Black Robe, Film, Indian, Last of Mohicans, Movie, Native American, Pathfinder, Russell Means, Sterotype, Wes Studi
We need a guide to help us through this next installment of Ten Little White Indians. for that purpose, we will turn to PATHFINDER: THE LEGEND OF THE GHOST WARRIOR (2007). Our main character is the sole survivor of a Viking expedition to Vinland sometime before the Columbian exchange. He is discovered as a young boy of about 12 following a battle with the hated dragon warriors (as the vikings are known in the movie). The Wampanoag who take out hero in call him ‘Ghost’, in an obvious reference to his pale skin.
Some years later, we find Ghost (played by Karl Urban) struggling for acceptance and pining for the daughter (‘Starfire’ played by Moon Bloodgood) of a nearby chief called ‘Pathfinder’ (played by Russell Means, yes THAT Russell Means). It is worth noting that Ghost retains possession of a sword from his old father, and he practices with it regularly.
Yes, that is a possible Pocahontas theme brewing here again. (You noticed it, didn’t you, my dear reader)
Enter a new band of Vikings, and the plot begins to thicken. They soon slaughter Ghost’s adopted people and upon capturing him, subject Ghost to a duel. See now that is why you needed to know about the whole sword thing, because Ghost acquits himself surprisingly well in the fight. After taking an eye from his opponent, Ghost manages to escape by sledding down the mountain on a shield. He then hides for a while before heading to Pathfinder’s village to warn the of the coming danger.
Let us fast-forward a bit. In time the Vikings kill Pathfinder (who later appears as a vision of sorts at a key moment in the story). They capture Starfire and force Ghost to help them find the other village, but our hero tricks them and ultimately defeats their leader, Gunnar, leaving him mortally wounded and dangling from the edge of a cliff. Gunnar begs Ghost to grant him an honorable death. Knowing that Ghost is himself of Viking descent, he explains that death by the sword is the only honorable end for their kind.
Ghost promptly disavows his viking kindred and sends Gunnar down the cliff instead. Do I need to mention that he gets the girl in the end?
Full on Pocahontas-meme for the win!
So, let’s stay in the whole Northeastern part of America for a while and fast forward some more, all the way to the 1630s. Made in 1991, this next movie follows the story of a Jesuit Priest, Father LaForge, or ‘BLACK ROBE‘ as his native companions refer to him. LaForge (played by Lothaire Bluteau) sets out on a mission to the Hurons, but of course this story isn’t really about his interaction with the Hurons. No, it is about his travels with the Algonquans who have agreed to take him up the St. Lawrence River to the Huron mission. He is further accompanied by one other Frenchmen, Daniel (played by Aden Young).
Daniel is the white Indian in this story.
Daniel and LaForge will be escorted to the Huron missions by Chomina (played by August Shellenberg). his wife (played by Tantoo Cardinal), and their daughter Annuka (played by Sandrine Holt) as well as a small band of relations. They have agreed to take LaForge to the Huron Mission in exchange for a number of trade goods (knives, axes, and such). The journey will take them through dangerous territory well away from their normal hunting grounds, a fact which displeases a number of traveling companions, and eats away at the morale of the party.
Did you notice that Chomina has a daughter?
Father laForge is definitely not a white Indian. He is here to change people, not to be changed by them. LaForge makes little effort to learn the customs of his companions. He knows their language of course, but he is never quite comfortable with it, and that is his strong suit. In all other respects, he finds nearly every aspect of life among the Algonquans awkward at best, but more often painful and terrifying. This makes the presence of Daniel all the more comforting, because the young Daniel takes to life among their new companions like a fish to water. He masters their language, and learns their customs readily. He is a blessing to LaForge on this long and strenuous journey.
Oh wait a minute, no he isn’t!
I’m sorry, what I mean to say is that Daniel WOULD have been a comfort to LaForge were it not for all those facts I just mentioned, …and the fact that Daniel scores up a relationship with Annuka early in the trip. Daniel’s ability to immerse himself in Algonquin culture serves only to intensify LaForge’s loneliness. Because of course if there is anything worse than being alone it is being abandoned, which is exactly how Father LaForge feels watching Daniel carry on with Annuka and move easily among the people with whom they are traveling.
LaForge feels even more alienated when Daniel actually does abandon him. faced with increasing doubts about LaForge’s character, the dangers ahead, and the wisdom of bypassing better hunting grounds, the entire band convinces Chomina to leave Black Robe behind. So, they present Daniel and LaForge with a duck as a farewell gift. There is a brief tense moment where it is unclear what the two of them will do to survive. Daniel quickly resolves this dilemma by taking off after Chomina’s band (and more importantly Annuka), leaving Black Robe alone in the forest with a dead duck. To say that his chances are slim is putting it mildly.
Don’t worry though, Chomina has a change of heart and returns along with a portion of his traveling party, and of course, Daniel. He announces his decision with the words; “I may be stupid, but I promised Champlain I would take the Black Robe to the mission.” Those who evidently thought him stupid exist stage left and make no further appearances in the story.
But Chomina and company, at least do return for black Robe.
Not a chance.
An Iroquois war party quickly pairs the whole party down to the central characters (LaForge, Chomina, Annuka, Daniel, and one other child). Subjected to torture, the survivors escape (minus the child), though Chomina soon dies of his wounds. In the end, LaForge travels on to the mission while Annuka and Daniel head off into the wilderness.
So, this time the white Indian gets the girl, but the girl loses her whole family in the process. Good fun eh?
By the Way, I am skipping a really interesting theme about a prophetic dream and the symbolism of death. Want to know more about it? You know what to do.
Speaking of Russell Means, he plays a key part in this next story too. Better yet, he carries a really cool weapon, a club-shaped a bit like a rifle-stock, throughout the movie. As I recall, Means maintains that these clubs are actually nutcrackers played up for purposes of Hollywood movies and white fantasies. …but I’m off on a tangent, the point of departure for which is well on down the road. …I just like cool clubs.
Anyway, let’s talk about the LAST OF MOHICANS (1992), a big screen adaptation of the famous novel by James Fennimore Cooper. This film depicts the struggles of Hawkeye (played by Daniel Day Lewis) during the early days of the French and Indian War. Hawkeye is our white Indian. Adopted by a Mohican leader, Chingachgook (Russell Means), Hawkeye’s mastery of Indian customs and hunting techniques is established early in the movie as he hunts with his adopted father and brother, Uncus (played by Eric Schweig).
But let’s skip for a moment to the villain of this story, Magua (played by Wes Studi), or as I like to call him, “the true hero of this terrible tragedy.” You see Magua enters the story as a native scout for British forces on the colonial frontier. He agrees to escort Major Duncan Heyward and two women, Cora and Alice Munro (played by Madaleine Stow and Jodhi May). They are the daughters of Colonel Edmund Monro (played by …oh, who cares?) on a trip to Fort William Henry.
Magua betrays the expedition, leading a Huron attack (which results in the slaughter of countless British soldiers). And with that, the principle villain of the movie is just getting started. He later cuts the heart out of Colonel Monro, but not before promising to kill both of his daughters, thus erasing Monro’s seed from the earth itself. How’s that for a villainous plan?
You see it turns out that Magua’s own village had once been attacked by Moro’s troops, resulting in the deaths of his own children and the capture of his wife.
Did I mention that Magua kicks ass?
Okay, well I suppose we are meant to be rooting for Hawkeye and his adopted family as they rescue Duncan Heyward and the girls during the battle that results from Magua’s most excellent betrayal. When the British and the French make peace, at least for the interim, Magua presses his personal war against the Monro clan by leading an attack on retreating British forces. He and his Huron warriors eventually captures Duncan and the two girls, but his Monrocidal goals are frustrated when Hawkeye arrives to negotiate a deal with the village leader. Cora is to be burned alive, Alice is to be made Magua’s wife (a decision he appears to accept). Hawkeye asks to take Cora’s place, but Duncan tricks the Huron into taking him instead, thus letting Hawkeye and Cora (who are by now a budding love interest) escape to live happily ever after.
…well, except they just can’t let Duncan die like that.
Hawkeye proves his name fitting by shooting Duncan from the edge of the village just before the flames overtake him and then flees with Cora. Magua follows with a number of warriors. Inexplicably they bring Alice along for the chase. In an effort to get Alice, Uncas then proceeds to fight his way through a number of Huron warriors walking single file along a majestic cliff-side. Unfortunately, Uncas proves no match for Magua, and his body soon goes over the cliff-side. Facing Magua’s outstretched hand, Alice instead jumps to her own death.
That’s when Chingachgook steps in and goes head-to-head with Magua making very short work of the villain. This time, it is Magua’s lifeless body that hits the ground.
The movie ends with a final prayer by Chingachgook, who now proclaims himself the last of the Mohicans.
And Once Again, the white Indian gets the girl, …who has lost her entire family in the process.
Only this time, it isn’t the chief’s daughter.
She isn’t even native!
Wild, isn’t it?
In one of his books, Hawthorne had so many natives in a canoe that it would have to have been 50′ long.
Haha! That’s hilarious.
Not too mant fact checkers in those days.
Thanks for this post. It brought to mind the 1957 TV series “The Last of the Mohicans.” I recall seeing it as a small boy and being touched by the sadness and nobility of Chingachgook, played by Lon Chaney, Jr. of all people. The show lasted only a single season.
Lon Chaney, Jr. ? That is an odd choice. It was definitely before my time. I vaguely recall the old Daniel Boone series, not the least of reasons being that my classmates would sing the series tune at me. …argh!
James Fenimore Cooper wrote Last of the Mohicans, which was part of a series of books about Hawkeye, alternately called Natty Bumppo and Deerslayer. They were all part of what I believe were called the Leatherstocking Tales. I’m not sure if Cooper ever met a Native American and he wrote The Last of the Mohicans when he was living in New York City. There is one aspect of Cooper that relates to your movie review. I agree that the Magua character as played by Studi is transfixing. His hatred for whites is white hot, and what’s more, he has good reasons for hating them. Magua is what gives this movie any interest at all. Cooper often portrayed his Indians as evil to the extent that they had contact with or were influenced by white civilization. Hawkeye is GOOD because he is more Indian than white. Magua was wronged by the Brits but hangs out with the French. That’s BAD, but not really his fault.
The whole theme of white culture encountering a not-white culture (Queequeg and Ishmael, John Smith and Pocohontas, Spencer and Hawk, Jim and Huck, any number of Salt and Pepper vaudeville acts) has a long history in the US and your look at the White Indian idea is an interesting take on things.
The contagion theme is an interesting angle. I suppose we could find it in other movies mentioned above. Thank you for raising it.
Studi is just a dozen different kinds of awesome, and he really shines in this role.
Gabriel Napoleon said:
Great list concept. The “White Indian” deserves its a place in the study of Native American film. What about Ethan Edwards in The Searchers?
Gabriel Napoleon said:
Great list concept. The “White Indian” deserves a place in the study of Native American film. What about Ethan Edwards in The Searchers?