Documentary on tragic Native American incident results in film awards

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It’s been a long, bittersweet, illuminating road for Campbell Dalglish’s documentary “Savage Land.” The East Patchogue filmmaker, writer, producer, playwright, and City College of New York associate professor has reaped several Best Documentary Award accolades, including The Americas Film Festival of New York, Lake Placid Film Festival and The American Indian Film Festival. Just recently, it was lauded at the European Film Festival (London, Valencia and Warsaw) for Best Story and Best Film.

Dalglish, with co-director and Native American studies scholar Henrietta Mann, chronicled a reconstruction of events leading up to the tragic shooting of 18-year-old Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, with actual footage and audio. Mah-hi-vist, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Clinton, Okla., was shot seven times in 2013 in his parents’ kitchen by sheriff’s deputies after Custer County police received a 911 call from his father that his son was agitated. Wilbur Goodblanket was worried his boy, who had oppositional defiant disorder—which Mah-hi-vist controlled with therapy and medication—would hurt himself.  The parents wanted help from medical personnel and law enforcement to calm him down. Claiming that the young man threw knives at the sheriff’s two deputies, they fired seven shots with his parents standing outside, including one to the back of Mah-hi-vist’s head.

The story leads into the discrimination and racism experienced by Native Americans to this day, activated by the forced relocation of 39 tribes in Oklahoma over a century ago. Descendants of the Sand Creek and Wichita Massacres describe how the awful injustices of the past remain.

Dalglish discussed the film’s impact since its screening with the Advance.

Long Island Advance: What has been the overall reaction to the film?

Campbell Dalglish: I started the Plaza Media Cinema & Media Arts Center (as co-founder with Catherine Oberg in 2011) the same time I started this film. We were getting a lot of awareness from Europe and PBS has featured it. There have been 65 PBS stations overall that aired it. The North Country Community College of Vermont, as well as two other Vermont colleges, are interested and we’ll be screening it up there. I’ll do it from a Zoom conference, Feb. 17, as well as with Henrietta Mann and others associated with the film. Colleges in academia have become a very good teaching point, illustrating how to be aware of the historical trauma of Native American Indians. If people want to see “Savage Land,” it’s a little hard now because of the PBS pledge drive across the country. (“Savage Land” is under a two-year exclusive distribution with EPSTV/PBS. It was screened on PBS on Nov. 1 in commemoration of Native American Month.) If you want to see it, call WNET and WLIW or email them. They’ll probably screen it again in January. 

LIA: Has there been any indication of justice for Mah-hi-vist’s death since his death or after the documentary aired?

CD: The quick answer is no. There has not been any movement on charges against the Custer County police. The claims include an officer saying he was attacked by Mah-hi-vist, but the shots were of a distant type, so it looks like a coverup. They claimed they struggled with him close up, but he was shot seven times, including one to the back of his head. The dashboard cam from the officer who shot him, his dashboard cam wasn’t given over. And there were several discrepancies.  (The Custer County district attorney determined the shooting was justified. The Goodblankets want the investigation reopened.) We plan on doing a sequel, “Redbird” (Mah-hi-vist’s name translates to Red Bird) with a total investigation of the case. We have to hire an investigator and a civil rights lawyer from D.C. and raise awareness and money for what needs to be done. The documentary will be offered on demand at colleges. We’ll be connecting also with Indian communities where PBS is available and get their reaction.

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