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Dakota 38

Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was an excellent movie, one of the best of the year.  But before we glorify Abraham Lincoln too much, it’s worth remembering that he was President during some of the darkest years in the U.S.’s unjust and often murderous dealings with Native Americans.  “Dakota 38” is a documentary about the largest mass execution in American history, the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mancato, Minnesota.  Lincoln signed that execution order, sending almost two score of courageous warriors defending their families from certain starvation to their deaths.

But “Dakota 38” isn’t interested in pointing fingers or laying blame in anger and bitterness.  It is the story of a honor ride from the Lower Brule reservation to South Dakota to Mancato to honor the fallen warriors, and to forgive and seek reconciliation with people along the way.

“Dakota 38” chronicles the journey, focusing on conversations and interactions the riders have with people along the way. It’s a ten day ride from Lower Brule to Mancato, and takes place in December, when the weather isn’t very friendly.  I was amazed and surprised by how hospitable and respectful the South Dakotans and Minnesotans along the way turn out to be.  Many people – many white people – respect what the riders have set out to do, and do everything they can to help and support them.  It is powerful and moving to see people on both sides facing the painful events of long ago, and working to reconcile and restore good relations with each other.

At the same time, “Dakota 38” recognizes that reconciliation is a long process, not a one time event. And while an honor ride can help in the process of healing and forgiveness, it can’t completely fulfill that process.  Both the riders and the hosts along the Dakota 38 trail recognize that there is a lot of work to do in order to heal the wounds of this country’s original inhabitants, as well as its immigrants.  But it’s good work, and worth doing.  Though “Dakota 38” starts in such a dark place, it ultimately left me feeling hopeful, showing that reconciliation and healing are possible, and people in both Native and White communities are more and more seeing the need for it, and pursuing it.

The makers of “Dakota 38” have made it available for free as a gift on their website (www.smoothfeather/dakota38), and are encouraging people to watch it and screen it free of license.  It is a film created to encourage healing and reconciliation, and I heartily recommend it.


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Posted in All Reviews, Native & Indigenous Cinema.

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