Local Indians praise 'Dances with Wolves' as sympathetic portrayal


November 21, 1990|By Randi Henderson

The Indians are the good guys and the white men the bad guys in the new movie "Dances With Wolves." And that's just fine with Edward and James Simermeyer, whose mother is a Navajo and father is from the Coharie tribe.

thought the movie was awesome, it had everything," said James, 12, who is in the seventh grade at Friends School. "I liked it because it got rid of all the stereotypes about Indians."

"It was pretty accurate. It really makes me feel upset about the way the white men treated the Indians," added his brother Edward, 15, a 10th-grader at Friends.

"Dances With Wolves" opens today at Baltimore-area movie theaters. The Simermeyer brothers were among a group of American Indian youngsters from Baltimore who saw the movie last week in Washington and gave it rave reviews.

The movie also sparked a conversation about how being Indian is part of their lives -- at home, where they are taught about their ethnic background; at school, where they sometimes learn differing versions, and in their neighborhoods, where they occasionally encounter prejudice.

Bob Farley, 13, said that kids in his class at Deep Creek Middle School in Essex are interested in his heritage. His father is from the Oneida tribe and his mother is a Lumbee, the predominant tribe in theBaltimore area.

"I'm proud of being Indian," he said. "I bring in beadwork and they ask me questions. If I explain to the kids in my class that Indians aren't like they see on TV, [that] they don't go around scalping people, they believe me."

But even the director of the Baltimore American Indian Center, Barry Richardson, admits it can be difficult to get children to pay attention to their heritage.

"There's nothing on TV for Indians to identify with," he said. "It's all black or white, either white culture or African culture. And what makes our culture even harder to understand is that there are over 500 tribes in the United States, with their own sovereignty, their own languages. People want to put everybody into one mold."

"Dances With Wolves," which shows a diversity of personalities among Indians, stars Kevin Costner as a Civil War Army officer who elects to serve at an outpost on the American frontier, where he becomes friendly with and is gradually assimilated into an Indian tribe.

"Whites will probably be more sympathetic to Indians after seeing that movie," said Lillian Sparks, 15, whose mother, Georgelina, is Lakota Sioux, the tribe that was featured in the film. "I think I looked at it differently, not only from white people, but from other Indians too, because I'm a Sioux. It made me mad at the Pawnee."

The Pawnee in the movie are warlike, attacking the gentler Sioux and serving as guides for the white soldiers. The soldiers are depicted as insensitive louts -- with the single exception of Lt. John Dunbar, played by Kevin Costner.

Georgelina Sparks, who grew up in a home where Lakota was spoken, praised the authenticity of the Lakota language in the movie. (Muchof the dialogue is in Lakota with English subtitles.) Use of the language, she said, "showed the Sioux way of thinking. Your name, for example, has a whole lot of significance as to how you carry out your life." Ms. Sparks' Sioux name is Shield For Her People Woman.

These American Indian teen-agers said for the most part that they have not encountered discrimination because of their ethnic background. "Sometimes comments are made that annoy you," Edward said. "Like other kids will call you chief. Or people will treat you as someone different from them, someone who belongs on a reservation."

Edward is very critical of the way Indian culture and history is taught in U.S. schools.

"There's kind of huge gaps," he said. "You hear about the Indians when the settlers come, then you don't hear about them again. Is anyone ever taught that the U.S. Constitution is based on the laws of the Iroquois federation? And we're taught nothing in school about contemporary American Indians."

In an effort to preserve the culture of Native Americans, as they often call themselves, the Baltimore American Indian Center annually sponsors festivals and powwows like the one being held this week at Festival Hall (see box).

"It's a continuous struggle to help our kids understand their heritage and their identity," said Mr. Richardson, father of 14-year-old twins and a 6-year-old. Standing in Festival Hall, with Aztec dancers from Mexico on the stage behind him, the fragrant odors of buffalo stew and fried bread wafting around him, craftsmen exhibiting and selling jewelry and beadwork on all sides, Mr. Richardson spoke of just how difficult that struggle can be.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.