Thunderheart: Analysis of the Issues

Thunderheart is a thought-provoking and touching movie that raises many important social, political, and cultural issues. The film reveals a story of a one-fourth Indian Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, Ray Levoi, who investigates a murder on Indian Reservation. While the plot of the movie unfolds, the issues of politics and political corruption as well as Native American culture, and the lack of its understanding become evident. In this respect, the question of governance and political corruption shows the critical need for change in the reservation. Moreover, the movie touches on the issue of Native American culture and the White people's lack of understanding of the Indian traditions and beliefs. Additionally, the above mentioned issues are also addressed by David Treuer, David Nichols, and Colin Calloway in Off the land: What subsistence really looks like, Lincoln and the Indians: Civil war policy and politics and White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal people and colonial encounters in Scotland and America respectively. Therefore, the political, cultural, and social issues depicted in the movie and the specific literary works show that political corruption, cultural ignorance, and oppression are rather the problems of the world in general than solely a Native American problem.

The issue of politics and political corruption is perfectly depicted in the movie. The illegal acts committed by official institutions, specifically the federal government, are a severe violation of human rights. Political corruption is a significant issue, which is done under color of law. In Thunderheart, these issues penetrate all spheres of the Native Americans’ lives. In employing different forms of exploitation, government officials attempt to achieve their goals through illegal ways. While political venality supports criminal enterprises, sooner or later the populace will raise against it. Thus, one of the characters in the movie, Maggie Eagle Bear, fights against the dominant white culture, specifically the federal government's assistance to the water pollution in the territory of reservation. At the same time, the corruption used to meet out justice is not considered by the federal government. In this respect, the FBI can be regarded as a dishonest structure which employs crooked radical agents to hide their cruel deeds from the society. Thereby, political corruption together with general police brutality violate the rights of people living on the territory of reservation.


The unjust treatment of the Native Americans, as well as issues of political extortion, took place from the beginning of the White expansion in the Indian lands. In his book Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and politics, Nichols discusses the issues of oppression and violence against the Indian tribes committed by Politically appointed Indian Agents. These corrupted operatives used their positions to enrich themselves. Moreover, the author states that political corruption of the Indian Agents caused the Sioux Uprising of 1862. Throughout the history, the Indian tribes faced oppression, corruption, and victimization committed by the White people. Thus, when the authority is corrupted, then it loses its purpose and moral value. Without morality and justice in the most important governing institutions, the nation itself risks of becoming spoiled and unjust. The behavior of the federal government is the role model which citizens copy and are likely to behave in a similar way. Hence, without proper ethical standards, the world in general, will degrade and transform into ruin. Thereby, neglect on the part of the Federal Government and its involvement in the political corruption demonstrates urgent need for change.

Furthermore, the movie portrays Native American culture as being misunderstood by the White people. The depiction of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota conveys the beauty of the rolling prairie. The particular natural beauty can be paralleled to the customs and traditions of the Indians. In Thunderheart, respect for the family and its traditions are perfectly depicted. To be precise, the movie represents authentic aspects of Indian life, namely a large ceremonial powwow and a sweat lodge ceremony. Besides, one can witness the indigenous medical facilities, ways of treatment, and the rusted-out trailers that together create a picture of the reservation as “a third world right here in America”. Indeed, the Indian Reservation has been a wild and an untapped place before the Whites interfered into their lives. When the White people came to the Indian territory, they began to conduct the politics of oppression. Thus, the Native American culture faced many challenges.

At the same time, the ingenious beauty of the Indian Reservation is perfectly portrayed in Treuer's narrative Off the land: What subsistence really looks like. The author depicts the region of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation as “scrubby, dense, in places impassable, united by vast swamps and slow-draining creeks, rivers, and lakes”. Nevertheless, the main character of the narrative, Bobby, thinks of the time when the relationship between people and animals has been uncorrupted. Indeed, everything changed when the White people came and captured the Indian lands. The strict government of the Whites and the corrupted Indian agents negatively the influenced lives of Native Americans. Being guided by selfish motives and the desire for profits, the White settlers destroyed America's wildlife for the profit of the fur trade, victimized the indigenous populace, and neglected their culture. Therefore, the violence against the Indian culture and property is a crime committed against the entire world.

Moreover, the lack of understanding of the Native American culture by the white settlers is one more issue discussed in the movie, which deserves specific attention. People whose beliefs are different treat others prejudicially. The specific attitudes can be seen through interactions with others or appointment of stereotypical nicknames when addressing other humans. For example, Levoi's disdainfully refers to the Native Americans in the movie “Chief,” “Tonto,” “Geronimo,” and “Crazy Horse”. The abusive words have been ordinarily used by the Whites when they addressed the Indians. The particular references to the indigenous populace demonstrate the unfamiliarity with their world. In this respect, The White people's ignorance of the Native American culture, as well as the prejudicial thinking limits their understanding of the Indian beliefs and traditions. In this respect, the colonizing mindsets of the White people can be regarded as a barrier to the acceptance of the Native American culture. Nevertheless, it is important to respect and value the cultural heritage of the Native Americans. Additionally, the understanding of the Indian traditions is crucial not only for a single person but the whole nation.

Therefore, politics has a significant role in the governing of people's lives. While politics influences almost all realms of a person's life, it is crucial to maintaining high moral standards within the government institutions. In this respect, a corrupted government poorly impacts a society and the cultural heritage of the nation. Moreover, the Native American culture as depicted in Thunderheart, faces certain challenges, including lack of understanding by the White people. At the same time, the examination of the movie and literary sources show that the issues of politics and corruption, Native American culture, and the lack of its understanding refer not only to the Indian populace but the whole world. The oppression of a nation negatively influences others and can harm the world in general. Thus, it is important to respect and value each nation and culture to promote peace and cohesion all over the world.

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