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Film & TV

Incident at Oglala – Indian Protest Documentary

Incident at Oglala is a 1992 documentary by Michael Apted, narrated by Robert Redford. The film is one the best in relating to Indian protest and also documents the deaths of two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the summer of 1975. The film is a companion to Apted’s own Thunderheart, which offers a fictionalized account of the same case.

Gothic Western - Indian Protest
Leonard Peltier arrest.

Incident at Oglala examines the legal case surrounding the subsequent trials of Robert Robideau and Darrell Butler, and later the separate trial of Leonard Peltier, who had to be extradited from Canada. Robideau and Butler were acquitted at their trial, but Peltier was convicted of murder in 1977. (Peltier’s supporters, including the International Indian Treaty Council, maintain that he is innocent of the crimes.) The film also discusses tribal chairman Dick Wilson.

Beginning with depictions of the appalling social conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the film builds through depictions of the stand-offs and confrontations on the res between AIM members (American Indian Movement) and authorities both local and federal. If nothing else, Incident at Oglala underscores the harsh truism that there’s plenty of nasty injustice to be found in the US, and that fairness can be an elusive and nebulous concept with distressing regularity.

Gothic Western - Indian Protest

There were many unsolved murders and drive-by shootings on the reservation, caused by a culture clash between traditional and Americanized Sioux. The American Indian Movement was invited to the reservation to help assert traditional values. It was headquartered at Calvin Jumping Bull’s property on the southern edge of Oglala. The “incident at Oglala” was precipitated by the FBI investigation of a pair of stolen boots. Jimmy Eagle, one of the AIM teenagers, was thought to have taken a pair of boots after a fight, and two FBI agents, wanting to talk to him about it, pursued a vehicle they thought he was driving into the AIM camp, leading to a shootout which left both dead.

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