Albert White Hat (Rosebud Sioux), renowned Lakota studies teacher on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Photo by Christian Glawe.
LINCOLN, NEBRASKA — Across the Creek, a new 30-minute documentary premiering this November from director/producer Jonny Cournoyer (Rosebud Sioux), explores the Lakota people’s struggle for the restoration of a cultural legacy. Broken by colonialism and with both the unbridled dreams and the painful reality of today, the film is a conversation between the elder and younger generations.
Faced with unfathomable challenges, Lakota peoples are taking steps to make a better life for their tribal members. A major initiative is to empower people who were once taught that Indian ways were inferior. In Across the Creek, everyday heroes are turning around this negative history by reclaiming stories, visions, and core values that once did effectively guide a healthy and productive tribal lifestyle. By looking at traditional family structure, spirituality, language, and values, they hope to build a sustaining vision for the future.
In Across the Creek, the land plays a major role. The screen fills with beautiful images of rolling plains, badlands, and Black Hills that are sacred to the Lakota. Ties to the land define the people, just as Lakota language allows them to fully express their worldviews and beliefs. Much of the effort to reclaim Lakota lifeways addresses tribal language and land in some way.
“It is a heavy shirt to wear,” explains Sage Fast Dog, who is striving to honor the role he has been asked to play in the lives of his students. A fairly new teacher who was drafted unexpectedly into teaching the Lakota language, Sage is not a fluent speaker and is learning many words right along with his middle-school students.
Sage’s mentor, the late Albert White Hat, is a Lakota studies icon. In his early days, he left the reservation in search of work, traveling from Denver to Los Angeles, barely scraping by at times–sometimes as a homeless person on the street. After returning to his homelands, he eventually was hired to teach Lakota culture by the same mission school that had denigrated it in his own boyhood. In addition to writing multiple books, White Hat later guided the Lakota Studies department at the reservation’s tribal college. He speaks in depth on the principles of traditional Lakota beliefs and values, the current state of the youth on the reservation, and his own hopes and visions for the future.
Sam Wounded Head, a medicine man whose first language is Lakota, speaks of his 50-year journey to find spiritual power. Sam’s wife, Norma, shares her memories of early life on the reservation and the importance family played in everyday life out in the country. The couple, now deceased, offer a moving glimpse of a generation whose window is closing.
Like others, Florentine Blue Thunder is convinced that Lakota language is the key to renewing a positive identity with the Native youth. Not only will it continue as a focus on both the educational and socioeconomic fronts, but in the context of daily life. If children can be raised in a nurturing, supportive environment as opposed to the negative reality that many face in high-poverty areas today, there can be personal healing.
Mike Prue is one such example. After spending his high school years in a blur of drugs and alcohol, even serving prison time for illegal drugs, he vowed to change his life. Mike began to embrace ceremonies and traditions. Today, he collaborates with medicine men who are still in their 20s. Similarly, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation is engaging dozens if not scores of young people by authentically practicing culture. Nick Tilsen is a young leader who has found that–with a few visible examples of positive action–the most powerful strategy to healing is just “walking the talk.” Or put another way, “by crossing the creek.”
Across the Creek–which received major funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and Vision Maker Media–is an offering ofPBS Plus. This half-hour documentary will be available to public television stations nationwide on Friday, October 31, 2014, with rights beginning Saturday, November 1, 2014. This program is suggested for scheduling for Native American Heritage Month. For viewing information in your area, please visit www.visionmakermedia.org/watch.