The first half of the documentary explores the history of the Oglala Lakota and the events that lead to their confinement on the reservation and the genocidal actions that were heaped upon them.
We open with the story of origin of the Lakota people told by Russell Means, who has
been described by the LA Times as the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull
and was a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Their way of life is detailed and upon the arrival of the Europeans how it was drastically changed. Key events covered include the Battle of the Little Big horn and the killing of Custer, the Wounded Knee Massacre, the treaties and the decimation of the buffalo to the point of extinction.
After confinement to the reservation commences, the programs instigated by the US
government to destroy their way of life kick in. The encroachment of religion takes hold
and young Lakota children are stolen from their families by threat of jail and starvation and are sent across country to brutal boarding schools where many of the children didn’t make it out alive.
In the early 1970’s AIM emerges as a forceful civil rights organization and the FBI tries to destroy them through the COINTELPRO program. Pine Ridge becomes its front line
leading to the Wounded Knee occupation of 1973 where over 71 days the US government fired approx half a million bullets at AIM activists and residents of Wounded Knee. Over the subsequent 3 years the “Reign of Terror” commenced on Pine Ridge where AIM activists and supporters were targeted and a similar percentage died and disappeared compared with the death squads of Chile under General Pinochet.
The second part of the documentary explores contemporary life on the reservation where today men have a life expectancy in their mid 40’s, suicide is rampant, unemployment is over 80%, homelessness is so extreme 3 to 5 families may share a broken up 3 room trailer house.
Through unprecedented access to the reservation our subjects in the documentary cover a broad cross-section of the population of Pine Ridge, from activists to tribal presidents to the US governments representative on the reservation. A Thunder-Being Nation is probably the most comprehensive look at the cause and effect of life on an American Indian reservation.