"It is said that the young people of today are the warriors of tomorrow. I look at you and I think, We're in big trouble."
"If, from your vision, you have learned only this, grandson, then already you have learned much, for true power and wisdom comes from within. When a man realizes his oneness with all creation, when he realizes that at the center of the universe dwells a power greater than his self - this center is everywhere. It is within each of us. Go now and walk the good red road. Mitakuye oyasin. Mitakuye oyasin, all my relations..."
The movie opens up 1000 years ago in the Black Hills and tells us the the story of a Lakota boy named Eagle Boy who is fasting for four days and on a vision quest. We then flash back to the present and we see the Granpa, the Storyteller, Pete Chasing Horse (August Schellenberg) who is tellin stories on the reservation to young children.
We then meet Shane who is in trouble because he owes the wrong people people money. His mother tells Shane that his grandfather wants to go to New Mexico for the All Nations Pow Wow, but Shane doesn't want to go. In this scene we see some actual shots of the poverty that there is on the present day reservations. Some gangster Natives pull up and threaten Shane because he owes them money.
Shane reluctantly decides to go on the trip with his grandfather. The trip in effect becomes a vision quest for Shane who is also seeking the meaning of life. Grandpa then continues telling the story of Eagle Boy and we flash back to one thousand years in the past. Eagle Boy, like Shane, is frustrated because he can't find his vision. The spirits appear to Eagle Boy but he can't understand what they are saying.
Grandpa then tells a story of the Lakota from 1868. Bluebird Woman is being courted by High Horse. He brings some horses to her father, Kills Enemy, but he rejects him. Bluebird Woman refuses to run away with him. High Horse then decides to dress as a spirit and scare the village, and he will be able to take Bluebird Woman. When the tribe chases him away High Horse is determined to throw his life so he rides in to a Crow camp, but his spirit outfit scares them and they run away and he gets their horses. When he brings the horses back to camp Kills Enemy gives the hero, High Horse, Bluebird Woman. Kills Enemy tells High Horse that it is not the horses he wanted but a true man to be his son. Grandpa then tells Shane that that was how the story was told to him, and that is the way it must be told or it loses its power.
Grandpa then tells a story of the Mohawks, about a thunder spirit who desire a Mohawk woman, Sky Woman. She decides that she will go with the spirit who loves her. The spirit and Sky Woman are going to have a child, but she can not stay in the spirit world and have the child. She must return to her own people. The thunder spirit brings Sky Woman back to her people and she tells her father that no man has touched her. As the child grows he calls the thunder his father, and when his grandmother strikes him Thunder Boy disappears forever. The people would then sing to Thunder Boy whenever it would storm.
Grandpa and Shane then talk about Shane's father who has a problem with alcohol. "The red road is hard to travel in these times", Grandpa says. They then meet a white guy who has a distant Indian relative who wants a ride to the Pow Wow. Granpa then tells a story of Tejan (a Texan) a red-haired captive who lives among the Kiowa in 1868. He lives with his adaptive sister but a powerful brave dislikes him and taunts him. Tejan goes out on a mission to establish himself as a Kiowa but is picked up by Union soldiers. Tejan refuses to betray the tribe. He remembers the white way of life but he wants to remain a Kiowa. His sister tells the tribe that he could have escaped back to the whites many times, but he chose to remain with them. He is a Kiowa. His adoptive sister, Talks-A-Lot (Delanna Studi) then leads a raid to free him. Tejan then stays and fights with the warriors so the women and children could escape. Tejan has seen both life styles and he has chosen to be Kiowa.
As the ride to the pow Wow goes on, so do the stories. Next Grandpa tells a story about a trickster called Iktome the Spider (Gary Farmer) and the Coyote, another trickster. This part of the film is filmed with bright lights and echoing sounds, as the tricksters plotted their mischief. They show The People "what not to do by doing it."
We then see Eagle Boy again after three days on the mountain, not eating and not drinking, waiting for his vision. He now just dreamed of water. He then sees an Elk who tells him he must go to a cave and a woman will tell him how to kill a giant snake. If he kills a snake then he will habe all he dreams of. The ugly woman in the cave transforms into a beautiful maid when he hugs her. She gives Eagle Boy and some arrows and tells him how to kill the snake.
When the res gangsters pull up in a car behind them, Shane tries to keep them from passing because they are trying to shoot him, Their car crashes and they end up in the Rio Grande. Shene rushes out to try to save them. The movie then flips back to Eagle boy's battle with the giant snake. Eagle Boy kills the snake and Shane frees the gangsters. The gangsters then go with Shane and Grandpa to the Pow Wow.
Next Grandpa tells a story of the Pawnees in 1830. They move their camps to follow the buffalo. Scouts have returned to camp, they have found the buffalo, and among them is the spotted bull. The chief offers his daughter and twelve horses for the robe of the spotted bull. A poor young Pawnee, Dirty Belly, on a magical pony beats all the braves to the spotted bull and gains the chief's daughter but he decides to keep the robe. His horse then tells him that he can ride against enemy warriors and can count coup against their chief and their bravest warriors. The next day when the Oglala Sioux attack he rides amongst them and counts cuop. When he goes out for a fifth time, against the advice of his money, the pony is shot. Dirty Belly's hubris has brought him down. He learned his lesson and the horse rose again and Dirty Belly prospered.
Next, while looking at the stars, Grandpa tells Sheane a story about a Cheyenne girl known as Quillwork Girl. She spends her days making men's clothes but she has no brothers. In her dream she sees seven brothers who she wants to be her brothers. She sets out to look for them. She finds the brothers and gives them the shirts she made. A buffalo appears and tells the brothers that they want the girl, but the brothers say they will protect her. The buffalo return and the boys pull out their bows but then flee and climb a tree which magically grows for them and they are brought up in to the stars. They became what we call the Big Dipper.
The car dies and Grandpa rides a horse and Shane walks. Grandpa next tells a story of the Pacific North West from the 1700's on the Columbia River. A raven tells the Chinook people that bad things are coming. A shaman tells the people that they must have a daughter of a head man give herself back to the earth and the sickness will then leave the land. The daughter of the chief, Otter Woman, does offer herself up and the sickness leaves the land. Grandpa says that that girl didn't think of herself, she thought of her people.
The next story Grandpa tells is about a Blackfeet boy who keeps looking for his father who is gone. When he sees his father's spirit, it tells him to let him go. The boy keeps a rock that was there that is then always good luck for him. Grandpa then leads Shane to his father's trailer, and Shane is angry. When they start fighting Grandpa gets in the middle, because people want to know the stories. Grandpa needs to find someone who will tell the stories. When Shane goes in to get Grandpa in the morning he is dead. Shane's father finishes telling him the story of Eagle Boy.
The journey ends, and Grandpa has found his Dreamkeeper in Shane. He goes to the Pow Wow and he tells the stories, the way they were told to him. Shane's Dad tells him that when he gets back home he will be there. At the Pow Wow we see many of the people who we saw in the stories.
All ninety five actors who play Natives in the film are actually Native Americans. We see Mohawks in long house and Sioux in tepees. We see lacrosse, curing hides, gathering berries, counting coup and planting corn. The one thing we don't see is violence. We see tolerance and bravery and searching for truth. A wonderful movie.