Despite the underlying motivation, however, scholars have tended to denigrate the film in the context of its actually making any sort of helpful political or environmental statement.
Ultimately they ride off en masse, evidently back to the reservation in Montana.
Although the episodes depicting the long drive and literal rescue mission might seem to dominate the film’s plot, the threats of political chicanery and serious environmental exploitation do underlie and motivate the film’s entire action.
In the spring of 1999, with the sanction of the International Whaling Commission, among other entities, the Makahs, an American Indian tribe whose reservation is on the Olympic Peninsula in extreme northwestern Washington state, reaffirmed an 1855 treaty right by successfully hunting and killing a grey whale and then bringing it back to the town of Neah Bay.
Eight and a half years later, in the fall of 2007, a group of five Makah men (including two veterans of the first hunt) participated in an unsanctioned hunt that resulted in the death of another grey whale.
Buddy opposes the mine, and the film suggests he has the political power to get the proposal defeated.
Philbert has a two-fold purpose in taking the trip to Santa Fe.As does Buddy, he wants to rescue Bonnie, but he also wants to continue a quest he has just begun to gather medicine and become what he understands to be a Cheyenne warrior.When the two men finally get to Santa Fe, they do rescue Bonnie and her children and successfully elude police pursuit.We must realize that the earth is a vital and spiritual entity. For Momaday it comes down to a simple necessity: we must “formulate an ethical idea of the land—a notion of what it is and must be in our daily lives—and I believe moreover that it is absolutely necessary to do so” ( 48).In yet another essay, “Navajo Place-Names,” Momaday contends that story itself has the power to imbue place with sacredness.The illegal hunt does differ, however, in that because of the hunters’ poor preparation and lack of expertise, the whale suffered an especially brutal killing.Legally, of course, the differences between the two hunts are immense: one had the approval and sanction of appropriate governing entities, the other did not.Humans must recognize and take advantage of this capability of language.(As appealing as these directives might appear as articulations of a land ethic, however, nowhere in his writing and theorizing does Momaday seem to offer anything more specific or concrete concerning a person’s necessary relationship with and attitude toward nature and the environment.The film, the Makah whaling controversy, and other Indigenous writings offer texts through which one can theorize an American Indian environmental consciousness.An earlier, much different and shorter version of the argument set forth here was originally presented as “‘The Truth Hangs over Your Head’: Sanctioned and Unsanctioned Crimes against the Environment”.