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NEITHER WOLF NOR DOG: Bury the white savior complex at Wounded Knee

Roaring Fire Films
Chief Dave Bald Eagle as "Dan" in "Neither Wolf Nor Dog."
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Many white people like to mythologize that idea of the dime-store painting of the stoic savage Indian that spouts off noble one-liners with arms-outstretched to the Great Spirit on a pastel landscape, all the while ignoring the entire lifespan of atrocities that they have committed against the Native Americans since arriving on these shores, from land theft to outright genocide. But it does make for a pretty book to buy at the state capitol gift shop, doesn’t it?

Based on the bestselling book of the same name by Kent Nerburn, Neither Wolf Nor Dog is an extremely emotional trip through the real Indian country, the one they don’t show you in travel brochures or tourism commercials, the one awash in spilled blood and unresolved traumas that seem easier to be swept under the rug than to, as a country, take responsibility for.

Centenarian Lakota elder Dan (Chief Dave Bald Eagle) contacts writer Nerburn (Christopher Sweeney) and tasks him with collecting decades worth of notes and putting them together in a book that tells his and his peoples’ story. After a first draft that embarrassingly falls prey to all of the Louis L’Amour clichés that make whites comfortable, Dan and his buddy Grover (Oklahoman Richard Ray Whitman) throw Nerburn in the backseat of their car and take him on a sobering journey across the modern day Native landscape, culminating in a heartwrenching trip to Wounded Knee.

Dan and Kent Nerburn (Dave Bald Eagle and Christopher Sweeney) go to Wounded Knee in Neither Wolf Nor Dog. (Roaring Fire Films)

The very antithesis of the archetypical “white savior” film, the entire morality of the film rests on Nerburn’s shoulders and whether or not he will come to fully grasp the sheer weight and absolute burden of pain and loss these people have endured and recognize his part in it, or, like most whites are wont to do, proclaim how it wasn’t their fault, how they weren’t even alive back then and that Natives should just “get over it and move on.”

Enough can’t be said from the alternatingly heart-warming and gut-wrenching performance of Chief Dave Bald Eagle. The 96-year old actor, who died recently, earns his marks by one moment comically jibing Nerburn about finding a “Cherokee grandmother climbing up the family tree” to quietly keeping his head down, saying so much without saying anything at all, when an intoxicated Native stumbles about in a diner selling beadwork for “diapers”; to wryly commenting on the disrespect his tribe’s bones are shown in the local museum, to the stirring, mostly improvised monologue about the hunger, humiliation and hate that the U.S. Government had (and still has) for Natives, from the 7th Calvary to boarding schools to modern life on reservations.

What viewers take away from this—white or otherwise—will tell a lot about a person’s soul, or lack thereof. Directed with 60’s guerilla aplomb and a naturalistic rawness by Scotsman Steven Lewis Simpson, one figures it would have to take a non-American director to get the material right, one that wouldn’t be inclined to throw in any jingoistic relativism into the mix. The story is one-sided and needed to be one-sided because there was only one side that was right here.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog opens exclusively this weekend at the Harkins Bricktown Cinema 16 which, ironically enough, is only a few blocks away from the Metro’s own proud tax-payer provided monument to genocide, the Bricktown Land Run Monument.

But that’s a whole other discussion no one wants to have, isn’t it?

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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