As Hollywood perpetuated stereotypes such as the Savage and the Noble Savage in films such as John Ford's Stagecoach and Cheyenne Autumn, American Indians struggled to maintain their own identity. Additionally, the physical and cultural genocide of Native Americans, including massacres and white-washing techniques such as the education of children in boarding schools, contributed to this loss of cultural identity. But there are two sides to every story and the story of a quest for Native American identity through activism and film remains largely untold. The modern movement for Native activism, otherwise known as "Red Power," began with the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969 and continued into the 70s with the occupations of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Wounded Knee. During this time, other films like Arthur Penn's Little Big Man helped contribute to messages of freedom and violence by exposing the horrors of the Vietnam War and reminding Americans of their own complicity in the destruction of Native Americans. However, Native American activism and film in the 80s was relatively quiet after the turbulence of the 60s and 70s. And then came the release of Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves in 1990, which served as the genesis of a renaissance of indigenous filmmaking in the 1990s. Dances with Wolves articulated Native Americans as human and, because of its popularity and celebrity (winning seven Oscars), it provided a wealth of opportunities for indigenous filmmakers and actors. In particular, three films--Smoke Signals, The Business of Fancydancing, and Older than America--emphasize Indian humanity through the exposure of modern-day issues, such as addiction, alcoholism, family, and friendship.


Baumgartner, Kabria




American Film Studies | Indigenous Studies | United States History


american indians, indians, native americans, red power, occupation, alcatraz, wounded knee, bureau of indian affairs, genocide, film, activism, russell means, john trudell, stagecoach, cheyenne autumn, little big man, dances with wolves, smoke signals, older than america, the business of fancydancing, kevin costner, vietnam, freedom, violence, humanity

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2013 Keely Pearce