"In 1800, there were 300,000 Indian people living in California.
By 1990, after the invasion of the white man, only 20,000 remained.
Forced from their native lands into cities and onto reservations, none of the survivors lived the free life of their ancestors."
Or so it was believed.
The movie opens in 1911 California with an Indian (Graham Greene) breaking in to a barn to get something to eat. They lock him up and call in a linguist to try to communicate with him. The linguist determines that he is Yahi, from a tribe thought to be extinct.
They bring Ishi to Professor Alfred Kroeber (Jon Voight), an anthropologist, who spoke Yahi. Ishi tells Professor Kroeber about his memories with his people. Hunting bear, spear fishing and then the massacre of his people by settlers at Three Knolls in 1866. Guns against bows and arrows, they killed the Yahi like they were animals.
Kroeber begins to teach Ishi English and gives him a job at the museum. Ishi teaches Professor Kroeber about his people and their customs. Kroeber and some colleagues bring Ishi back to his land, so he can show them how he lived. Building shelter, hunting with a bow and arrow, remembering the old days. Ishi tells of how at the end there was just his mother, his sister and himself left in a small camp. Settlers with dogs came and shot his young sister and his mother died soon after. Ishi was now the last Yahi.
A good movie showing how the California Indians were systematically eliminated. It also has a good portrayal of Ishi, a man of quiet courage and dignity.
Ishi (ca. 1860 - March 25, 1916) was the last member of the Yahi, the last surviving group of the Yana people of the U.S. state of California. Ishi is believed to have been the last Native American in Northern California to have lived most of his life completely outside the European American culture. At about 49 years old, in 1911 he emerged from the wild near Oroville, California, leaving his ancestral homeland, present-day Tehama County, near the foothills of Lassen Peak, known to Ishi as "Wa ganu p'a".
Ishi means "man" in the Yana language. The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber gave this name to the man because it was rude to ask someone's name in the Yahi culture. When asked his name, he said: "I have none, because there were no people to name me," meaning that no Yahi had ever spoken his name. He was taken in by anthropologists at the University of California, Berkeley, who both studied him and hired him as a research assistant. He lived most of his remaining five years in a university building in San Francisco. (from Wikipedia)