Lakota Nation vs. the United States

Art can be a powerful tool for justice and activism. Can reach the heart when the mind is closed.

Following is an announcement about a documentary film that is being produced, Lakota Nation vs. the United States. The announcement helps explain why the Black Hills are a focus of #LANDBACK.

LOS ANGELES — Documentary film studio XTR announced on Tuesday it is making Lakota Nation vs. the United States, a feature-length documentary chronicling the Lakota Indians’ present-day quest to reclaim the Black Hills.

XTR is partnering with actor Mark Ruffalo and actress/author/activist and Emmy Award-winner Sarah Eagle Heart (Oglala Sioux) as executive producers on the documentary. Oglala Sioux Jesse Short Bull is directing the documentary alongside Laura Tomaselli. Benjamin Hedin is producing.

The Black Hills are considered sacred to the Lakota people, who say the land was stolen in violation of treaty agreements.

The film, which is currently in production, is the first documentary to amplify the tragic history of the land claim. Lakota Nation vs. the United States features interviews with a number of Indigenous citizens who are central to the effort to regain control of the Black Hills land that stretches across South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Adding to the team’s formidable strength are co-director Tomaselli and producer Hedin, the duo behind Sam Pollard’s critically acclaimed 2020 documentary, MLK/FBI.

“This is a timely story with powerful voices on screen and behind the scenes, driving essential change,” Ruffalo said. “The fight for Black Hills is far from over, and our intention is to support the Lakota people by raising awareness for the injustices they face in present-day America. The perception in many Americans’ minds is this is only historical, this ‘happened.’ What they don’t understand is that it is happening now. It is today, it is immediate and mostly hidden from your eye. This is a current issue.”

The testimony of the interviewees is complemented by a vibrant photographic aesthetic that depicts the sweeping immensity of the land as well as the reverence it inspires. The film also applies the subject of reparations within the context of the history of land theft and genocide, the U.S. government’s brutalist policy of extermination, for which no redress has been made to Indigenous nations.

“It is my life’s work to use powerful storytelling to share deep perspectives to implore social, environmental and Indigenous justice,” said Eagle Heart. “Knowledge and understanding are essential elements needed for advocacy and impactful change. The multilayered approach of this project helps accurately represent the Lakota people as we are now to allow healing and redressing.”

Highlighted in the film are Nick Tilsen, who was arrested protesting President Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore in July 2020, and activist Krystal Two Bulls.

This story is placed in the present movement to return the Black Hills to its rightful caretakers and spiritual ancestors is as meaningful as any conversation we are having about race and justice in America today. 

Mark Ruffalo, Sarah Eagle Heart Co-producing Film on Present-Day Fight for Black Hills by Native News Online staff, Sept 21, 2021

This story is placed in the present movement to return the Black Hills to its rightful caretakers and spiritual ancestors is as meaningful as any conversation we are having about race and justice in America today.

But (Nick) Tilsen said he wants to use the monument as a way to teach truth — in a way that uncovers the country’s flawed history. He wants Mount Rushmore closed, then reopened under tribal control and with a new name — the Six Grandfathers Tribal Park, for the Lakota name of the rock formation where the monument is carved.

“What ends up happening at Mount Rushmore, we actually tell the true history of this land,” he said. “We tell the history of the treaties, we tell the history of these men that are on the mountain and what their policies were like,” adding that could spark conversations about how the history is connected to current issues among Native American communities, including high rates of poverty and incarceration.

Lakota activist: Mount Rushmore key in move to regain land. When then-President Donald Trump visited Mount Rushmore last year for a fireworks display, Lakota activist Nick Tilsen saw an opportunity to advance the Land Back Movement by STEPHEN GROVES Associated Press, March 24, 2021

Here are links to what I wrote about last year’s protests at Mount Rushmore, which two of my friends attended.

LANDBACK is a movement that has existed for generations with a long legacy of organizing and sacrifice to get Indigenous Lands back into Indigenous hands. Currently, there are LANDBACK battles being fought all across Turtle Island, to the north and the South. 

As NDN Collective, we are stepping into this legacy with the launch of the LANDBACK Campaign as a mechanism to connect, coordinate, resource and amplify this movement and the communities that are fighting for LANDBACK. The closure of Mount Rushmore, return of that land and all public lands in the Black Hills, South Dakota is our cornerstone battle, from which we will build out this campaign. Not only does Mount Rushmore sit in the heart of the sacred Black Hills, but it is an international symbol of white supremacy and colonization. To truly dismantle white supremacy and systems of oppression, we have to go back to the roots. Which, for us, is putting Indigneous Lands back in Indigenous hands. 

LANDBACK Manifesto

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