Thunder Heart

Thunder Heart is a 1992 movie that addresses a very important topic about race and its role in society.  It is based on the Sioux Indian tribe, but more importantly it highlights many different racial areas that are prevalent today.  How do we judge other cultures?  Do we have a lack of cultural understanding of Native Americans?  And lastly can education change these issues?  Ray Levol, a half breed Sioux Indian, and a FBI agent assigned to this case shows how ignorance can control actions, and education can move mountains.  Understanding of cultural differences can go a long way in prevention of cultural hatred and discrimination.

How do we judge other cultures?  In this movie, Ray associated with his white side and did not stake claim to his father being a Sioux Indian.  He judged the Indians, perhaps because of a lack of education or failure to relate to this side of his heritage.  Ray came into investigate the murder of Oglala who was found murdered and face down.  His cocky demeanor complete with shades, gum, and his gun bearing his superior mentality.  His white privilege allowed him the belief that he could disassociate himself from his Sioux heritage.  Ray viewed the Indians without regard because he did not understand the culture.  He was put on the plantation to do a job and that was all he was planning on doing.

In this movie, the uranium on the Indian reservation made them a target to be disposed of.  That was far more valuable than respecting the sanctity of the land.  The white man viewed Indians as disposable.  Indians viewed white men as potential threats.  Bill Cosby addressed the cultural judgment in his speaking, “This is How We Lost to the White Man”.  Cosby explained that his issue is he is tired of coming in second to the white people.  He continued with his speech by showing that he does not care about the whites, they can say what they want to say about him.  He doesn’t feel that anything can be said that would be worse than what was said to his grandfather.  (Ta-Nehisi)  Giving into what society says about a culture or their worth proves value to what they say.  It was not until Grandpa Sam unloaded a wealth of information on Levol did he even consider opening his eyes to a new understanding of these Indians.

Do we have a lack of cultural understanding of Native Americans?  Ray, one of these Native Americans that has been misunderstood and misrepresented, had little to know cultural understanding of his own heritage.  He was there to do a job and he felt that was what he intended to do.  Angela Wilson discuses this lack of education in her book “Educating America: The Historian’s Responsibility to Native Americans and the Public”.  She states that there are basic differences in the academic presentation of Native American history, and true Native American history from the active native perspective.   Many of the native cultures transmit and understand their culture through oral tradition.  Academic historians transmit and understand history by means of written narrative.  This means that many Native American people who do not have a voice or perspective to be written in history, and the histories are assumed to be another means by which these Native Americans are oppressed.  (Wilson)

What we know about the Native American history is not necessary based on the true representation of this culture.  History tells of a specific tribe or portray stories in a capacity they see fit, but each individual tribe is rich of culture and their own story.  Without educating American of such differences there will never truly be an understanding of Indians.  Ray had no desire to understand where his father’s side came from.  He was half Sioux and was completely happy with living as a white man and never associate with is other heritage.  Once he was informed and educated he changed his mind about what he thought he knew at one point.  Much like “Thunderheart” portrays what a little cultural education can do, many others can learn and respect the differences if they are given the opportunity to understand it.

Can education change these issues?  In this movie, it was predictable enough to know that Levoi addressed his personal conflict with education.  This lead to cultural reawakening and personal growth.  As the conspiracy associated with the deaths becomes apparent and the environmental abuse is revealed, Ray anger visibly grows.  As discussed early, education of one’s own culture can change the view points that were once prevalent.  Education can change many things, not only for the Indian culture, but any culture.  It is important to understand why people act how they act, believe what they believe, and are who they are.  Education is the key for personal survival not only for their future careers, but for their future interaction with an endless amount of different cultures that will cross their path through life.

“Thunderheart” was a fairly predictable movie in the sense that everything worked out in the end.  The rough tough FBI agent came in and happened to be part Sioux Indian when he had to come to investigate the murder.  It did tell a lot about the culture of this Indian tribe, so from an educational stand point it was beneficial to learn.  However, the predictability came in from this white agent learning a little from his elders and then all of a sudden taking ownership of his roots.  All in all it was a good movie and shared a lot of necessary incite for a better understanding of culture differences.   It broadened the understanding and struggles that many Indians face even to date.


Coates, Ta-Nehisi.  “This is How We Lost to the White Man”.  The Audacity of Bill Cosby s        Black Conservatism. 2008.  Print.


Apted, Michael., et al. “Thunderheart” [Burbank, Calif.]: Columbia TriStar Home Video, 1998.


Wilson, Angela. “Educating America: The Historian’s Responsibility to Native Americans and    the Public”.  Historians and the Public.  2000.  Print.