“This country is built on the bones of our ancestors. We have our culture, we have our way of life. We have our language. What we’re trying to do is retain it. Retain our right as a people to be Indian.” — Madonna Thunder Hawk
Warrior Women (2018) explores the power of mothers and daughters as it documents the inspiring story of American Indian Movement (AIM) activist, Madonna Thunder Hawk.
Co-directed and co-produced by two powerhouse women — Christina D. King and Elizabeth A. Castle — the idea for the film stemmed from Castle’s PhD: Women were the Backbone, Men were the Jawbone: Native Women’s Activism in the Red Power Movement.
King is a member of the Seminole Nation with Creek, Sac and Fox heritage.
“We [the creators] always felt that there was something wrong with the traditional academic practice of researching, and then retreating back to our respective universities where the information is then locked away,” King told NIT.
“[The Warrior Women team] were interested in finding ways to get stories about women in the movement. It’s an intentionally erased history in America, but it’s also not really history to the families who lived through it — it’s their legacy.
“The idea was always: this information belongs to the people. The same way the movement belonged to the people.”
During the film, the audience becomes privy to an intimate conversation with the women gathered in a circle — Madonna, her daughter Marcy, sister Mabel Ann and her niece Lakota.
Harrowing stories are shared; some topics of conversation border on hilarity before the women pivot back into gritty and darker themes that are an important part of each of their personal tapestries.
They discuss a series of lived events: how thousands of Native American children were stolen from their parents and sent to boarding school, how as teenagers a series of dams built by the government along the Missouri River meant they lost almost a million acres of their land and were forced to acclimate to a very different way of life.
With archival footage artfully interspersed throughout, the women revisit major historical periods such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests.
It’s striking to watch what Thunder Hawk has done for her people, and how her responsibilities affected her own family dynamics.
“For me, the hook that ran deep was interrogating the dynamics that occur in families who are engaged in political and social justice fights. Particularly between women and their children, because they’re linked in a way that just isn’t true for men,” King said.
“No one asks where a man’s family is when he’s engaged in public life, but it’s almost always a question posed to women.
“I just felt that any telling of Indigenous political action had to centre on the actions of families, or it wasn’t really an Indigenous telling of events.”
Warrior Women celebrates the uncelebrated sacrifices of fighting for your people, King said.
“It’s not all grand rallies and soaring speeches or even dramatic shootouts at Wounded Knee. It’s everyday life and how these women choose to show up for their communities and their families, generation after generation.”
Warrior Women is available to watch now here as part of the Environmental Film Festival Australia’s (EFFA) Summer of Change program. A short, pre-recorded Q&A is available with any purchase of the film.
By Simi West