2hrs. 06min. 35sec.
“The plot, which is based on events covered by several chapters of Brown’s book as well as other sources, revolves around four main characters: Charles Eastman né Ohiyesa (Adam Beach), a young, mixed-race Sioux doctor educated at Dartmouth and Boston University, who is held up as proof of the success of assimilation; Sitting Bull (August Schellenberg), the Sioux chief who refuses to submit to U.S. government policies designed to strip his people of their identity, their dignity and their sacred land, the gold-laden Black Hills of the Dakotas; U.S. Senator Henry L. Dawes (Aidan Quinn), an architect of government policy for allotment of Indian lands to individual households to force adoption of subsistence farming; and Red Cloud, whose decision to make peace with the American government and go to a reservation disturbed Sitting Bull.
“While Eastman and his future wife Elaine Goodale (Paquin), a reformer from New England and Superintendent of Indian Schools in the Dakotas, work to improve life for Indians on the reservation, Senator Dawes lobbies President Ulysses S. Grant (Thompson) for more humane treatment of the Indians. He opposes the adversarial stance of General William Tecumseh Sherman (Feore). The Dawes Commission (held from 1893 to 1914) develops a proposal to break up the Great Sioux Reservation to allow for American demands for land while preserving enough land for the Sioux to live on. The Commission’s plan is held up by Sitting Bull’s opposition. He has risen to leadership among the Sioux as one of the last chiefs to fight for their independence. Dawes, in turn, urges Eastman to help him convince the recalcitrant tribal leaders. After witnessing conditions on the Sioux reservation, Eastman refuses.
“The prophet Wovoka (Studi) raised Western Indian hopes with his spiritual movement based on a revival of religious practice and the ritual Ghost Dance; it was a messianic movement that promised an end of their suffering under the white man. The assassination of Sitting Bull and the massacre of nearly 200 Indian men, women and children by the 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29, 1890 ended such hopes.
“Henry L. Dawes’ wanted to increase the cultural assimilation of Native Americans into American society by his Dawes Act (1887) and his later efforts as head of the Dawes Commission. During the 47 years of implementing the Act, Native Americans lost about 90 million acres (360,000 km²) of treaty land, or about two-thirds of their 1887 land base. About 90,000 Indians were made landless. The Implementation of the Dawes Act disrupted Native American tribes’ communal life, culture, and unity”