‘Women of the White Buffalo’ Review: Speaking Out on the Reservation

The documentary “Women of the White Buffalo” explores the myriad challenges experienced by Indigenous people on reservations, as well as the historical roots of these social maladies. The story is told through Lakota women living on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations in South Dakota, where rampant alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty and violence threaten the Lakotas’ way of life and future generations.

The director Deborah Anderson features first-person interviews with nine women (and one man), ranging in age from 10 to 98, who are trying to heal generations of trauma in their communities. And though the film lacks a clear narrative arc, put together, these stories draw a line between the historical genocide and displacement suffered by Indigenous people and the present destitution on reservations.

Vandee Khalsa-Swiftbird is a survivor of sex trafficking who now works on behalf of other victims and fosters a young girl whose troubled mother could no longer care for her. Julie Richards founded the nonprofit Mothers Against Meth Alliance after her own daughter became addicted to methamphetamine. And SunRose IronShell is a high school teacher who helps her students process their traumas through art.

Children are featured prominently throughout the film, whether riding horses or dancing in traditional garb. This choice helps plant the documentary firmly in the present, illuminating the past but not dwelling on it. Indeed, the Lakota women appear more interested in solutions and in instilling in Native children a sense of self-worth and self-determination. The way forward, they seem to agree, is to return to their spiritual roots. Delacina Chief Eagle, a young woman who became addicted to meth after her brother died, said of her recovery: “I found myself, through my culture, through my family, through the children.”

Women of the White Buffalo
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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