‘Warrior Women’ documentary
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor
RAPID CITY – Fresh from screenings at the 2018 festivals of San Francisco Green Film, Traverse City, Lumbee, Seattle International, and Toronto Hot Docs, the Native American team who made “Warrior Women”
will be on hand for its Homeland Premiere here on September 23.
This 64-minute retrospective follows one family’s experience in the Red Power movement from the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to the Oceti Sakowin resistance at the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016.
That is the family of Madonna Thunder Hawk, an Oohenumpa Lakota enrolled in the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, who is a veteran of every contemporary Native American civil and human rights struggle over the past 50 years.
Made in Lakota Territory using South Dakota Public Broadcasting studios, “Warrior Women” is a documentary production destined to smash the chauvinistic version of history as we know it.
Thunder Hawk, together with her daughter Marcella Gilbert and debuting indigenous directors Christina D. King and Elizabeth Castle, make a case for paying credit where credit is overdue in the annals of liberation struggles: to the feminine side of the house.
"Our voice and our story as women of the movement is the point of the film because we have never had that,” Thunder Hawk says. “From the very beginning when I met Beth (Castle) this was meant to be educational, something for the schools, something to change the narrative,” she noted.
Madonna Thunder Hawk and Marcella Gilbert: "We are just one family, and there are families like ours all over Indian Country.” Photo courtesy Castle King LLC
Castle was a professor in the University of South Dakota Native Studies Department after earning her PhD from Cambridge University. The basis for the movie was research for her book Women were the Backbone, Men were the Jawbone: Native Women’s Activism in the Red Power Movement.
It revealed that during the past half-century “the media was looking for a symbol that made sense to their idea of power at the time,” Castle says. “In doing so, they missed the reality of how the movement was actually organized and ran on a community level -- with women and entire families being a big part of that.”
This really wasn’t so different from how history was recorded “since invasion in 1492,” she said. “The English came to the Americas, and once contact with indigenous peoples became inevitable, they would only engage in a context that was Eurocentric: ‘Who is your (brown) king? Who is your chief?’” she added.
“But it was then, and is now, inconceivable to indigenous women that they wouldn’t play a role in politics and all aspects of community life and nation building,” she said.
The independent film was a challenge for them in a number of ways, the team members explain in a lengthy joint expose.
First off, an issue of modesty collided with the need to tell the story. Thunder Hawk was “an enthusiastic collaborator but a reluctant participant,” the directors said.
Thunder Hawk put it this way: “It was hard to be followed around by a camera when I am always trying to fly beneath the radar and not be separated out from the community.
“I had to constantly repeat to myself 'this is for the cause.' That's all you had to say in my day -- that something needed to be done for the cause -- and people understood.”
The choice of University of South Dakota Journalism major John G. Larson, as one of the directors of photography, helped put her at ease. “We call him hoksila in Lakota; he was so local, so everybody relaxed around him,” she said.
The other director of photography was two-time Emmy Award winner Andreas Burgess of New York City.
The narrative hangs on scenes from a complex four-camera group interview shoot Burgess designed to capture Thunder Hawk, Gilbert, Sister Mabel Ann, and niece Lakota in a kitchen-conversation setting.
Surrounded by willow sculptures, on loan from Ho-Chunk artist Truman Lowe, the subjects “could engage in each other’s stories, find new memories with each other, and share more naturally -- more like we do when there are no cameras,” King said.
For her part, Gilbert thought, “Who am I to have this camera on me? Someone I knew for a long time asked me, Marcy are you in a movie? And I wasn't prepared for that. My face got just red, and I was covering my mouth.
“What helped me get through this is telling myself, ‘This isn't about me, this is about my mother -- and it's for our children and the future.’ Then it was easier to accept that I'm going to be in a film.”
Thunder Hawk took unprecedented steps, including co-founding Women of All Red Nations to conduct water tests because of a rash of miscarriages and co-organizing the 1980 Black Hills International Survival Gathering to stop radioactive uranium mining upstream from the reservations.
“They exposed the uranium mining that was poisoning the water and led a movement to stop it - and did it!” Gilbert marvels. However, she cautions, “While our family has that legacy, we are just one family, and there are families like ours all over Indian country.”
The Oceti Sakowin Homelands Premiere is set for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 23, at the Dahl Arts Center at 13 7th St. in Rapid City.
Contact Talli Nauman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright permission Native Sun News Today
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