The 1990 movie, “Dances with Wolves,” explores the relationship between a soldier of the Civil War and Sioux Indians during the 1860s as white settlers began to settle in the American West. Kevin Costner served as director and played the main character, Union Army Officer Lieutenant John W. Dunbar. Much of the dialogue used in the movie was spoken in the Lakota Indian dialect, which allowed viewers to experience Native American history in a personal way.
In the opening scene, Lieutenant Dunbar was told his leg had to be amputated due to a war injury and he tried to kill himself because he didn’t want to live that way. He tried to commit suicide during a battle between the Union and Confederate forces. Unexpectedly, his suicide attempt ended up unifying the Union soldiers. They stormed the complacent Confederates and won the battle. Later, a competent general surgeon saved Dunbar’s leg. He was recognized as a hero by his commanding officer and given the horse, Cisco, he had ridden in battle. He then tells his commander he wants to go to the frontier and is ultimately reassigned to Fort Sedgwick, a remote post in South Dakota. Dunbar arrives at his post, though there is no one there.
When Dunbar leaves the post to bathe, he encounters the Sioux medicine man, Kicking Bird, as he is trying to steal his horse, Cisco. He later becomes friends with Kicking Bird by pressing through their language differences. Dunbar visits the Sioux camp and comes upon Stands with a Fist, a white woman who was captured as a child by the Sioux tribe. She is a recent widow who has a child. She later becomes a translator between Dunbar and the Sioux tribe members.
When Dunbar visits the Sioux Indians’ camp, he enjoys their simplistic lifestyle and tribal customs. Dunbar realizes he fits in better with their tribe than his people. When he leads them to a large herd of buffalo, their source for food and clothing, the Sioux embrace him as an honorary member. However, Union soldiers come to capture arrive the Sioux land and unrest descends upon the Sioux camp. Dunbar fights with the Sioux and wears Indian clothing.
After he decides to remain with the Sioux tribe permanently, he takes on the name, Dances with Wolves. Changing one’s name is the ultimate act of becoming a member of an Indian tribe. This movie portrays Native Americans in a positive light and with great respect and sensitivity, which few filmmakers have done.
When Dunbar fights with the Sioux during a Pawnee raid and gives them extra rifles and ammunition from Fort Sedgwick, he is accepted as a full member of the tribe. After his marriage to Stands with a Fist, Dunbar stays at the Sioux camp more than at Fort Sedgwick. Later, he realizes that as a fugitive and deserter of the Union army, he will continue to endanger the welfare of the tribe if he stays with them. Though the Sioux people want them to stay, Dunbar decides he and his wife leave the camp.
Dances with Wolves is one of the most popular native American movies that won seven Academy Awards. It depicts the lives of the Native American people during the Civil War, a shameful period in American history. Their constant efforts to keep their land were an ongoing hardship. Instead of being portrayed as bloodthirsty scalpers, Native Americans are seen as a loving and kind people who took a straggler into their camp. The movie touched numerous viewers and is frequently listed as one of the best 100 movies in the history of film.