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TLO Film Review: Savage Land (2021)

In 2013, the ironically named Custer County police not only brutally murdered 18-year-old Mah-hi-vist Red Bird Goodblanket—a Cheyenne Arapaho living in Oklahoma—but actually received medals for the senseless slaying a few days later. It makes you disgusted to be an Oklahoman, if you weren’t already.

I remember interviewing his mother Melissa a short time after the killing and, hearing the absolute pain in her voice as she described the traumatic events, I began crying too, unable to speak. Her story of what happened that night has always haunted me and, quite frankly, always will; no mother should experience what she has.

Almost a decade later however, her living pain has been replaced with a deeper love for her son, as she has actively tried to keep the intense memory—and, of course, wavering investigation—of Mah-hi-vist’s death alive. It’s chronicled in the startling new documentary Savage Land, which played recently at the Rodeo Cinema.

Goodblanket’s murder, however, is nothing new to many Indigenous people. The numerous horrors that have been inflicted—and still are inflicted—have been routinely exercised by the whitest of privileges since the first pilgrim stepped off the Mayflower, from the destruction of the buffalo, the relocation of the Natives and, finally, the quiet extermination of our race over decades. Kill the Indian, to Hell with the man.


Like others, Indigenous culture should be based on our victorious wins, but, sadly, it’s seemingly based on our cruel losses. We learn that Mah-hi-vist’s lineage stretches back to the Sand Creek and Washita Massacres, cold-blooded killings that have and will continue to affect the family for numerous generations, if they ever heal. It’s a poison that every Native has in the blood, slowly killing us.

The murder of Mah-hi-vist made the anti-Indigenous attitudes from law enforcement very real for this current generation of Indigenous people, even if the law enforcement of Custer County—and Oklahoma in general—continue to painfully gaslight us. This is one fight we can’t lose; Mah-hi-vist will not be forgotten.

I’m not sure where Savage Land is playing next, but if you get the chance, see this documentary as soon as possible, especially if you are Indigenous.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78

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