August 07, 2013

Bridge the Gap and Born to Explore

I watched two documentaries on the Lakota recently:

Bridge the Gap to Pine RidgeIn Bridge the Gap, host and global explorer Chris Bashinelli travels the world to experience life outside of his hometown—Brooklyn, New York. In this program, he visits the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to explore a culture all but expunged from the history books, that of the Oglala Lakota Native Americans. While there, he embarks on a life-changing buffalo harvest, gets “schooled” by the women’s college basketball team, visits with a 14-year-old suicide prevention activist, and finds himself shoulder deep up a cow’s backside while trying to better understand employment issues on the reservation. With humor and pathos, he uncovers stories of hope and learns how culture has prevailed in the face of adversity.

“What do you want people to remember about you?” Chris asks Martin Bad Wound, a respected community leader—“It ain’t just me I want you to remember. It’s my people. We ain’t all depressed, we ain’t all oppressed, we ain’t all alcoholics. We all want something out of life. We’re just like you.”
The words of Martin Bad Wound echo in Chris’s mind. Martin is a man living on the brink of death. He has a bleeding spleen, a vertebrae sticking through his lung, a club foot, diabetes, high blood pressure, and he needs open heart surgery. At 45-years-old he looks no less than 60. Martin is an Oglala Lakota Native American. What’s most remarkable is that despite his immense physical pain, he continues to put others first. Martin goes out into the community and finds day labor work for the reservation’s youth, helping to fight the staggering 80% unemployment rate. Martin represents a larger metaphor for the Lakota way of life, one that is not normally portrayed on American media outlets—selflessness. Tribe first. Self last.

24-year-old Chris Bashinelli immerses himself fully into Lakota culture on this most personal journey in order to flip the media’s “negative” lens. The adventure begins with a buffalo harvest. Witnessing a two thousand pound animal die completely shifts Chris’s perspective on food and sacrifice. Patricia Hammond, a community volunteer, leads the hunt and ceremony with reverence.

From there, Chris tests his skills on the court with the women’s college basketball team, embarrassing himself beyond belief. He learns that basketball is more than just a game in Pine Ridge, it’s a way out of poverty and into the classroom. He’s sees more proof of the giving spirit of the Lakota people when he meets a student, whose coach gave her food, clothing, and a home, for nearly 10 years—so she could receive her education.

A 12 hour day of ranch work with a young Lakota man named Marcus, reveals some unique correlations between the “Lakota” and the “Western” mentality. But it’s the evening with the Suicide Prevention program that is inspiring more than one could imagine. After a fourteen year old girl shares her story of attempting suicide, when Chris seems to have lost all hope, the group rallies with love in support of Chris, a complete stranger, to remind him of the importance of looking beyond ourselves.

Born to Explore
South Dakota: Sacred Land

In the Black Hills of South Dakota stands a memorial to Crazy Horse, a Lakota warrior who symbolizes the Native American spirit. This land is sacred land. Richard journeys out West to learn about the Lakota Nation, the original hunters of the Great Plains whose history revolved around the buffalo. Discover how the culture of the Lakota people is still very much alive and celebrated through art, dance and song. Join Richard as he discovers the legend of creation of the Lakota people and visits Wind Cave, the location where all life was said to originate.

Crazy Horse Monument! Erecting the teepee! Richard with Gus Yellow Hair! Taking notes from these skilled dancers! Richard climbing the teepee!

Rob's review

Both documentaries did a decent if superficial job. Both had a problem or two. Bridge the Gap was a little too much about Bashinelli and his misadventures. The white guy has to be the star in a Native drama.

This reached its climax when he became overwrought as the Lakota youngsters told him about trying to commit suicide. He went off to a corner where he tried to choke back sobs. The kids had to comfort him, even though they're the ones living with suicide every day. Poor white guy who can't imagine a life so hard that it impels people to kill themselves.

At the end, the Lakota watched the episode and had a few criticisms. They wanted to see a basketball game, a rodeo, a powwow. But no one said what they'd cut to make room for more segments. The show actually had a decent selection of slices of life.

Born to Explore was a little too gushing about Lakota spirituality. Everything inspired a sense of awe, even though it didn't go deeper than what you could read on thousands of Web pages. The Lakota believe all life is connected...wow.

Host Richard Wiese relied too heavily on stereotypes: buffalo, tipis, wolves, chiefs, warriors, dances, ceremonies, etc. Was it necessary to feature a white guy who makes buffalo-hide tipis? Especially since tipis aren't a part of everyday Lakota life? Or a Lakota artist who admires the wolf and the elk as well as the buffalo? What about the eagle and the bear? Can we talk about being one with nature without them?

But both Lakota docs gave a more positive and well-rounded view of the Lakota than the 2011 Children of the Plains special on 20/20. Bridge the Gap offered more scenes of people working and helping each other, while Born to Explore offered more history and culture. Bashinelli even criticized the US for treating the Indians unfairly.

All this should be unremarkable, but it's more than Diane Sawyer did. Even though she had more money and more experience--especially compared to the 24-year-old Bashinelli. If you had to learn about the Lakota from one of these shows, Bridge the Gap to Pine Ridge probably would be your best bet.

For more on the subject, see Pine Ridge Gets Media Attention and My Interview with Steven Lewis Simpson.

Below:  Gus Yellow Hair with host Richard Wiese.

2 comments:

John Platt said...

I watched Bridge the Gap last night. Decent, for one of those in-and-out-in-48-hours types of shows.

Rob said...

Yes, I give Bridge the Gap credit for showing several aspects of Pine Ridge we normally don't see.

I believe Diane Sawyer filmed Children of the Plains over a year or two. Yet she couldn't find any stories except the "poverty porn." That makes Bridge the Gap's accomplishments all the more impressive.