Film & Literature Module:NATIVE CULTURE & "VOICE" [Sioux]


Rhiannon Sorrell (Diné), MLIS, MA, 2014

Adaptable To Courses In:

  • Intro to American Indian Studies
  • Native Cultures
  • Ancient & Contemporary Voices
  • First Year Composition
  • American Indian Literature
  • Native Americans in Film
  • Non-Fiction Writing


Relevant Search Terms:

Luther Standing Bear, (treatment of) cultural identity, Native American authors, autobiographical prose, Lakota Indians, (treatment of) cultural assimilation, Native autobiography, Sioux Indian writers


Primary Sources

Meet the Sioux Indian at the American Indian Film Gallery (

Standing Bear, Luther. My People the Sioux. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975, c1932.


Introduction to the Sources


The Film:

This undated film presents an introductory look into the lives of the Sioux people with the purpose of educating cultural outsiders. Focusing on activities such as traveling with a travois, building a tipi, buffalo hide tanning, beading, butchering, and food preparation, the film provides a basic profile of this Great Plains tribe.

The Book:

In this book, Luther Standing Bear -- Sioux author, educator, and philosopher -- provides an autobiographical account of his tribe and their customs. Published in 1928, it is one of the earliest books written about Native Americans from a Native point-of-view. The son of a Lakota chief and an attendee of Carlisle Indian School, Standing Bear writes from a unique vantage point that allows him to articulate the history and culture of his tribesmen in a way that translates well with the cultural outsider while upholding a voice for his own people.

In the selected chapter, Standing Bear recounts and describes in detail the various activities that surround the Sioux home and hearth: the tipi. Throughout, the author provides commentary that attempts to translate the activities to the outsider equivalent.

Their Conversation:

The conversation between the film and the text is unique in that the book was published before the film was created. Both provide a very transcriptive account of their respective cultural activities from very different points-of -view and yet, they both complement each other in that they can both help to explicate and illustrate each other. Despite the fact that both film and text are in a strong conversation with each other, they are at odds with the "voice" used in each medium. The film's narrator's voice comes from a cultural outsider and yet is able to visually portray each activity in detail to the viewer. Standing Bear's voice is that of a cultural insider who utilizes the colonizer's language and writing to describe the same activities. Both "voices" present crucial strengths and weaknesses in articulating and presenting certain aspects of Lakota culture to the general public.



Luther Standing Bear was born in the winter of 1968. His father was an Oglala Lakota Chief who raised Luther in the tradition of his people. Though he raised his son to adopt the strength and values of his people, Chief Standing Bear also acknowledged that the white world would overshadow their own world and that education would be the key to their people's survival. Luther excelled at Carlisle Indian School, becoming a recruiter for the school and eventually worked as an intern for John Wanamaker, an merchant in Philadelphia. After stints as a tribal agent and as a performer in the Buffalo Bill Wild West show in England, Standing Bear became a Chief of his tribe, but shortly after, left the reservation for Sioux City, Iowa, because he couldn't work with the overseer.

            From afar, Standing Bear continued his duties as Chief by fighting to preserve Lakota culture and sovereignty through public education. Between 1928 and 1936, Standing Bear wrote four books and a series of articles about the preservation of Sioux culture and argued for a change in governmental policy toward American Indians. Standing Bear's first book, My People the Sioux, was the first in his series of writing that represent his campaign to educate the public and champion for change in federal Indian policy.


  • To introduce readers to Lakota author, educator, and philosopher Luther Standing Bear from the context of Sioux cultural information and commentary.
  • To guide readers and viewers in close reading and close viewing activities that will later help to engage discussion about their findings.
  • To encourage readers to critically consider the rhetoric of both sources, their strengths and weaknesses in conveying cultural information about the lives of Sioux people to the same targeted audience (cultural outsiders).


The Plan

Watch the film, Meet the Sioux Indian ( While watching, take note of:

  • How the film makes topic transitions
  • How the film features the various cultural activities; how many distinct cultural activities are depicted
  • Words and concepts that may not have been part of original Sioux nomenclature (e.g "pot," "dessert," etc.) as well as words and concepts in the Sioux language (e.g. "wasna")
  • The narrator's voice, his choice of words, phrasing, tone.
  • The images of people in the film; how they are depicted.  


Read the chapter titled "The Tipi," from My People the Sioux. While reading, take note of:

  • The personal pronouns "I," "we," and "you,"  as well as the possessive pronouns "my," "yours" and "ours."
  • Sections, sentences, or phrases that may be "anecdotal"
  • Words and concepts that may be peculiar, especially in the context of a Native American culture.
  • Explanations of tasks and activities that are hard to comprehend or visualize.


Discussion Kindling:

  • Both narrators from the film and the book aim to educate cultural outsiders to various Sioux activities; in other words, their voices are directed at the same audience. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each medium? How effective were they in informing audiences about the basics of Sioux culture?
  • Compare and contrast the "voice" of the narrators, their word choices, their pacing, and tone. How do each of these features help or hinder information being conveyed.
  • Standing Bear wrote his book at least a couple of decades before the film was made. How much of an influence could his book have had? How do you think Standing Bear would've shot this film (hint: Standing Bear was, himself, an actor in Buffalo Bill's Wild West European tour).  


Further Reading:

Also by Luther Standing Bear:

Land of the Spotted Eagle. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978, c1933.  (Includes essential articles such as "What the Indian Means to America" and "The Tragedy of the Sioux)

My Indian Boyhood. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988, c1931.

Stories of the Sioux. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988, c1934.


Articles about Luther Standing Bear:

Burt, Ryan E. "'Sioux Yells' in the Dawes Era: Lakota 'Indian Play,' the Wild West, and the Literatures of Luther Standing Bear." American Quarterly 62.3 (2010): 617-37.

Hale, Frederick. "Acceptance and Rejection of Assimilation in the Works of Luther Standing Bear." Studies in American Indian Literatures: The Journal of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures 5.4 (1993): 25-41.