On Watching “Kind Hearted Woman”

Early Spring SunsetLast nigh we watched the second part of the Frontline/Independent Lens co-production, Kind Hearted Woman. The film by David Southerland follows Robin Charboneau as she navigates life on and off the Spirit Lake Reservation. During the course of this five-hour film, Robin deals with the trauma of severe childhood abuse, an abusive former husband, alcohol abuse, single parenthood, poverty, and a politicized tribal court system. Yet her story is one of resilience and determination. If you missed the film, it is available online. There is also information about the family post filming at Frontline.

Monday night we stayed up til eleven watching. Last night the film aired til midnight. This morning I am dragging a bit. Watching the film brought back many memories, some positive and others painful. It also put my struggles and those of other Natives and Mixed Bloods I know into perspective. Perhaps my dragging has more to do with those memories than with physical tiredness.

One question that arises for me post the film is this: What made the difference between branches of my parent’s families that were mostly kind and relatively sane, and those that were hurtful? I ask about branches as there were related families that were relatively happy and prosperous, and others that seemed to fail utterly. These folks were brothers, sisters, and cousins, often quite similar in temperament, yet following remarkably different life paths. My sister and I remember time on the farm, and with our many of our aunts and uncles as periods of immense freedom, love, and safety. Often this stood in sharp contrast to the lonely, often violent, life at home.

I can imagine the film confirming the worst prejudices of some outside the Native community. It also points out the very real consequences of hundreds of years of living with the genocidal policies of state and federal government. Finally, the film addresses the thorny issue of status versus non-status Natives, and the troubling state of many tribal governments.

Sometimes the most challenging part of the healing journey is recognizing the historical roots of trauma, then giving up personal responsibility for the creation of our suffering, while accepting the task of creating a life worth living. This film examines all of this, as well as the necessity of having others join us on the journey.

I heartily recommend it.

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5 thoughts on “On Watching “Kind Hearted Woman”

  1. “Sometimes the most challenging part of the healing journey is recognizing the historical roots of trauma, then giving up personal responsibility for the creation of our suffering, while accepting the task of creating a life worth living.”

    Well said, Michael. And perhaps the most difficult part of healing when we are taught what amounts to mental and spiritual self-flagellation and unworthiness by the dominant religions of our culture. What follows from this is often the belief that If only God can judge us, then logically, only God can forgive us. To forgive one’s self in this case, is to arrogantly assume that one has suffered enough to buy one’s self back into God’s good graces. And yet, paradoxically, we’re taught to forgive others. . .

    • Yes, Ben. I agree. Our culture does not do a very good job of teaching self compassion. Compassion and competition are likely pretty much incomparable…. I do not think the problem is religion. Rather, I think the problem is the distortion greed and fear cause to religious teaching.

      • I agree, Michael. Once God is pulled out of people and packaged for resale one bit at a time, it turns the populace into Salvation junkies who can never get enough because, deep down inside, they’re certain that they’re never good enough. It’s a sad and sorry thing that such beautiful teachings became the tools for such enslavement…

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