The movie Thunderheart, directed by Michael Apted in 1992, draws its storyline from the events of Wounded Knee incident in 1973. During this incident, members of the American Indian Movement matched into the town of Wounded Knee in South Dakota to protest against the Federal government’s discriminatory policies against Native Americans. In the movie, Val Kilmer plays as Ray Levoi, and FBI agent with native American roots, who is sent to investigate a murder that has occurred on a native American reservation. The murder being investigated is political in nature, and Levoi’s boss has picked him for this assignment because his heritage might make it easy to talk to the local people. As he goes about his investigations, Levoi gains more awareness about Indian issues. Initially, the natives do not welcome him well because they think he is just an agent of Washington, which has been oppressing them. This movie highlights various issues to do with culture, political corruption and discrimination.
1) How do we judge other culture?
The issue of culture is very prominent in the whole movie. On a large scale, this is an issue of American Indians fighting to preserve their culture. This culture is under threat from the federal government and other forces that have little regard for the culture of American Indians. In their attempt to preserve their culture and way of life, the Indians are viewed as backwards and retrogressive. The white settlers viewed their culture to be superior to other cultures, including that of Native American Indians. Anything that does not fit with white culture is considered bad or unsuitable. As a result, white culture is usually forced on minorities and other cultures considered inferior. This does not mean that white culture does not borrow a few things from other cultures. White culture adopts practices from other cultures that are not considered a threat to white cultural beliefs.
2) Politics and political corruption
In the movie, there is a local government plan to mine uranium on the Indian reservation. The person who has been killed belongs to the group that is opposed to the mining plan. Politics and corruption are at the center of this standoff. It is revealed that Jack Milton, the president of the reservation’s ruling council, has been receiving kickbacks from the mining company for leasing to them the reservation land for mining purposes. The natives are against this mining venture as it is polluting their water supply already. Levoi’s new partner in this investigation, Frank Coutelle, is part of the broad conspiracy to silence the opposition so that the land deal can be rolled out. Huge business corporations usually compromise politicians and government officials through bribes. They also provide them with political funding for election campaigns. The politicians and officials choose to serve the interests of the corporations instead of serving the people. In many instances, the interests of these corporations are usually against the broad interests of the public. The only way for the corporations’ interests to get approved by the authorities is through corruption.
3) Native American culture and our lack of understanding of the culture
Native American culture is heavily anchored on the environment. Most of their teachings encourage the preservation of the environment. The Native American Indians did not have any concepts regarding land ownership. It was believed that land was a gift from God for the benefit of all. They lived off the land and did not practice large-scale extraction of resources like it is done today. They did not, therefore, pose any threat to the environment. The land was sufficient to sustain their livelihood. The coming of European settlers and the establishment of the federal government threatened this peaceful existence. The new settlers were hungry for the resources that were located in the areas occupied by the Native American Indians. The new settlers considered the beliefs, practices and culture of Native Americans as retrogressive. Cultures that preach environmental preservation usually face a lot of pressure from the dominant societies considered “civilized”. These societies do not care about environmental preservation as they pursue other interests, mostly commercial in nature.
4) Cultural awakening
In the movie, Ray Levoi undergoes some form of cultural awakening. He learns that his father was half Indian, even though he was raised by white middle-class parents. As he goes about his job of investigating the murder that has occurred, he comes to learn and appreciate a lot about his Indian heritage. Levoi gets to interact with the Indians, especially Maggie the school teacher, tribal police officer Walter Crow Horse, and grandpa Sam. These people gradually sensitize Levoi on Native American issues, and he becomes increasingly sympathetic to them. This enables him to unearth the conspiracies that are going on, and to follow the real truth. Cultural awakening is needed to help citizens appreciate each other’s culture, and to respect the cultures of minority groups. The public needs to be open-minded about the cultures of different people in the society. No culture should be trumpeted as more superior than the others. One solution involves the teaching of different cultural beliefs in schools so that students can grow up to appreciate their diversity. Cultural artifacts for different cultures also need to be preserved so that coming generations can learn about them. In order to preserve Native American culture, the environment in which they reside must also be preserved.
5) Social network and social kinship
The Native American Indians lived in close-knit communities that valued kinship. This kinship was based on shared ancestry, blood relations and marriage. The role of social kinship is very important as it determines issues like ownership and inheritance of property, religious positions and potential marriage partners. There were social kinship regulations that governed how members related with each other. There were both patrilineal and matrilineal societies amongst the Indians. For example, the Cheyenne determined kinship through the father while the Pueblo used the mother’s family identity to determine kinship. Modern day social networks are wide-reaching. Technological advances through the internet have enabled to form social networks all over the world. Most of these networks are based on shared interests and go beyond the realms of kinship.
6) Cultural awareness and assimilation
Globalization has led to increased economic, cultural and social relations across geographic and political borders. This has seen the emergence of multicultural societies. In order for these multicultural societies to exist peacefully and harmoniously, there is a need for some cultural awareness and assimilation. Cultural awareness helps people appreciate different cultures around them. Learning about a different culture helps one appreciate and understand it. Cultural assimilation helps people from foreign cultures to settle in a new cultural set up. With cultural awareness and assimilation, a harmonious society is created regardless of the different cultural backgrounds at play. This harmony helps for cross-cultural adaptation of different cultural beliefs and practices. The multicultural society starts to form its own unique culture, which is a blend of the multiple cultural backgrounds of the members.