If you really want to feel bad about the United States, you need only read up a bit on how we have treated Native American peoples (i.e., those living here before the Europeans arrived) over the years. Many historians use the term genocide with respect to this sorry history, and if you think that just happened in the bad old days before your own lifetime, you need to think again. For a contemporary example, you need look no further than the disheartening sequence of events regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP) and the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to having it built near their land.
The action in Shannon Kring’s documentary End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock centers around the 2016 protests against the construction of the DAP, which threatened the water supply* of people living on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation as well as the sanctity of their burial grounds and other cultural sites. These protests grew to include over 10,000 people and gained international attention, while the brutal police response, including some footage shown here for the first time, resulted in a rebuke from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.
Kring’s subject is much broader than just what happened in 2016, and includes an overview of the abuses suffered by Native Americans over the generations. Besides land theft, these include forced sterilization and placement of children in residential schools aimed at destroying their links to their own culture, the latter illustrated by some truly cringeworthy film clips touting the success of the school in making the Native children look more like white people. In other words, the DAP is just one in a long series of encroachments on Native life, and, regardless of the odds, sometimes people just have to fight for their lives and their land.
Above all, End of the Line offers a portrait of a number of women involved in defending their culture and their land. These include Wašté Win Young, a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and enrolled citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; Phyllis Young, a founding member of the American Indian Movement; Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, one of the earliest leaders to help organize the fight against the DAP; activist Sky Roosevelt-Morris; and ethnobotanist Linda Black Elk, PhD. Each is given the time and space to articulate their specific history and connection to the protests, as well as their understanding of the history of relations among Native Americans, their land, and white settlers.
End of the Line presents a strong case for a righteous cause, and makes its points all the more effectively because it’s an absolutely beautiful film. I’ll admit to a bit of prejudice since I grew up on the Great Plains, but the prairie has seldom looked better than it does in Marc Gerke’s cinematography. The soundtrack, by Neil Kring and Ville A. Tanttu, is both expressive and appropriate, and even the credits sequences are enlivened by charming animated art sequences courtesy of Brad Cornelius and Dan Walden.
*In case you were wondering, the threat is real. The pipeline was originally going to run north of Bismarck, capital of North Dakota, but city leaders objected because an oil spill from the pipeline could pollute the city’s water supply. So, the DAP was rerouted south of Bismarck, in a way that endangered not only the water supply for the Standing Rock Reservation, but also for the millions of people further south who also get their water supply from the Missouri River. | Sarah Boslaugh
End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock is currently receiving its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival, running Feb. 12-25. Information about how to view this film is available from the festival web site.