Mothers and daughters fighting for indigenous rights in the American Indian Movement


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​BEST DOCUMENTARY - California's American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival | BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - American Indian Film Festival | HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - Educational Media Reviews Online | "Inspiring" - Booklist

Native American Studies • Women's Studies • Sociology • Ethnic Studies • Environmental Studies • American Studies • U.S. History • Human Rights

Date of Completion: 2018 | Run Time: 64 minutes​​ | Language: English | Captions: Yes | Includes: Transcript & Discussion Guide Directors: Christina D. King & Elizabeth A. Castle | Producer: Anna Marie Pitman

    In the 1970s, with the swagger of unapologetic Indianness, organizers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) fought for Native liberation as a community of extended families. WARRIOR WOMEN is the story of Madonna Thunder Hawk, one such AIM leader who shaped a kindred group of activists' children - including her daughter Marcy - into the "We Will Remember" Survival School as a Native alternative to government-run education. Together, Madonna and Marcy fought for Native rights in an environment that made them more comrades than mother-daughter. Today, with Marcy now a mother herself, both women are still at the forefront of Native issues, fighting against the environmental devastation of the Dakota Access Pipeline and for indigenous cultural values.

    Through their story, WARRIOR WOMEN explores what it means to balance a movement with motherhood and how activist legacies are passed down from generation to generation in the face of a government that has continually met Native resistance with mass violence.

    Alyosha Goldstein, Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico
    "A powerful and visually stunning film, Warrior Women tells the story of the Red Power era and the American Indian Movement as they have never been told before on screen. Interconnecting past and present, from the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island to the 1973 Wounded Knee stand-off to the 1980 Black Hills Survival Gathering to the water protectors at Standing Rock in 2016, this film is an indispensable lesson on the violence of United States colonialism and the central role of women in the making of Indigenous liberation. Warrior Women is an intimate portrait of Madonna Thunder Hawk and her daughter Marcella Gilbert and a vital historical document that brings to life the intergenerational work of collective freedom. Meticulously researched with extraordinary archival footage, Warrior Women is a uniquely compelling and inspiring film for teaching about the contemporary struggle for Indigenous liberation."

    Nick Estes, Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico Kul Wicasa, author of Our History is the Future
    "Warrior Women profoundly changes our understanding of the Red Power movement. From Alcatraz to Standing Rock, the film charts a familiar yet wonderfully unfamiliar course by telling the story of Indigenous women’s activism. While a compelling story of a mother and a daughter, it is also a story of a movement’s impact on generations of Native people. Clearly indispensable, without Indigenous women’s leadership there would have been no Indigenous movement yesterday, today, or tomorrow. It could not have come at a better time. Moving, inspiring, and hilarious, Warrior Women is a film that stirs us to action in an era when so much is at stake. The urgency and relevance is masterfully told through the full range of the Indigenous experience, a truly human experience—history, humor, violence, and the desire for freedom. An instant classic."

    Dina Gilio Whitaker, Colville Confederated Tribes, Lecturer of American Indian Studies at California State University San Marcos
    "For at least a generation, the story of the Red Power Movement has been told through a lens that gave us a limited view about the Indian activism of that period. What was missing until now were the voices of the women. Through the story of Madonna Thunder Hawk we are given a glimpse into the ways Native women shaped the movement, branched off into their own organizations, and leaned on each other to create a better world for all Indian people. With rarely seen footage and tons of humor, Warrior Women has earned its place in the canon of Red Power literature and film."

    Booklist Candace Smith
    "This inspiring program is a reminder that Civil Rights battles were fought on many fronts and often by grassroots activists. [...] Good resource for Civil Rights' studies."

    Educational Media Reviews Online (EMRO) Reviewed by LaRoi Lawton, Library & Learning Resources Department, Bronx Community College
    Highly Recommended
    "This film depicts the life of Lakota activist and community organizer Madonna Thunder Hawk, and her daughter, Marcy Gilbert, fighting for Indigenous and women's rights now covering over 50 years. Madonna Thunder Hawke and several other Native American women give an enlightening perspective of the perceived “Indian problem” during the heyday of the 1960’s and 1970’s ‘Native American’ civil rights struggle. The film follows their fight to challenge the South Dakota political and economic machines of the day to grab Native American land. At the same time, they are also teaching and re-educating their Native American children and peers on the real racial discord Native Americans have experienced at the hands of the political, economic, and social machines that initiated a legislated genocide of the Native American in South Dakota.

    They are mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. But above all else, these women are deeply rooted in their communities. All across time, and all around the globe, they are brandishing words of unique wisdom, and practical beliefs; they have fought battles in our U.S. Court system and faced off with large corporations attempting to take their lands to drill for oil, looking for precious metals and drilling pipe lines for the expansion of gas deliveries across the country. These awe-inspiring female fighters have each made an indelible mark on Native American history. The “Red Power Movement”, like the Civil Rights Movement will change our understanding of what it means to be a Native American in American society then and now. This film illustrates the real truth around the so-called “Indian problem “and what a group of people did to bring that truth into the light."

    Kansas History Reviewed by Tai S. Edwards, Johnson County Community College
    "A must-watch for anyone interested in Indigenous people's history and social justice organizing ... This film does excellent work expanding the social representations of Indigenous people in U.S. society to include twenty-first-century women activists. It also illustrates the long, difficult battle that Indigenous people and nations face to this day in dismantling entrenched, systemic colonialism and protecting their sovereignty."

    Point of View Magazine Chelsea Phillips-Carr
    "It is undeniable that Warrior Women is a necessary film. When we look at issues today like the Standing Rock protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it is obvious that there is so much more to be done. Learning about the history of Indigenous activism is a benefit to audiences who can better understand the background of North American settler colonialism and its enduring impact. But with the approach of championing the women of these movements, and how their labour and connections have gone beyond the activism in order to sustain cultures amidst struggle, the film offers a celebration of the mothers and daughters who continue to fight, together, for a better future."

    Black Girl Nerds Sezin Koehler
    "For those unfamiliar with the trajectory of Indigenous rights and resistance in America, Warrior Women is a great foundation for further study. It highlights the major events that shaped the movement to where we found it in the NODAPL Protests and hints at other events in between that intersect with the variety of civil rights movements developing in America since the 1960s. History is a spiral, and watching the legacies of a hundred years build through just an hour on screen is remarkable indeed. Warrior Women should be required viewing in history classes, and especially at high-school and college ages."

    George Foster Peabody Nominee
    Knowledge Award | Films-for-Future-Festival
    Best Feature Documentary | Black Hills Film Festival
    Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature | Cine Las Americas International Film Festival
    Best Documentary Short | The Roxbury International Film Festival
    Best Documentary | 14th Vancouver International Women in Film Festival
    Audience Award | BLACKSTAR Film Festival
    Cultural Currents Award | Victoria Film Festival, Canada
    Best Documentary | Los Angeles SKINS Film Festival
    Best Documentary Feature | San Francisco American Indian Film Festival
    Best Documentary | California’s American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival

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    Madonna Thunder Hawk, an Oohenumpa Lakota, is a veteran of every modern Native occupation from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee in 1973 and more recently, the NODAPL protest at Standing Rock. WARRIOR WOMEN is the story of Thunder Hawk’s lifelong career fighting for Native liberation, and the generations of activists she has shaped and inspired. Born and raised across the Oceti Sakowin homelands, she became a leader in the American Indian Movement in the 1960s and co-founded Women of All Red Nations and the Black Hills Alliance. In 1974, she established the We Will Remember Survival School as an act of cultural reclamation that provided a radical alternative to government-run boarding schools. An eloquent voice for Native resistance and sovereignty, Thunder Hawk has spoken throughout the United States, Central America, Europe, and the Middle East and served as a delegate to the United Nations in Geneva. In the last three decades at home on Cheyenne River, she has been restoring self-determination in reservation life. She works as the tribal liaison for the Lakota People's Law Project to fight the illegal removal of Native children from tribal nations into the state foster care system. She established the Wasagiya Najin "Grandmothers' Group" on Cheyenne River Reservation to help rebuild kinship networks and support the Nation in its efforts to stop the removal of children from Native families. GOOD TALK proceeds support this work.

    Dr. Elizabeth Castle brings almost 20 years of experience as a scholar, activist, and media-maker working in collaboration with Native Nations and underrepresented communities. WARRIOR WOMEN is based on research for her book Women were the Backbone, Men were the Jawbone: Native Women’s Activism in the Red Power Movement. Castle is a committed anti-racist ally and descends from the Pekowi band of the Shawnee in Ohio - both shape how she engages with community-based scholarship, media-making and organizing. While completing her Ph.D. at Cambridge University, she worked as a policy associate for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race and in 2001 she served as a delegate for the Indigenous World Association at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. While working as an academic specialist for UC Berkeley’s Oral History Office, she received the University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at UC Santa Cruz under the supervision of Professors Angela Davis and Bettina Aptheker. Dr. Castle was a professor in the Native Studies Department at the University of South Dakota and is the founder and Executive Director of The Warrior Women Oral History Project.
    Marcella Gilbert, featured in WARRIOR WOMEN, is the daughter of Madonna Thunder Hawk and a Lakota and Dakota community organizer with a focus on health education, food sovereignty, and cultural revitalization. Gilbert graduated from the We Will Remember Survival Group and at seventeen was a delegate to the International Indian Treaty Council to Geneva in 1977. She earned a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and worked as a Community Development Field Specialist for South Dakota State University Extension on Cheyenne River reservation. She works to reintroduce sustainable traditional foods and organic farming to her reservation as an expression of the most fundamental form of survival and empowerment. Gilbert currently works with the non-profit Simply Smiles where she manages a garden project that includes wild food identification, harvest, and food processing. She is also working on launching the pilot project of her own survival school Waniyetu Iyawapi (Winter Count) Mobile Learning Experience.

    Christina D. King is an enrolled member of the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma. Her work spans broadcast news, commercials, documentary, film, and television with a focus on human rights issues, civic engagement through storytelling, and democratizing filmmaking opportunities for marginalized voices. King most recently debuted the narrative feature film We The Animals at Sundance 2018 to critical success. The film was awarded the NEXT Innovator Award and was nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards. King’s other producing credits include This May Be The Last Time (Sundance 2014), which explores the origins of Native Mvskogee worship songs in Oklahoma, as well as the POV documentary Up Heartbreak Hill. King is based in un-ceded Lenape land in Brooklyn, New York.