Monday, May 13, 2013

Movie Review: Ken Burns: The West: The People

This is the first of eight in this series directed by Stephen Ives and produced by Ken Burns.  It was shown on PBS in 1996 and is available through instant Netflix.  This episode presents the Native peoples of the West, and their early contact with White men.  It then concludes with the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  I likes it look at Native Americans.  Native American narrators counter act the idealic myth of Native Americans.  They did some things right, but were often at war with each other.  Many tribes held honor in warlike characteristics, taking coup.  It talks about the introduction of the horse, which only made these conflicts more prevalent.  Now they had something of value to steal, but war parties could roam a greater territory.  The other myth is that the White people purposefully killed the Native Americans with disease.  True that the Native peoples had no resistance to the new germs, resulting in four or five different pandemics amongst the Native people.  However the disease usually traveled from Native American group to another after it was first introduced.  The population of the Native Americans was devastated as a result, even before the arrival of the White people.
The movie portrays the arrival of the Spanish, first from the south.  It was many years after their conquest of Mexico, that the ventured into California with the mission system which got its start in 1776.  There were a series of 14 missions, which not only provided a fort to the Spanish interest, but were used to educate, inculcate and control the Native population.  If the Natives tried to leave, the were hunted by soldiers and brought back.  It was noted that the health of the Native population deteriorated after they became attached to the mission.
The Lewis and Clark expedition was a romantic trip, which almost ended in failure and death of the party, had not the run into the Shoshone brother of Sacajawea.  The were able to obtains horses from him, to make it over the mountains.  They were again almost emaciated, but met the Nez Perce who set them on their way again, allowing them to chop down five trees for canoes, with which they were able to make it to the ocean.

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