So I love watching films about Native Americans but there are a lot of movies where they’re portrayed as the “villains.” Few movies actually portray the truth of history, that the Native Americans were fighting to protect and preserve their land, culture, people, and way of life. However, over the years, I’ve found a few great ones and I wanted to share them all with you today so that you can enjoy movies about Native Americans that correctly portray them and their culture!
This is counting down in order of my favorites, although I love them all!
This is a great movie told from the perspective of Tecumseh. He was a warrior who fought against white men and tried to support the British at first during the French and Indian War with the hopes that the British would let them stay on their lands. It really shows how many treaties the white men broke and how Tecumseh’s people, as well as other Native Americans, lost their homelands and were pushed further and further west. It shows him as a hero to his people, which is what he was.
I saw this movie as a child a lot and wasn’t able to see it until last year sometime, but it’s amazing! It shows the story of Squanto and the first thanksgiving and how much he went through. It shows how Native Americans in the east coast were often taken and shown off in England like animals. They were treated like animals. It also brings out the fact that many of them were killed by white men’s diseases that completely wrecked their populations, including Squanto’s tribe. Yet in the end, Squanto was able to make peace between a tribe he stayed with and the Pilgrims, so peace was possible. It’s just sad that that isn’t how things stayed.
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
I will warn you, this is a tragic story but it’s completely historical. Its shows Wounded Knee for what it really was—a massacre, even though in history books, it’s written as a battle. Dozens, if not hundreds of innocent and unarmed Native American men, women, and children were slaughtered and it was called the last Native American battle. Yet an event like the Boston Massacre, which was still a terrible event, where only five people died, was called a Massacre. History is written by the victors, they say. When I watch this movie, it makes me ashamed of what our ancestors did to the Native American people but it correctly portrays the horrors of what they endured.
- Cheyenne Warrior
So this only has one Native American in the entire movie and takes place in an old outpost in the frontier somewhere, but I love it because the main character and the good guy is a Native American warrior and the bad guys are actually white men. That doesn’t often happen and even though the story is random (and entertaining) it meant a lot to me to see the roles finally reversed).
This probably isn’t the Geronimo movie you’re thinking of with Matt Damon in it (although that’s a good movie too). Geronimo was thought to be a criminal, basically, so I love this movie so much because it shows him as just a man full of grief. We get to see his back story and though, I’m not sure if these events are true or just for the movie, it makes me really feel for the actual man in history. He lost several wives and back then, it is a widely known fact that his Native American tribe were often scalped for money. It’s heart-wrenching what Geronimo and his people went through and this is one of the best movies to see if you want to see the truth behind Native Americans and what they endured.
- The Last of the Mohicans
I feel like this is a classic and there are only three (technically only two) Native American men in the entire film. It brings out the point that they’re the last of their kind and how much they try to keep their way of life alive. It does show some Native Americans as fighting alongside the French in the French and Indian War, but it also brings out the Mohican characters in the film and how good they are. It’s a fantastic movie and a great love story and by the end of the movie, I feel that it really shows how much the Native Americans lost as a culture and a people.
- Into the West
Into The West is actually more of a mini-movie series rather than a single film, but I had to add it to this list. It’s literally one of the best I’ve ever seen and it just doesn’t stop at one specific time period. You follow the story of several characters, both a white man and his family and a couple Native Americans. Throughout each episode, you get to see how these two families briefly encounter each other and their lives merge. They grow up, have children and you follow their children’s’ lives. It shows the West and how it changed from Native Americans having their freedom, to being taken over until their way of life was gone, replaced by the railroad, growing towns, and people searching for gold. It shows the railroad workers and their struggles and follows this great story. It literally shows the story of the West unfurled before our eyes and it endears to my heart ever since I saw it. It’s also great if you want to learn about most of the history during the latter 1800s.
- Crazy Horse
I have watched this movie over and over again. It’s one I feel not only correctly portrays Native American people but shows Crazy Horse and who he truly was. It shows his side of the story and gives us the Native American side during the Battle of the Little Bighorn. So often, Crazy Horse and the Native Americans who beat Custer and his men were portrayed as vicious monsters for what they did, especially during that time. But in fact, they were protecting their home! Their women and children were going to be killed by those soldiers, so they had every right to defend their home and their people. This movie really brings that out as well as helps us understand more about Crazy Horse and who he might have been as a man.
- Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman
Technically, this is a TV Show, but I couldn’t pass it up either. It’s one of my favorites and one of the best shows of all time, despite its age. It goes through several different storylines but one ongoing story throughout the series constantly shows the Native Americans and their struggles. We follow a woman doctor who travels to a town in Colorado during a time when women weren’t typically allowed to become doctors. She befriends many people, including a local Cheyenne Tribe and often helps them, against the wishes of the people. Eventually, she’s forced to watch them be slaughtered and be hauled off onto Reservations, which is exactly what happened to all Native American people.
- Dances With Wolves
This is definitely my all time favorite and has been ever since I was a child. I always did love it, but as I grew older, I appreciated its truth and accuracy to history and Native American culture more and more. A soldier during the Civil War ends up on a post on the frontier and ends up befriending a local Lakota tribe. In his mind, they were all portrayed as savages, but he comes to love the people and their way of life. He learns that they’re not savages. Part of the movie, John Dunbar, the main character says, “I have never met a people more devoted to family.” They laugh and joke, and it really just shows how Native Americans were normal people with wives, husbands, children, normal lives, and that they were losing their entire way of life. That what was done to them was brutal and cruel, which is brought out in the movie. But I like that it shows how cruel white soldiers were and how much they hated Native Americans—so much that they would even beat one of their own who defected and became one, in their eyes. This will always be my favorite Native American movie and if you haven’t seen it, you really should.
Whether you watch Native American movies or you don’t, I hope you check out some or all of the movies on this list. We need to be educated about the history of this country and what they went through, what we whites put them through. I’m very passionate about them and many Native American cultures, which are still struggling to stay alive today.
Let’s not forget who were here before us!