MN Native News: ‘Ohiyesa: Soul Of An Indian’ Documentary
MN Native News: ‘Ohiyesa: Soul Of An Indian’ Documentary
INTRO: This week on Minnesota Native News, we talk to historian and producer Dr. Kate Beane, who recently released the documentary, Ohiyesa: Soul of an Indian.
The documentary follows her on a journey – more than a decade long -- to examine the life and
historical significance of her relative, Charles Eastman, a celebrated Dakota writer and
Reporter Cole Premo has more.
[Sounds of documentary/intro remarks on Eastman]
Recently released documentary, “Ohiyesa: Soul Of An Indian”, explores the life of Ohiyesa, who is also known by his english name, Charles Eastman.
Born in 1858 in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, Ohiyesa was part of the last generation to experience how Dakota life was before the tribe’s removal from their native lands.
He was only 4 years old when the Dakota war occurred, also known at the Sioux uprising of 1862. With his father thought killed in the war, Ohiyesa then lived in exile for 11 years in Manitoba.
Then, his family settled in Flandreau in eastern South Dakota.
That family includes Dr. Kate Beane, who now lives in Minnesota and works at the Minnesota Historical Society. She co-produced the documentary along with her father, Syd Beane.
In the Dakota way, Ohiyesa is Kate Beane’s grandfather. In the english way, he’d be considered her great uncle.
KATE:“I would say that my grandfather, Charles Eastman, he lived a really interesting life. I think that he lived a life that really highlights and is reflective of a lot of the struggles our community has gone through, um, but is also distinct and a lot of different ways.”
The film is not just a biography.
Not only does the documentary offer a view of Ohiyesa’s life, the documentary also follows Kate Beane’s journey of looking into his life and her own journey as a Dakota scholar.
I asked her why this technique was used…
KATE: “That was my dad's decision. Um, and actually it was something that I fought for 12 years. My Dad essentially asked me if I would help him do you work or do research work on this documentary and I love being in the archives. I love doing research. Um, I'm a very private person and so I said, yeah, I would love to do it. Um, and then he kind of tricked me and turn the camera on me.”
Kate Beane says what she thought might be a straight documentary with some talking heads became much more personal.
KATE: “I also trust and love my father and his vision. And what he really felt is that in order for the story of my grandfather to be better understood today, that he needed a younger storyteller, that he needed to make it relatable to contemporary society in some way to also highlight the ways in which the work that my grandfather was doing this still the work that we're doing today to make connections to the past.”
Back to Ohiyesa: his life would include cutting off his long native hair, going to boarding school and later Dartmouth college -- where Kate Beane would attend over 100 years later.
KATE: “You know, we started the film, we didn't know that I was going to get the Charles Eastman fellowship at Dartmouth. I hadn't even met my husband yet. I didn't know it was gonna end up moving to Pine Ridge. Um, and so it's interesting to me now looking back and seeing the way in which our lives really did parallel each other.”
Eastman then got a medical degree at Boston College, becoming the nation’s second native doctor.
One part of his incredible life experiences includes being the agency physician in Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He said it was a bleak and desolate place, but it’s also where he says he realized the dream of his life, to be of some service to his people.
In 1890, he also experienced the Wounded Knee Massacre.
[EXCERPT OF THAT FROM DOCUMENTARY] 29:24
In fact, Dr. Kate Beane says part of what sparked the inspiration for her documentary was the dramatic HBO movie, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.
KATE: “Which was based on deep Brown's Book and which was a wonderful book, but the, the movie that they, that they showed, um, was very different than the book. And in fact, I think dee Dee Brown's descendants, I think his own son who was a historian, said they basically just took the title.”
She says that the TV story featuring her grandfather Charles Eastman was more fiction than truth.
KATE: ”They made him an English speaker who didn't understand his language. They also really changed our history and Lakota history and made for a confusing story that was really historically inaccurate.”
She says it was time for her family to speak up and tell his story correctly, in the documentary.
KATE: “I tried to get as much firsthand account information from relatives as possible as well as oral history interviews. And in doing that work, we started understanding our grandfather, Charles Eastman and in a very different way.”
Eastman is arguably best known for his writings. His first book, Indian Boyhood, was published in 1902.
KATE: “what I find really interesting in his writing is the way in which he starts talking about his life and Indian boyhood. And then from the deep was this civilization. And he kind of takes you on this journey with him. So Indian boyhood is from a child perspective, from the deep woods is from this young man's perspective. And as you went through live, his writing changed and became much more critical of the United States and of Christianity and of these things that he had embraced and he ended up going back to the woods because that's where he felt comfortable.”
Charles Eastman wrote a total of 11 books and all of them were successful, with many translated into multiple languages.
KATE: “our hope is that people honor him and remember him for what he contributed. And for the ways in which he helped share who we are as Dakota people with the world, you know, all the beauty of who we are and really focusing on on that positivity because that's a value that we have within the Dakota Wicohan, is to, to remember to be positive and to think about the beauty of who we are and where we come from.”
We only really scratched the surface of Eastman’s life… for more, you can stream or purchase the documentary “Ohiyesa: Soul of an Indian” online.
I’m Cole Premo.
This week on Minnesota Native News, we talk to historian and producer Dr. Kate Beane, who recently released the documentary, Ohiyesa: Soul of an Indian. The documentary follows her on a journey – more than a decade long — to examine the life and historical significance of her relative, Charles Eastman, a celebrated Dakota writer and physician.