Have you ever flipped through the TV and somehow landed on an old western film? Did you watch it completely? More importantly, did you notice how the ‘aggressive Native’ trope has been used in nearly all Hollywood movies since film was invented? Well, unlike the hundreds upon hundreds of super racist cowboy movies, Dances With Wolves is the polar opposite.
When it was released in 1990, it was one of the few historically accurate movies which depicted Native Americans in a positive light. Throughout the entire film, Lieutenant John Dunbar (Kevin Costner), who lives with a group of Sioux Indians, recounts the hardships they faced as white settlers began to encroach onto Indian territory throughout the 1860s. However, through his narration, he describes their rituals, traditions and customs with an open mind. Not once did he ever regard their lifestyle as "savage." As a matter of fact, the film shows how spending time with the Sioux enabled Dunbar to be more in touch with his spirituality and understand the true "savage" was the settler who did not understand nor respect the ways of the land.
One scene which, in my opinion, depicts the hypocrisy of settlers calling Native Americans ‘uncivilized’ is the buffalo scene. Generally, the Sioux in the film are portrayed as having a strong relationship with nature, as can be seen by how they use all parts of the hunted animal and by how they are careful to not destroy nature. Yet, in the buffalo scene, where hundreds of buffalo were shown skinned alive by white fur trappers, the film shows exactly the true cruelty and barbarianism of the settlers. No, they weren’t nice or respectful to the Native Americans or the animals who lived on the prairie. Instead, a great majority of them caused utter doom and destruction, tore apart families and killed many Native Americans as well as decimated the buffalo population.
All in all, Dances With Wolves, for its time, was one of the few movies that shed light onto the injustices Native Americans have historically faced from white settlers. Sadly, many of the negative effects are still present today in many Native reservations. As a result of the U.S. government's lack of action or substantial aid, many of the conditions in these reservations are “comparable to third-world” ones and around “four to eight out of ten” adults are unemployed. The only way we, as individuals, can make a difference is to elect diverse representatives into office. Only they can truly speak for the issues that affect certain minority groups in our country since they themselves have experienced injustice. Additionally, we must educate ourselves about the strong and beautiful Native cultures present within this vast country. America, you have got to treat our Native Americans better.