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"A Different American Dream” was shown for the first time in North America at the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on October 15th. Look out for this film in the future. Do not miss this opportunity to learn about oil extraction in the Heartland, the challenges faced, and the injustices endured by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes (MHA Nation) at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in Western North Dakota.
Co-written and Produced by Jane Wells (Tricked, The Devil Came on Horseback) and Co-written and Directed by Simon Brook (Indian Summer, The Tightrope), “A Different American Dream” promises to bring viewers into that mythical “flyover country,” a world removed from the lights and skyscrapers of New York and the sunny beaches of California. You will enter the reservation and meet unique voices from Native culture, people who happen to live smack dab over some of the largest shale oil deposits discovered in the United States. This is a culture and a landscape beyond imagination. It is spectacular in scenery, horrible in the destruction of what was once beautiful, and all-to-familiar in the aspects of human nature that are revealed.
I have not seen the entire film, but the clips I have viewed suggest the film is true to its subject matter. I spent three summers in the region, documenting the route of the now-defunct Sandpiper Pipeline with colleagues from Winona LaDuke’s Honor the Earth.
Fate has intervened to have this film debut at the exact moment in time when The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is doing all that it can through prayer and legal maneuvering to stop this flow of oil from the Bakken and possibly the tar sands of Canada through their sacred lands.
You see, when Native protests finally shut down the ill-planned Sandpiper project, the Enbridge company wasted no time to partner with Texas-based Energy Transfer Inc. and Marathon oil to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. The DAPL follows almost the exact 1,168 mile route of the abandoned Keystone XL from the Bakken to southern Illinois, where it will connect with pipelines snaking towards the Louisiana Gulf Coast.
It doesn’t matter how the oil gets to the refineries. Expediency and markets will determine where the prophesied iron “black snake” will crawl out of the ground and how soon it will devour all in its path.
In response to an email question, Dr. Biron Baker, MD, a Board Certified Family Practitioner and member of MHA Nation offered an interesting and perhaps controversial comparison between Fort Berthold and Standing Rock. The reservations are less than 300 miles apart in geography, but worlds apart in terms of infrastructure.
“As far as the oil exploration in Fort Berthold, it’s an old tactic, Baker wrote.
“The state of North Dakota is positioned to make a lot of money. They and the oil companies are the plantation owners. The Indians of Fort Berthold have been allowed into the plantation house for some gain. We are the house slaves. The Indians of Standing Rock get nothing; they are the field slaves. Now you have a situation where the Indians are divided, and it will be easier to conquer them. Oldest tactic in the book.”
In a clarification through the film’s press agent, Dr. Baker’s comments are to be read with the understanding “that the promise of wealth and salvation the tribes have been given is a false and hollow one that actually does more harm than good.”
There has been some commentary that the MHA Nation at Fort Berthold is profiting off of the oil, “but only 10% of them actually benefit. The majority of Native Americans are not profiting in any way and nowhere is this more evident than at Standing Rock.
The town of Fort Yates is the epicenter of life at Standing Rock reservation. The DAPL is an existential threat to their identity as a people and directly threatens their water supply. The story of Standing Rock is a tangential adjunct to this movie about Fort Berthold, but the two stories are woven in history and colonial attempts to divide and conquer the Great Indian Nations of the Plains.
It is still happening and BIG OIL has replaced the Cavalry with Morton County Sheriff’s Department. Instead of Custer’s horses, law enforcement flies Bell 206 helicopters. Fort Berthold faces a more occult enemy, complete with with mob influences.
Jane Wells also writes in an email, “This journey not only opened my eyes to the extent of the desecration fracking had brought to the landscape, it also opened my eyes to the stunning beauty of the land in this part of the country. Determined to capture the beauty of the land at stake, I enlisted the partnership of Simon Brook and Brook Production to make a film that would have the production values to reflect this beauty.”
“We decided to make a film about the challenges this tribe faced — the Faustian pact they had been forced into as a result of the oil boom,” Wells added.
Founded in 2008 by filmmaker Jane Wells, 3 Generations is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in New York City that uses the power of storytelling to amplify the voices of survivors, create witnesses and inspire change. For more information visit here.
Born in London, Simon Brook works between France, the UK and the USA. He has written, directed and produced documentaries and drama for Canal+, ARTE, BBC Storyville, Discovery Channel USA, France 2, France 3, France 5, RTBF, BBC 4 music, The Documentary Channel Canada, SBS, and more.
As a final comment, this writer has fallen in love with the landscape of North Dakota and has witnessed the wells, the traffic, the flares, the destruction of the night sky, and dust where there were once fertile fields. I have spoken to prostitutes and know someone who committed suicide there because of the brutality of the man-camps near Fort Berthold. This is a place where children have been found playing with discarded radioactive “socks.”
I spoke with an elderly woman who was forced out of a $300 dollar a month apartment when the greedy landlord realized he could soak the oil workers for $3000. I have seen men living in tree houses and hookers plying the hotels and streets of Bismarck. Now, there are abandoned campers littering salvage yards, deserted man-camps and half finished housing projects that have become the ghost towns of the 21st century.
I researched and learned about murder-for-hire in the Bakken that included characters and locations ready made for Hollywood. Mexican drug lords, FBI gumshoes and a character known as GimpDaddy—a name no one could make up for a novel. All these stories had tragic endings.
You see, oil crashed, but market analysts say it is on the way up again.
The denizens of the Black Snake will return.
For those who want to learn more than the sketchy “news reports” out of the Bakken, try to catch “A Different American Dream.” Visit the American Heartland and experience the beauty.
Then remember the prayerful protest at Standing Rock to stop the Black Snake.
All stories are connected.
[Georgianne Nienaber: Fate has intervened to have this film debut at the exact moment in time when The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is doing all that it can through prayer and legal maneuvering to stop this flow of oil from the Bakken and possibly the tar sands of Canada through their sacred lands.]