May 11, 2007

Daniel Giat on Bury My Heart

Interview with Daniel GiatHBO: In working on this project, what did you learn about the assimilation of the American Indian?

Daniel Giat: Well the US government believed that only by imposing white education, white religion, white culture on the reservations, and by, insuring that the Native Americans on the reservations became land holders, and US citizens, that was the best way to insure their survival. The government wanted to assimilate the Indians as quickly as possible into American society. On the surface that might sound like a very positive program. But in fact there was something very arrogant about it. And it really meant the cultural extermination of these people, which is what happened on many reservations.

HBO: Where did you discover Charles Eastman's story?

Daniel Giat: I don't remember which book it was, but when I came across Charles Eastman, it was an absolute revelation, and it was obvious this was the story to tell. Here is a man who had begun as a young boy, living in Sioux society, was taken away from that, and for many years, totally appreciated what white civilization, and Christianity had afforded him. But once he came to Pine Ridge, as physician, the only physician among some 7,000 Sioux, at the Pine Ridge Reservation, he saw what conditions were really like. And, when the Massacre at Wounded Knee took place, it was a sea change for him. And it shattered him. And it's something from which he himself said, he never really fully recovered.

HBO: What do you hope audiences leave with after they see this film?

Daniel Giat: A very important thing happened when I visited the Pine Ridge and Standing Rock, and Rosebud reservations, something was asked of me which stuck with me, and that was, please don't end this story at Wounded Knee. This shouldn't be the story of a massacre. This should not be the story of the end of a people. This should be the story of survival. Because the Sioux did not cease to exist at Wounded Knee. Hundreds of people, innocent people were killed there. But that society exists. And the poverty is terrible, certainly, on the reservation, but these people are struggling to survive, and they are succeeding in a very, very important way. There have been huge barriers set against them. But these people do survive as best they can. Certainly they need help. They need aid. But they are alive, they are vital; they have brought back into their lives many of the customs which had been eradicated from their daily lives by the US Government, including dancing, ritual events; burial customs. There are re- enactments every year of the trek which was made to Wounded Knee by Chief Bigfoot and his people. They have enormous respect for their own history, and it's important that we learn that history as well.

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