mysophobia 潔癖

Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.

Indians, Revenge in God’s hands and The Revenant

Does this film portray Indians any differently other than “savages” and “objects to give white men their humanity”?

The whispering of Pawnee language. The love for a son (who should not argue with White men because they only care about the Native’s skin)?



Much of Glass’s adult life was spent trading and hunting with Indians, interspersed with frequent bouts of attacking and being attacked by them in the vast and inhospitable region that broadly bisects the border of North and South Dakota. For centuries the area’s native tribes had relied on the rich animal and river life, which had the main source of their material and social cultural lives. Understandably, they resented the intrusion of European hunters, trappers and explorers during the eighteenth Century. The increasing pace and sophistication of this intrusion -such as the Lewis and Clarke expedition – did not improve matters.
The Indian response was, however, ambivalent. Sometimes they attacked Europeans, using their superior knowledge of the terrain and their tracking and hunting skills. Yet they also formed hunting and trading partnerships with their European counterparts and sometimes made alliances with various European groups. It was, after all, a group of Indians who saved Hugo Glass’s life and helped him to safety after his “wrestle” with the grizzly. And it was another group of Indians who eventually ambushed and killed him some years later.
The region where Glass hunted, traded and met the grizzly bear was shared by several Indian tribes, whose relationship with each other – and the Europeans – was subject to abrupt change. These tribes included the Blackfeet (regarded as usually hostile to Europeans), the Mandan (praised by Lewis and Clarke for their peaceful nature), Hidatsa and the Sioux. However, it was the Arikara (a.k.a. the Rees) with whom Glass and his trapping companions seems to have had the most contact with in the weeks preceding his “wrestle” with the grizzly.The film correctly identifies the Indians involved in its events as Arikara (Ree). It also gives Glass an Indian wife;their son has an important part in the movie’s revenge theme. Again, The Revenant is historically accurate in this portrayal of mixed race relationships along this frontier: they were a characteristic and accepted feature of frontiersmen’s lives. However, it is impossible to determine whether the real-life Glass really did have a Pawnee wife or a son. He claimed to have spent some years with the Pawnee but his statements are not noted for their authenticity.
The Arikara, Mandan and Hidatsa peoples had several key connections they shared with each other and the European traders / trappers. They were all engaged in the early 18th century in a vigorous trading system, which used trade fairs at various upper Missouri river villages. Here they bartered, bought and sold pelts, furs, buffalo hides and even horses, Iron utensils and weapons, whiskey, sugar and cloth were also traded.



This scene from The Revenant shows Indian teepees. The movie uses the Blackfeet tribe for its Indian scenes but in fact at the time of Glass’s “wrestle” with the bear the territory his companions was an area mainly populated by the Arikara and to a lesser extent, the Mandan. Both tribes used a distinctive and sophisticated  earth mound habitat , not teepees.
PictureArikara earth mound lodges
PictureMandan earth mound lodges
he Arikara were semi-nomadic. By Glass’s era they lived in their earth lodges in the Grand River area. NOt only were they hunters and traders. The Arikara were also skilled agriculturalists, raising crops of corn, squash, and beans which they also traded, especially withthe non-agricultural Teton Sioux.  Their name meant “horn” – adut males wore  their  hair with two pieces of bone standing up like horns on each side of their heads They had an uneasy and often unfriendly relationship with the Mandan and Hidatsa, and also with Europeans.
Smallpox epedemics in 1836-7 and 1856 devastated the numbers of all three tribes. Consequently in 1856 the three joined together in North Dakota and are now known as the “Three Affilliated Tribes.” In the 1870 some Arikara  warriors were scouts   for Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer on his fatal Little Bighorn campaign.
The Arikara were an agricultural people who lived in earth lodges between the Grand and Cannonball Rivers in what is now northern South Dakota.
he villages, set on an island in the Grand River, held about 2,000 people housed in 60 earth lodges—the first such lodges the Corps saw on their journey.
The Arikara were farmers, raising corn, beans, tobacco, and squash both for food and to trade with other tribes in the area. Their agricultural success also balanced the power with the non-farming Teton Sioux, aggressive neighbors who needed the food the Arikara produced.
Many years after the expedition, smallpox outbreaks in 1836 and 1856 decimated the Arikara population. In 1862 the remaining Arikara joined the last Mandan and Hidatsa in North Dakota.
He’s bent on revenge—the only way that he can find redemption is through avenging his Native son. And that’s kinda the way Hollywood historically uses Native people and black bodies: as lesson providers and tragic figures. We usually don’t live long enough to see the glory of the white man’s redemption, but instead have to be killed so that the white protagonist can find his or her humanity.

That’s exactly what happens here. A Pawnee man also helps Glass find his humanity by teaching Glass that revenge is “in God’s hands.” Neither of these Native muses, the son or the Pawnee man, are alive long enough to see Glass’s redemption (the Pawnee man is soon seen dangling from a tree because Native people cannot teach a spiritual lesson and live in the same movie), but those dead Indians should rest easy knowing that their mission in life was completed: rescuing the white man’s humanity.

Along the way, Glass also rescues a young Arikara woman from being raped. She is the only other female character that gets more than a few frames and both of those Native women are brutalized—the first, Glass’s wife, gets killed by soldiers and this young Ree lady gets raped by the French.  Of course that violence has historical roots and even today has resonance—Native women are raped at exponentially higher rates than anyone else in this nation. Yet, it seems almost a conspiracy how little control, autonomy or voice Native people were given over our own lives in this movie.  While brutality against Native people is historically accurate so is Native people being free and having agency. Yet Hollywood loves for us to be helpless and needing white people’s saving.  The only time we’re not helpless in these movies is when we’re dead and a white man is learning a lesson from beyond our graves. Natives are always the objects in Hollywood’s movies, never the subjects.

  Most of the white people are killed … the Ree are standing tall.

Glass is shown originally as living in a Pawnee style home and at odds with white culture who has also killed his wife and tried to kill his son. Later he makes the statement that strips any authority or validity of whites by saying “I just killed a man who was trying to kill my son.” Really most all the white are represented flawed and end up dead. There is no saving, no redeeming I think this movie does a lot more than typical Hollywood.


rotrayed as a “white savior” exactly. He is not the naive, cliche’ Avatar white guy. No. So, even the main character (whom you consider an agent of white privilege) is shown to be nothing other but a product of his time within the white colonialist framework: someone who can simply go into somebody else’s home, and take what he wants. As long as that somebody else is a non-white. The only difference, perhaps, could be that he was not as ruthless or “lost” like his antagonist… but then again, so were the young man who did not want Glass dead, or the colonel who, until the end, followed the rules of “propriety” and morality that even those characters were supposed to follow. I cannot see Glass portrayed on a higher scale than the Chief, for example, who is looking for his daughter. Actually, the particular native man shows much higher moral character (translated by both worlds in a similar manner) than di Caprio’s, and with graver sense of determination and purpose. This is perhaps due to his purposes not serving him personally (like in the case of Glass) or solely. As for the lone native man who shares buffalo meat with Glass, of course he had to be hung by the ridiculous French. Because this is what usually happened in real life. This man was not a device in the movie to exalt Glass’ purpose. He was one of the thousands that died for no reason in the hands of those who took their land, tried to exterminate them, and named them savages. As for the fact that -as you very accurately mention- the native and the black guy need to die for the white protagonist to find salvation, yes. This is what is happening in the film. But it is not far from the “story” of Manifest Destiny narrative, which by the way became a reality. And then it just Happened (and is still happening to a different degree). A story becoming reality should not be strange in the eyes of a people who honor and use stories to explain and work around and in the world. Even from a different, non-destructive point of view. And this is what this film depicts: the relentless, brutal, disgusting reality of what truly happened (more or less) during that period of time, caused by whites who considered this magnificent -beyond words- land theirs, although it belonged and was adored and revered by another. They made up their story, and yes, in the best of circumstances, the red and the black guy had to die to absolve the abominations of the white one, so the white guy could stand up again, renewed, and then try to steal and kill some more. And this is what the film shows the world. Honestly, harshly, using breath-taking cinematography, sticking out like a rusty nail that pierced through one’s guts. Not doing favors to anyone.


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This entry was posted on April 7, 2016 by in 【Post-Film Posts】.
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