Project Update: Depiction and Representation of Indigenous Beliefs

One of the main goals of my project is to present seemingly conflicting worldviews and explore how to resolve their contradictions, particularly among sources of Indigenous origins or that relate to Indigenous perspectives of events. This can be demonstrated through comparing Indigenous oral traditions such as creation stories, which allows us to explore the structure of differing legends between Tribes and perhaps even among a single Tribe. It can also be demonstrated through contemporary pieces of evidence describing the same events, such as ledger art pieces and written records.

In both of these scenarios, the audience of the source materials, whatever it may be, is confronted with items telling an apparent truth. In order to make sense of these sources, the audience (or audience member) needs to become familiarized with the ways to evaluate them as pieces of evidence so as to construct a fuller picture or gain a deeper understanding of the narrative(s) being presented. When conflicting worldviews are being weighed against each other, the observer of these worldviews also needs to check their positionality so as to gauge how they are interpreting the material.

To prepare those visiting my site to review the actual sources, these are the types of things that will need to be described at the outset. I plan on creating an introductory section of the website that will cover elements of historical thinking and that primes the audience/audience member to evaluate conflicting worldviews. One way I will do this is by presenting them with a clip from the film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007):

This is a feature film based off the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. In this clip, we are shown an obvious conflict between Sitting Bull and General Nelson Miles–not just over their demands of each other as warring parties, but an exchange of beliefs over the origins of the Lakota and how they came to be on the lands they now reside. This conflict references their beliefs, as solidified in their creation story, and challenges them through an explicit refutation with an implicit presentation of opposing beliefs.

Though not part of the actual exercises themselves, this clip will serve well to demonstrate the aim of the project: exploring the conflict between sources and understanding the context surrounding the conflicts of the sources. Using this clip as an example, thinking historically about the depiction helps us to understand the greater narratives and facts around Nelson’s refutation of Sitting Bull’s beliefs. Even though Nelson’s version of history seems to be based on a factual recalling of events compared to the “fanciful” beliefs of Sitting Bull, Nelson’s perspective is ultimately a justification for Manifest Destiny and westward expansion, projecting a malevolent behavior onto the Lakota that warrants retaliation, but refuses to acknowledge (either purposefully or out of ignorance) that according to his own worldview, the Lakota’s existence on the Great Plains and near the Black Hills is owed largely to the very same westward expansion Nelson is trying to proliferate.

I will briefly walk the audience through the historicity of the clip and the cultural perspectives expressed in the actual film from Sitting Bull and Nelson. I will compare this to existing narratives and notions around what is being discussed between the characters. Doing this should contextualize the film enough to offer the visitor(s) to the project a baseline understanding so they can begin thinking historically and apply this thinking to the other sources presented in the project.

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