The theory is that if it does not benefit society it will not be passed on to the future generations. The conflict perspective feels that in order for there to be structure there must be conflict between groups. Then there is the labeling theory which is used very often in this country and puts people in groups and does not take individuals into account. For example stereotyping all Native Americans as alcoholics or that there is a casino on every reservation. Each of these perspectives are dysfunctional in that racism plays a major role in all three (Schaefer, 2015, p.14).
In Skin Deep there is a segment when the students are discussing stereotypes. One of the students said he is full blooded Indian; however he was raised white. He does not want to feel as though he is not Indian enough because he was raised and has lived his life in a white culture.
As is evident in all three films, Native Americans are victims of each theory. The dominant group (white Americans) has held down and demeaned the subordinate group (Native Americans) for as long as this country has been a country. In Skin Deep the students discuss how they have felt dominated by others due to race. They discuss double jeopardy as in instances of women of color. We see evidence of that in Matters of Race when we are given the facts that Native Americans were not allowed to wear traditional dress, use their language or share their heritage. Many Native Americans were removed from the reservations and their families and forced to attend government boarding schools that would ensure that there was no way that the heritage could be passed along. Government boarding schools is also referenced in Thunderheart. This forced assimilation is an effort to keep the dominant society dominant (Schaefer, 2015, p.24). We see evidence of fusion and amalgamation (Schaefer, 2015, p.24) when there is intermarriage and a new people is formed as a result. This “new people” is reached because the culture has been lost. The blood quotient or blood quantum is removing the Native American from their birthright by stating that if the genealogy does not reflect one half or over then they are not Native American (Schaefer, 2015, p.154). With this formula whole families can eventually lose their “enrolled” status. Some tribes feel that this can be a deterrent so that those who want to take advantage of shares from profits will not be allowed to. This has been a dispute for many years over many generations.
Ray, in Thunderheart has assimilated to the white way of life. He is over one half blood quantum as his father was Sioux. In the beginning of the film Ray makes statements such as they are not my people. As an FBI agent he was sent to the reservation to investigate a murder because of the heritage of his father. The stereotype was that he would be accepted because he was Sioux.
Ray’s thinking was a perfect example of ethnocentrism (Schaefer, 2015, p.33). He felt that because he lived and acted as a white man that he was superior to the Native American. He denied his background and chose to block out the memories of his father. While with the FBI Ray was mocked and teased because of his race. He began to notice the many ethnophaulisms (Schaefer, 2015, p.33) (slurs) that were used around him. He was called Chief by his superior, Frank Coutelle, others were referred to as Geronimo. Coutelle even went so far as to ask Ray if he was going native on them…
In Matters of Race the Bordeaux family share the experiences of their lives and generations before them. Ms. Bordeaux was sent to boarding school when she was a young child and has not lived with her parents since she was in the eighth grade. They do not know their own language. Mr. Bordeaux stated that they were in these schools to get the Indian out, kill the Indian-save the man. He feels that the goal was to turn them into white guys. The children, two sisters and a brother feel it is their responsibility to stay on the reservation and learn to survive in two worlds.
The Swalley family, an extension of the Bordeaux family is living traditionally. They are a husband and wife with two children and she is Spanish, Apache and Navaho. They follow the ways taught by an Elder Running Hawk who is one of the last full blooded Native Americans left on their reservation. He is a singer and teaches spirituality and growth with the songs and traditions. One such tradition in Lakota Law is to build a home first…Mr. Swalley has been working and building their home for over two years. After only a month of knowing one another she moved to South Dakota with him. They spent three years using the sweat lodge he built praying and singing. They walked the sacred pipe to the lodge. They have their own love song specific to their relationship in the language of their ancestors.
Many individuals who do not live on reservations have lost much of their heritage. The students in Skin Deep open up and share their views on not “measuring up” compared to those who are not of a minority race.
Running Hawk is also one of the few on the reservation that knows and speaks the native language. Their concern of the blood quantum is a fear that a few generations from now they will no longer be a sovereign nation (Schaefer, 2015, p.153). Sovereignty is a right of recognition. He feels that this is just one way to get rid of the Indian. The goal behind this issue is taking of the land.
The world system theory is evident in the example. Government policy views tribes as separate nations and uses treaties to deal with the Native Americans (Schaefer, 2015, p.143-144). This law has been used to push the Indian into smaller and smaller areas taking away the rights and lands for personal gain. It leaves the reservations in poverty and deprivation. Many feel as though they are living in a third world country in the middle of a country (Schaefer, 2015, p.60). The examples given in Matters of Race indicate that there are 9-10,000 people on the Pine Ridge Reservation and only about 3,000 local jobs. Amber Has No Horse and her husband have fear and worry regarding their decision to stay on the reservation and raise their child with the ways of their ancestors.
Many people live with their extended families in one home, as many as eight to twelve people under one small roof. They own cars, but are rarely able to buy gas or pay for repairs. Many struggle to buy food and clothes. The stress and lack of what many people take for granted (white privilege) (Schaefer, 2015, p.36) create shortened life spans of many years less than the average American. The life spans of many on the reservations is similar to those who live in many impoverished nations such as Haiti.
In Thunderheart, (based on real events) we are shown evidence of deprivation. We are visually given clues via the dilapidated houses and structures, the broken down cars and we also see Ray helping Grandpa bring water into the home via a well and bucket because there is no running water inside the home. Maggie lived in a home with several generations and had to drive into town to get water on a regular basis because the drinking water was contaminated. We are also shown evidence of the education system and how below standard the education provided to those who live on the reservation is and how difficult it is to maintain legacy. The poverty on the reservation is all evidence of Internal Colonialism.
In the 1800s the Black Hills of South Dakota were given to the Sioux in a treaty forever! When Gold and Uranium were discovered that land was taken away from the Sioux. Currently much of the area is owned by the National Forest Service (the Government); some is privately owned by individuals. Very little of the land that was originally given in the treaty to the Sioux is still owned by them; less than half is still owned by the Sioux.
The murder that Ray was sent to investigate in Thunderheart was committed over greed. Just as the true and real situation of the Bad Lands and the Black Hills; the natural resources of the land was being mined and stolen from the Indians who are the rightful owners. Maggie was later killed because she was so close to discovering the situation of the mining and the contamination of the water system.
Pan-Indianism (Schaefer, 2015, p.150) is represented in Thunderheart by the ARM (Aboriginal Rights Movement) based on the AIM (American Indian Movement) as well as Maggie, Walter Crow Horse and Grandpa Sam Reaches. Maggie and Crow horse were working to protect their land and heritage.
Native Americans are being forced to choose. Do they want to live in poverty? No, however they are caught in the theory of scapegoating (Schaefer, 2015, p.37) being forced to believe that their situation is a result of their own actions. In reality that is not true; the situation is a result of many years of prejudice. In order to maintain the lineage they need to stay on the reservation and keep their blood-lines pure. The other choice is to live a life without their home and family and assimilate to the white way of living choosing education and jobs.
In the words of Running Hawk from Matters of Race, it takes four things to make a Nation: a language, spirituality-a way to pray, resources (such as the land of the Black Hills) and generation. The four things that are needed to be a Nation are systematically being removed from the Native American.
This fight to save their land and life is still strong. Running Hawk and the Swalley family are living daily to protect their way of life. The character Ray from Thunderheart by the end of the movie was devoted to his heritage and understood the importance of preserving the Native American life and traditions. Columbus did not discover America he was instrumental in stealing it from those who lived here.