A Few Must-See Movies about Native Americans

A Few Must-See Movies about Native Americans December 2023

Those who are old enough will remember a Nancy Sinatra song called Bang Bang He Shot Me Down. One stanza goes “We rode on horses made of sticks/He wore black and I wore white/He would always win the fight.” This harks back to an age when the “good guys” wore white and the “bad guys” wore black. The cultural bias and stereotypes were carried over to the depiction of Native Americans in popular culture, literature, and of course, the movies. The European settlers were the “good guys” and the “Indians” were “bad”. The White men were trying to civilize the land and the Natives were savages who did not understand that what was being done was for their own good. Today, the truth of the subjugation and attempted destruction of the Native American Tribes is well-known, but the stereotypes still remain. For those who want a balanced view, there are a few great movies that show the reality of Native American life which have to be watched.

Challenges in Re-Establishing Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Identity

Dance with Wolves

Probably the best-known movie about Native Americans, it was made in 1991 but remains popular to this day. It shows the Native Americans as noble people who lived in an advanced social structure. If there are bad guys in this movie, it is the White men who introduced the tribes to guns and gave them the weapons to start wars that resulted in their near extinction.

Black Robe

Considered by many to be one of the most authentic depictions of Native American life, the movie uses various Native American languages as part of the screen dialogue. Hunting, housing and other aspects of tribal life are based on historical research. It may not be the easiest movie to watch, but for those who do, it can be one of the most rewarding.

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

Made with an almost completely Native American cast, the movie is set in the 11th century. Instead of the good guys vs. bad guys theme, it is a story of love, murder, revenge and romance in the tribal community. The accurate depiction of native life and family structure of the time is an integral part of the narrative.

Dream keeper

This unusual movie is about the trip a Native American grandfather and grandson go on. It is a coming-of-age story that is based on Native American culture. It is not an action-filled “Wild West” saga, but for those who like movies with value, it is one to watch.

The New World

Set in 1607, this movie tells the story of the Jamestown and Powhatan villages and of Pocahontas. The movie is about the meeting of 2 very different cultures and what happens when they come into contact with each other. The movie has been praised for its honest and fair depiction of this period in history and for the way Native Americans are presented.

Killers of the Flower Moon The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Read both the Book by David Grann and see the movie about the Reign of Terror against members of the Osage Tribe of Oklahoma. During the 1920s there were organized killings by elite and privileged white people of Osage Indians who became wealthy after oil was discovered on their land. Powerful and bigoted white men systematically exploited and murdered the Osage people to expropriate their wealth, demonstrating the horrors that result when racism and greed are aligned. Historically, these murders were also a major catalyst for the growth of the FBI in some of their initial cases, and highlights the triumph of its rational and scientific vision of law enforcement—and points to a shift away from the era of frontier justice, corrupt and incompetent local sheriffs, and rogue “lawmen.” By 1925, the government estimated that unscrupulous guardians had swindled the Osage out of $8 million.

Although approximately 17,000 American Indians, including seven Muwekma men enlisted in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps during WWI, it was the efforts by the Osage leadership who met with Congress and President Calvin Coolidge who eventually passed and signed the American Indian Citizens Act of 1924. (see http://www.muwekma.org/assets/pdf/Muwekma-Ohlone-Military-Service-Veterans-Day-11-11-23.pdf).

The growing awareness of the treatment of Native American Tribes and the attempts to destroy them have spawned a new way of depicting them in cinema. The honest and realistic depiction of them in these and other movies gives people a vision of what the Tribes were, how developed their cultures and societies were and how much has been lost by the attempts to destroy them. For those who want to learn more, tribal websites provide new avenues for learning the truth about Native Americans. One such website is that of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe where information on the challenges in re-establishing Muwekma Ohlone tribal federal recognition is not just available but well-presented.