By Julia Magsombol
Local Journalism Initiative
There’s a scene in Martin Scorsese’s new film Killers of the Flower Moon where many Osage people are brutally murdered in different ways. At first, when you watch the movie, you would think it was the rampant shooting, stabbing, and bombings that crawl under your skin, but it’s not. It’s the loudest, unspoken actions of settlers’ greed towards Indigenous Peoples.
Killers of the Flower Moon is based on a true story of the murders of Native Americans in Osage County, Oklahoma from 1921 to 1926.
The Osage lands are rich in oils. In 1907, it was estimated that the Osage fields produced oil for more than five million barrels.
William King Hale (played by Robert De Niro), a wealthy rancher behind the Osage murders and manipulation, sees this wealth as his.
Driven by greed, he suggested an idea to his nephew Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) to marry an Osage woman, Mollie Kyle Burkhart (Lily Gladstone), to acquire her and her family’s wealth. It was not only Ernst who married an Osage woman, but many local whites were encouraged to marry Osage people to acquire the wealth of their spouses.
The movie focuses on the murders of the family of Mollie, where all her sisters and mother died in a suspicious death, with no thorough investigations done. Her sisters died brutally, one by one.
Hale strategically planned the killings of the sisters so all their wealth would be reverted to Mollie and Ernst, his nephew. And in the end, he can get all this wealth. As Hale stays in the land of the Osage, many Native people die, and thus, his wealth continues.
Ernst followed Hale’s plans and the plotted murders.
Scorsese focused on the point of view of Ernst in the movie, as he may want to present the themes of greed and its results. The end of the film seems to depict Ernst’s conscience — where he indeed feels terrible for all his actions. But as audiences, must we justify the way he murdered his wife’s family?
However, through the point of view of Ernst, in the end, the audience can see his conscience and what greed can do to a human — it kills people and many souls, including oneself.
Mollie’s point of view, which I wish there were more, focused on the resilience of Indigenous Peoples. She was able to fight for herself and to feel better despite her illness.
These murders were the same year as the Indian Act was amended in Canada. For more information, read: https://www.fnesc.ca/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/IRSR11-12-DE-1920-1927.pdf
In 1920, the Indian Act was amended to make it compulsory for status Indian children to attend either an Indian residential school or a day school. But most of the time, there were no day schools then. The only options available were residential schools or no education at all. And so, many parents were forced to send their children to residential schools.
Canadian residential schools were created to isolate children from the influence of their families and traditions.
European settlers believed their Western civilization was superior and wanted the Indigenous Peoples to convert to Christianity and westernize them. They thought they could achieve this through residential schools by murdering thousands of Indigenous children.
Many Canadian Indigenous Peoples are still suffering from the trauma that residential schools brought.
The Osage murders and residential schools are different stories that took place in different places, but they presented the continuous murder of Indigenous Peoples and their culture.
In both situations, it shows what greed can do — and it doesn’t only kill people but many souls and traditional knowledge that can last a lifetime of trauma.
I personally give this film a score of 4 out of 5. I wish there were more of Mollie’s point of view to show Indigenous People’s resiliency after all they’ve been through. Overall, every scene in the movie has the purpose of giving the audience the ugly part and painful truth, but a must-know Indigenous history.