Native Spirit & The Sun Dance Way are two unique documentaries contained in a 2-Disk DVD Set.
These 2 documentaries and the special features came about as a result of a Crow Medicine Man and Sun Dance chief’s (Thomas Yellowtail) desire to preserve the sacred wisdom of his people. The DVD was planned with his guidance and approval with the restriction that the producer (Yellowtail’s adopted son) not receive any money from the project. Therefore, all royalties from the sale of this DVD go to the purchase of this DVD for American and Canadian Indian high schools and colleges.
In American Indian tradition sacred knowledge was given from the medicine fathers to those individuals in the tribe who lived their lives in conformity to the spiritual ideals of their people. This knowledge was passed on orally, through the generations, for centuries. The beliefs of the people were expressed in their everyday lives and through their spiritual practices.
With the arrival of the Europeans on the North American shores, those traditions became increasingly difficult to maintain, culminating in the forced confinement of the Indians onto government reservations. The government’s attempts to destroy the culture and spiritual beliefs of the Indians were comprehensive and brutal. On the reservations, the tribes were forbidden to practice their traditional ways. They were forced to give up their spiritual practices, their traditional clothing, songs, dances and even their language.
But many tribal members who understood the importance of the traditional ways held on to the ways of their ancestors. These “Old-Timers” sought out the young to pass on their knowledge and maintained the ceremonies and rites in secret. In Montana, the Sun Dance religion was revived and carried on by several individuals from both the Crow and Shoshone tribes. The Sun Dance exists today due to their commitment.
One man, Thomas Yellowtail, lived through the reservation period, which ended in 1934, and went on to become one the most revered and respected Sun Dance Chiefs of the Crow tribe. In his youth, Yellowtail was surrounded by warriors and Medicine Men who had lived the traditional nomadic life. Those “Old-Timers” made a profound impression on Yellowtail and their ideals shaped his character. He often said that it is the traditional spiritual values which he learned from that early reservation generation that should be at the center of our lives today.
In 1970 Michael Oren Fitzgerald met Thomas and Susie Yellowtail through a program at Indiana University and spent the following summer living in the Yellowtail’s home in Wyola, Montana. Every year thereafter the Fitzgerald family visited Yellowtail during the summer, always attending the annual Sun Dance and often camping with the Yellowtails. For the rest of their lives, the Yellowtails spent two weeks each October in Fitzgerald's home in Bloomington, Indiana. Following the death of Susie Yellowtail, Thomas Yellowtail spent a month with the Fitzgerald’s and began the process of writing his autobiography with Fitzgerald. Yellowtail gave Fitzgerald permission to photograph the annual Sun Dances and gave him exclusive permission to film the 1989 Crow Sun Dance held in Yellowtail’s honor. This authorization by Yellowtail gave Fitzgerald a unique visual record that helped to accomplish Yellowtail’s desire to preserve and explain the Sun Dance religion for future generations.