MANKATO — Before starting the film “Dakota 38,” Jim Bear Jacobs tells the 30 or so in the audience that he wants the post-film discussion to be honest, even if those questions risk giving offense.
But it’s one of the young men in the documentary, BillyRay DuMarce, who was 19 at the time of filming, who shows why hard truths need to be aired if reconciliation will take hold.
He acknowledges that he “doesn’t really associate with Caucasian people,” but that he used to as a child.
And it makes him uncomfortable for the riders in this horseback journey from South Dakota to Mankato to receive help along the way from white families.
“In the back of my head I always thought, ‘You’re probably uncomfortable with all of us in here, don’t trust us too much, or something.’ That’s just how I grew up.”
Even so, he appreciated their help.
“I mean, it’s so cool that they did that, man. I like that a lot,” he said.
Jacobs, of Coon Rapids, said after the film that homecomings like this — the Dakota were exiled from their Minnesota land — are common themes for Native Americans.
As a Mohican, his people’s journeys back to the Hudson River Valley in New York from their Wisconsin reservation can be tinged with resentment. The whites are helpful, sure, but some of that bounty is coming from his people’s homeland.
“Those conversations happen with a gracious heart, but still you know there is perhaps that gnawing sense that we were pulled from this Earth,” he said.
And reconciliation efforts that shy away from tough questions are merely a facade, he said.
“Unless you’re willing to have those difficult conversations, where people show their biases and their hurts and their pains and all of that, then we’re not really doing reconciliation,” Jacobs said.
The 78-minute film, which has been shown at least a few times in the Mankato area, tells the story of the 16-day, 330-mile trip by horseback from Lower Brule, S.D. to Mankato in 2008. The annual ride began in 2005.
The film started with Bob Klanderud, who is of native and Norwegian descent. He said he dreamed about the hangings but knew nothing about them. The dream pushed him to make a movie about the journey.
Anne Larson, who grew up in Mankato and now lives in St. Paul, set up the Sunday screening at the Hope Interfaith Center in Mankato. She had seen the movie before, and thought it important to show the film in the city where the hangings took place.
The Hope Interfaith Center, at 114 Pohl Road, is sort of like “the YMCA of spirituality,” Rev. Janice Hope Gorman said. They have services once a month, the 2nd Sunday at 10 a.m., and offer a wide variety of classes.
The film shows how reconciliation happens, and doesn’t, along the trip.
In one hotel room conversation, members of the film crew have a discussion about what happened in a house along the way.
Adam Mastrelli, who helped operate the camera, said he was disappointed the Native Americans didn’t talk to their white hosts.
“If we’re not talking with them,” he said of the white people in the film crew, “in my opinion, the Native community is doing their thing in the corners,” he said.
Sarah Weston, a Dakota woman who helped direct the film, said, calmly, that most of the Dakota had never been in a white person’s home. It would be natural, in other words, for them to be uncomfortable.
Mastrelli noted that the host family was wearing sweatshirts that said “Wopida (meaning ‘thank you’) for the peace.”
“They could not have made it easier,” he said.
The film then cuts to DuMarce, who explains some of the hesitance.
“I don’t know, I just always grew up not having them trust us, thinking we’re going to steal something. Something was going to go missing and they would blame us. So I didn’t really feel comfortable stopping at all those houses,” he said.
The problems on Native American reservations, and how they are tied to the genocide, are another theme of the film.
But, again, they are best exemplified by DuMarce, in what is likely the most chilling part of the film.
Just before the credits roll, the film lists several people in whom the film’s memory was dedicated.
The last one is DuMarce, who took his own life on Aug. 29, 2010, at the age of 21.
On the Web: The movie is available, for free, on the Internet, at www.smoothfeather.org