This week marks the 147th anniversary of the Battle of the Greasy Grass, or as it’s more commonly known, the Battle of the Little Bighorn. It’s a significant milestone in Lakota culture—as well as for the Cheyenne and Arapaho, who fought together with the Lakota against the US Army—as it is the greatest victory Native Americans achieved against invading US colonists and armed forces in the latter half of the 19th century.
Particularly, the Lakota were being pushed out of their treaty-recognized territory in the Black Hills, where gold was discovered a few years before, and into Crow territory, which gave the US Army pretext to attack the Lakota (of course, no one fared well under treaties with the US government). If the US government honored their treaty with the Lakota, citing the Black Hills as part of sovereign Lakota land, none of that sh-t would have happened.
A new documentary, Lakota Nation vs. United States, documents the Lakota nation’s long fight to regain sovereignty and control of the Black Hills, today home of Mount Rushmore, an ugly f-cking defacing of a beautiful mountain. We screened Lakota Nation at the Chicago Critics Film Festival, for which I am a programmer, and it looks INCREDIBLE on the big screen. We don’t often talk about documentaries and cinematography, but Lakota Nation, directed by Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli and lensed by cinematographer Kevin Phillips, is absolutely gorgeous. It gives you a sense of not only space, but also the natural beauty tarnished by a century of deforesting, mineral mining, and dynamiting sacred hills for dumb monuments.
The doc also goes into the spiritual significance of the Black Hills, that it’s not just about treaty lands, it’s also about a people being reunited with the physical center of their spirituality. The Supreme Court actually recognized Lakota sovereignty of the land in 1979, but the Lakota have refused to touch the money awarded by the court as compensation for having their land, and its resources, stolen. Today, that money remains in trust and totals over $1 billion, but the Lakota remain firm—they want the land, not the money. There is no price for a holy site.
I strongly recommend this film. It opens on July 14, if you can see it on a big screen, do. The visuals demand it. But even if you can’t, keep an eye out for it on demand later this year, it’s an important story and, along with the real tragedy depicted in Killers of the Flower Moon, demonstrates the inequity forced upon Indigenous people during colonial conquest.
Here are producers Mark Ruffalo and Sarah Eagle Heart, along with co-director Laura Tomaselli and Susan Sarandon, at the Lakota Nation premiere yesterday.