The documentary “Women of the White Buffalo” explores the myriad challenges that indigenous people face on reservations, as well as the historical roots of these social ills. The story is told by Lakota women living in the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations in South Dakota, where rampant alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty and violence threaten the way of life of the Lakotas and future generations.
Director Deborah Anderson has interviews with nine women (and one man), ranging in age from 10 to 98, as they try to heal generations of trauma in their communities. And while the film doesn’t have a clear storyline, together these stories draw a line between the historical genocide and displacement that indigenous peoples suffer from and the current poverty in reservations.
Vandee Khalsa-Swiftbird is a sex trafficking survivor who now works for other victims, raising a young girl whose troubled mother could no longer care for her. Julie Richards founded the nonprofit Mothers Against Meth Alliance after her own daughter became addicted to methamphetamine. And SunRose IronShell is a high school teacher who helps her students process their trauma through art.
Children play a prominent role throughout the film, whether they are riding horses or dancing in traditional clothing. This choice helps to plant the documentary firmly in the present, to shed light on the past but not to dwell on it. Indeed, the Lakota women seem more interested in solutions and in instilling a sense of self-worth and self-determination in indigenous children. The way forward, they seem to agree, is to return to their spiritual roots. Delacina Chief Eagle, a young woman who became addicted to meth after her brother died, said of her recovery, “I found myself, through my culture, through my family, through the kids.”
Women of the White Buffalo
Not judged. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV providers.