A partnership between the Seminole Tribe’s Native Driven Network, under Seminole Media Productions (SMP), and Warrior Society Development Productions, is reaping praise at film festivals and university screenings nationwide.
“7th Generation” explores a late 19th century prophesy by the legendary Lakota Medicine Man and spiritual leader Black Elk. The 45-minute film won for Best Documentary Feature at the LA Film Festival in Hollywood, California on April 8. In January, the film took the Inspiration Award at Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Sunshine Frank, the film’s executive producer and broadcasting manager for SMP, said the idea began to jell in 2013 when SMP professionals filmed Oglala Lakota member and motivational speaker Jim Warne, founder of the San Diego, California-based Warrior Society Development, during a Native Learning Center event on the Hollywood Reservation.
“We had the right story and the right team at the right time,” Frank said.
Warne’s compelling lecture addressed the seventh generation philosophy rooted in a vision experienced by Black Elk that prophesied the Dec. 29, 1890 massacre of 300 Lakota in Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
Black Elk, who later witnessed the aftermath of the brutal killings by the U.S. Army, revealed that it would take seven generations to heal the broken circle of life caused by centuries of constant oppression that reached a peak on that day. It was indeed the last great battlefield defeat of an Indian Tribe before indigenous peoples fell under the grip of systematic U.S. government control.
Estimations vary on the number of indigenous people killed by disease or slaughter as part of extermination measures since the arrival of Europeans in the mid-1500s. Numbers could average to about 10 million.
“Some people would say it is too hard to hear, but it happened. We teach about African American slavery and the Holocaust during World War II, but we don’t teach the truth about Indian history,” Warne said. “It’s hard for America to say out loud that a holocaust happened here, but millions upon millions of indigenous people were killed to make America. Instead, they cut out pilgrim hats and Indian headdresses and made up a story about friendship. That is the Native frustration.”
Believers of Black Elk’s vision say it refers back to the Wounded Knee Massacre and that the children of the seventh generation are the youth of today. Warne said telling the story at lectures and in the film makes way for healing.
Warne, who accepted the Inspiration Award at Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival after the viewing, said many spectators responded to the film with tears.
“There were tears and appreciation and I was able to provide counseling. It is hard information to take in but once we learn about it together we can heal together,” Warne said.
Film director John-L Voth, who in 2013 was SMP’s senior editor, took the lead in establishing a relationship with Warne that led to SMP hosting Warne’s lecture series, called the 7th Generation Project, throughout Seminole reservations in 2014.
“When I pitched the story for the film I did not know the weight of it because I was looking through an American lens. I had to go on the journey to figure it out,” Voth said.
Former SMP videographer Omar Rodriguez and current SMP writer and sound specialist Ishma Fray took the mission on the road with Voth, primarily through the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Voth and Rodriguez took the first trip alone in the dead of winter, knocking on doors in minus-10 degrees weather. All three met with Warne months later to fine tune the project.
The documentary trailer alone shows the mass grave of those killed at Wounded Knee, a Sept. 24, 1863 newspaper clipping from The Daily Republican in Minnesota that advertised “$200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory …” and June Braveheart’s firsthand account of forced boarding school “worse than boot camp.”
Rows and rows of headstones still stand in fields on boarding school grounds at the graves of children who died from abuse and neglect while “imprisoned” like animals through the 1900s.
“We were herded around like cattle,” said Warne’s mother Beverly Warne, who attended Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school in Pine Ridge during the 1940s.
The film reveals that for many, like Beverly Warne, forced participation in BIA programs bolstered determination to rise though education and leadership.
For others, the trauma of their ancestors is still manifested today through social ills that include extreme rates of drug and alcohol abuse and the highest mortality rate among all races in the United States.
Suicide at Pine Ridge among Oglala Lakota youth is 3.2 times higher than the national average, which caused tribal leaders in February 2015 to call a state of emergency.
The Native Driven Network team, including Voth, reported several feature stories and an anti-suicide public service accouncement. Voth said he witnessed hope among the trials. Fray said he saw “the way out” through leaders who include activist Virgil Bush and Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, the outreach coordinator for the Sweet Grass Suicide Prevention Project
“Black Elk didn’t only talk about the bad things, the pain and the suffering. He saw the way out. He gave a voice to the coming generations who would lead the people out of the problems. What is happening today is a story bigger than poverty,” Fray said.
So far, Warne has presented the film “7th Generation” at the London Shows International Film Festival, the California American Indian Indigenous Film Festival, the LA Skins Fest at Culver Studios in Los Angeles, the American Indian Film Festival, and the NatiVisions Film Festival in Arizona.
He also screened the film at lectures at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona; Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma; Arizona State University in Tempe; and the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls.
Warne said he aims to make the 7th Generation Project a movement that motivates young indigenous people to learn the Indian ways and to keep their “tribal heart” but to go out into the world and become educated leaders in the contemporary American system.
“The seventh generation is the youth of today. They have a lot of challenges, as the ancestors did, but the generation is here to succeed … I am a firm believer that one among this seventh generation will be a president of the United States,” Warne said.