The Soft Hearted Sioux Summary

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Evident throughout written history, there are relatively high number of examples of the unfair treatment of Native Americans by the American settlers of the 13 colonies. Many of those examples include numerous broken treaties and agreements between the Americans and the Natives. In the film Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, the portrayal is fairly accurate in showing the effects of the treatment by the Americans towards the people of the Sioux tribe. Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee begins by telling to the audience of how the Battle of Little Bighorn had transpired.

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The film shows the ‘whites’ approaching for an attack to claim the mines on the Black Hills, rumored to be filled with gold, in 1867. In response to the attack, the Sioux tribe retaliated and had won over the battle by killing the leader Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and all of his men. In the aftermath of the battle, Ulysses S. Grant and his associate Henry Dawes were led to take action in resolving the situation with the Sioux. Fast forward in the film showing Dawes calling upon Red Cloud, a Sioux tribe leader, and threatening him to sign a treaty. 

The scene then moves onto a young boy named Ohiyesa, later to be known as Charles Eastman, being taken from his tribe to be in a white settlement along with his Christian father. Charles’ development shows how he had grown up to be the insight for the Americans into the Sioux people’s minds and was to aid Dawes in developing a plan, called the Dawes Act. Later on, the movie changes to Sitting Bull negotiating with the enemy whom the Sioux people had called Bear Coat. In the negotiation with Sitting Bull, Bear Coat discusses plans for the Sioux people and how they could profit by giving up lands. He begins to place blame of the battle on the Native Americans and made incredible threats towards the Sioux, causing Sitting Bull to move the Lakota tribe north to Canada. The rules of the land of Canada are considered to be more fair, where the offer of the Canadians was more lucrative and kept very fair rules. Although Canada is a nice and safe land to live upon, the weather was harsh and caused many children to fall ill. In the end, the Lakota people left Canada to fulfill their want of fighting the Americans. Although too prideful to leave with the men, Sitting Bull joined the men later on the conditions had worsened. As he walked into the settlement where the men had settled, he understood how powerless he was against the white man. During this time, Charles hears of how the Sioux people are being taken care of from his future wife, Elaine Goodale. 

This action causes him to come down to the Sioux people to do his position as a trained physician; it was then he then truly saw the condition of the Native Americans and began to distrust the overseer. Dawes then calls the people together to present them a better deal in which they would sell their land for $12 million dollars. Yet the Sioux people did not give in, as they believed their families would not survive on 160 acres alone. It was then that Sitting Bull goes against the idea of the Americans and the chief Red Cloud, who was the first to surrender after the Battle of Little Bighorn, supports Sitting Bull and admits that he would have fought back if he had the same passion and mindset. With Charles Eastman remembering his roots, he confronts Dawes on how unfair his negotiation was but Dawes retaliated as he helped create the plan.

 Charles goes against Dawes and then a dramatic image of Charles recognizing his culture is played. Finally, the screen goes black only to explain that the taking of the Sioux land was unjustified and the native Americans were compensated for these actions (Yves, 2013). The Dawes Act was displayed in the movie as a forcible taking of land from the Native Americans, leaving them with lands that are ultimately unliveable, with the only compensation of unwanted money. The Dawes Act displayed in the movie was also a fair showing of the attitudes and an accurate representation of what the Act had carried out. The Sioux opinion against the Dawes Act is reinforced throughout the entire movie, as the Americans have the goal of claiming the Black Hills and more land to settle, while the Sioux people are offended by this offer as it is insufficient in land to make a living and feed a family. The Dawes Act is defined as “an act to provide for the allotment of lands in severalty to Indians on the various reservations, and to extend the protection of the laws of the United States and the Territories over the Indians, and for other purposes” (‘Dawes Act.’ 1). 

The Americans believed that this would benefit both them and the Sioux people, and were under the idea that the Native Americans were “primitive” and did not believe they could live on the same land as them (‘The Dawes Act.’). This was also seen in the film as Henry Dawes speaks to Charles Eastman about bringing the Sioux people out of this primitive state, and how the act will bring them towards being civilized. The Dawes Act proposed that the Sioux people will be placed onto a reservation and given land to farm and live, “To each head of a family, one-quarter of a section; To each single person over eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; To each orphan child under eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section”(‘Dawes Act.’ 1), here it shows directly from the act the amount of land a person receives. The act later goes to say that anyone under eighteen born before the President begins to direct the lands, receives one-sixteenth of a section. This information explains the reasoning as to why Sioux people had complained that they would not be able to raise a family on such land. The Act also expected of the Sioux people to farm and become self sufficient, something Sitting Bull had complained about in the film saying that they use the land to hunt and forage, not grow crops. An article speaks of how the Sioux people do not know how to own their own land for they all work together, “Rather, land was communally owned and everyone worked together to gather what they could from the land and shared its bounty” (Pevar ). Another event supporting the accuracy of the movie, is the leading of the Sioux tribe north to Canada, occuring because of Sitting Bull’s fear for the safety of his group. After the Battle of Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull was worried that the Americans would retaliate and formed smaller groups. As feared, the Americans had started attacking fellow groups, so Sitting Bull made the decision to move the Lakota tribe up north to Canada ( The same was shown within the film as Sitting Bull brought up his Lakota tribe. Sitting Bull was met with Canadian officials and offered land and resources. In an article written by Grant Macewan, it states, “ 

James Morrow Walsh met with Sitting Bull and assured him protection from the US army in exchange for peaceful compliance of Canadian law. The two men established a friendship built on mutual respect and admiration” (Macewan, 2007). Later on in the same article, it speaks of how the Canadian government wanted to rid of the Sioux people as they were scared of war between tribes. It says, paraphrased, the Canadian government wanted to rid of the Sioux tribe as they feared it would incite warfare between tribes, so they had refused Sitting Bull’s request for a reserve. American hunters set fires along the border to cut off the food source of Buffalo. The canadians would add toward the starvation by refusing to give food, and gradually as a result, the Sioux people returned to the United States for the offered American rations (Macewan, 2007). Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee did not show this canadian hostility nor the burning of trees, but did show the pride of the Chief as he was the very last person to leave even after many other had returned to their land. This is shown when it is said, “Among the last to surrender to the threat of starvation was the old chief, who was finally settled at Standing Rock Reserve in North Dakota in 1881” (Macewan, 2007). 

Finally, the last but most important event was the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Battle of Little Bighorn was the sole major event to start the drawing of the Dawes Act. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee showed little of the battle but began by setting the scene for the battle, and continued to show the Americans getting ready to attack the Native Americans. Later in the film,it began to show the Native Americans retaliating to an American attack. One specific scene shows a man getting scalped by a Sioux, one of the very well-known moves of the tribes. Lieutenant Custer had 600 men enter the valley at mid-day June 25, 1876. The Battle of Little Bighorn got its name because it was fought near the river of Little Bighorn valley in Montana( While not a big part of the movie, Crazy Horse played a big role in the battle itself. In an article written by Thomas Powers, he said, “At just this moment someone near the timber cried out, “Crazy Horse is coming!” From the Indians circling around behind the soldiers came the charge word—“Hokahey!” Many Indians near the woods said that Crazy Horse repeatedly raced his pony past the soldiers, drawing their fire—an act of daring sometimes called a brave run” (Powers, 2010). 

Here it shows Crazy Horse in a courageous act as they fight Custer. The Americans were overtaken quite quickly, with the article stating, “The whites had the worst of it. More than 30 were killed before they reached the top of the hill and dismounted to make a stand” and “Two Moons said he saw soldiers ‘drop into the river-bed like buffalo fleeing.’ The Minneconjou warrior Red Horse said several troops drowned” (Powers, 2010). Here it clearly shows the Americans at an immediate disadvantage. In the movie, it was shown that the Americans were circled up by horse riders, indicating their defeat and their deaths, leading to the first instances of the idea of the Dawes Act. In conclusion, the Sioux people were greatly affected in numerous ways by the greedy nature of the American settlers. If the battle had never been started, the relationship between the two groups could have been drastically different than as seen today. The effect of the battle was the hostility between the Americans and the Native Americans, as no fair compromise was ever made available. The tension between the two sides causes fear to strike at the leader Sitting Bull, ultimately causing the move towards Canada. The move to Canada was not any better for the Sioux, and in fact was worse enough to cause the move back to the United States and the Sioux resigning towards accepting the Dawes Act in its final form. To this day, the Sioux will see the signing event of the Dawes Act as a scar in the Native American history.   

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The Soft Hearted Sioux Summary. (2021, May 09). Retrieved from