- RL Intern
By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture writer
Ernie LaPointe is setting the record straight about the history of Chief Sitting Bull and his descendents at the 2nd Annual San Pedro International Film Festival.
His film Sitting Bulls Voice will be screened at 2 p.m. Oct. 6, at the Warner Grand Theatre.
LaPointe is the only living great-grandson of the legendary Lakota Chief Sitting Bull. The chief shocked the nation in 1876, when the Lakota Nation defeated Custer’s 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn. Many people are not aware that Sitting Bull did not take a direct military role in the battle; instead, he acted as the spiritual leader. He performed the Sun Dance, in which he fasted and offered ritual sacrifice for a week prior to the attack.
LaPointe has been on this mission for a long time. He was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1948 and grew up in Rapid City, S.D. with his sister Marlene Little Spotted Horse.
Their story was passed down to LaPointe through the stories told by his mother each night.
“She told me all these stories about her grandfather,” LaPointe, 65, said. “When you hear these stories in native tongue it goes deeper than deep. I think my mother had a vision that somebody had to carry these stories on.”
Unfortunately, the fulfillment of his mother’s vision has been a long road for the descendant of the great chief.
“I had to go through my own trials and tribulations first,” he said. “My mother passed away when I was 10 years old and my father died when I was 17.”
In 2003, he wrote his book Sitting Bull, His Life and Legacy.
“It was a soul searching event, because when books are written it becomes history,” LaPointe said.
The native tradition is oral history. He went to his tribe to ask permission in a ceremony to write down the story of his great-grandfather. The result is the only book ever written by a direct lineal descendant of Sitting Bull.
The distortion of history written by the white man reveals pain. A book written in 1930 by Stanley Vestal, Sitting Bull, Champion of the Sioux is an example he points to.
“He never interviewed the descendants of Sitting Bull,” LaPointe said. “He interviewed the murderers and betrayers of Sitting Bull.”
LaPointe said that 100 books have been written about the Lakota Chief and they are all repeating the initial misinformation created by Vestal.
“My goal is to tell the truth about our people,” he said. “We were spiritual human beings who took care of the environment, the water, the earth and all green growing things. We were not war-like as they portrayed us. Who are the most warlike people? I have been on this earth for 65 years and as long as I can remember this country has been at war. All we did was try to defend our homeland, our families and our way of life.”
In 1966, after the death of his father, he went into the military at the height of the Vietnam war. He served in the Army, in the 101st Airborne Division.
“Vietnam will always be with me,” he said. “War should never happen. People should sit down and negotiate terms. That is what my great-grandfather tried to do in his life.”
Ironically the same Army that murdered the great Lakota Chief also influenced the personal path of his great-grandson.
LaPointe’s spiritual awakening came after many years of alcoholism and drug addiction following his return from Vietnam.
“I was self-medicating for 20 years after ’nam.”
He also was wandering in homeless camps across the country for three years.
“Most of the guys on the street were vets,” he recalled. “I was more comfortable with them than I was being normal. We took care of each other, as we did in Vietnam.”
In May of 1989, LaPointe was living under a bridge by the Platte River in Denver. The homeless camp was visited by a representative from Veterans Affairs.
“He was yelling at us down under the bridge, ‘Anybody down there from Vietnam?’” he retold. “I went with him because I heard they had donuts! He started telling me his own story. He told me about PTSD and he planted a seed in my head.”
It still took quite a bit of time before LaPointe finally cleaned up. He wanted to know what Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder meant and he began to search for treatment. He has been sober for 25 years now.
Today, he is a sun dancer and lives the traditional way of the Lakota. He follows the rules of the sacred pipe, used in ritual to connect with the spirits. The sun dance offers prayer for the benefit of one’s family and community.
He has established a non-profit foundation, Sitting Bull Family Foundation, with the goal to tell the true story of his great-grandfather. Proceeds of the film will be used to return Sitting Bull’s remains to his tribal home. He said that the current burial place has been desecrated by vandals who urinate and pour whiskey on his grave.
“He is my ancestor,” LaPointe said. “I do not want to see him disrespected.”
Filmmaker Bill Matson, who directed and wrote the film’s screenplay, has produced eight Lakota documentaries since 2004, in addition to the award-winning Flight to the Wall. Tickets for the film and the VIP meet-and-greet can be purchased online at spiffest.org.
LaPointe will be in attendance signing copies of his book Sitting Bull, His Life and Legacy.