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Bury My Heart in Dresden

The story of a Sioux chief buried in Germany in 1914 and the challenges his descendants face today in South Dakota.

Last updated: 15 Jan 2014 12:25
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At a Catholic cemetery in Dresden, Germany, the inscription on a weather-beaten tombstone reveals who was buried in the grave in 1914: Edward Two Two, Sioux chief.

So where did he come from and why was he buried in Germany, thousands of kilometres away from his native homeland?

This film tells the fascinating story of a Sioux chief from South Dakota who came to Germany as part of one of the so-called human zoos. In those days, people who fulfilled the local audience's desire for the exotic would be taken from all over the world and presented in elaborately choreographed shows.

Edward Two Two initially came with his wife and a granddaughter to Hagenbeck, a zoo based in Hamburg, later moving on to Dresden's Sarrasani circus. At the time, Indians were a big attraction. Living in tepees in front of the circus tent, they were required to wear a feathered headdress and traditional clothing at all times as well as dance and sing. Flocking past, the large audiences loved them. They corresponded to a common, romanticised image of the Indians.

Yet in their homeland the reality had long been far different. From their free life on the prairie, Native Americans had been forced into reservations and subjected to a programme of re-education. 

So how are things today in the reservation Edward Two Two left behind for Germany at the beginning of the last century?

Filmmaker Bettina Renner embarks on a journey to trace the roots of Edward Two Two in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota where she meets several descendants of the man whose grave she had stumbled on in Dresden.

Filmmaker's view

By Bettina Renner  

It was a warm and sunny summer day. I was filming a TV documentary at the Catholic cemetery in Dresden when I suddenly came across the graveside of Edward Two Two. This was the moment I began my journey.

Questions raced through my mind - who was this man, where did he come from and why was he buried here, thousands of kilometres far away from his native homeland?

My research took me to archives and libraries. I was astonished and excited at how many documents I was able to find. I was also lucky because I found many people who helped me find my way through the systems of archives and who shared with me the moments of joy when an additional piece of the puzzle was found.

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The next stage of my journey took me to the former homeland of Edward Two Two - the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

I drove around, knocking at people's doors, asking them if they knew of any descendants of Edward Two Two. Surprisingly, I was never sent away. With the help of the Pine Ridge community, I managed to track down several descendants of Edward Two Two. They happily shared their personal stories with me and allowed me to tell the story of their "grandfather Edward" in a documentary film.

For me it was important to tell the story of Edward Two Two - not as a historical film but as a story of the past within the present. I wanted to show the consequences of the past on the lives of today.

While staying at the Pine Ridge reservation, I found out that within the Lakota community, there were also a number of Europeans who had permanantly settled in the largely Indian reservation. When I met the Europeans and their families, I was touched by how much they gave back to the people, and the place, they now called home.

Were these Europeans attracted to this place because of a romantic notion about Native Americans? This was the first question I asked myself. After spending some time with them I soon realised there was a much deeper reason.

The story of Edward Two Two is not only a story about the Indian-white relations in the past and the present. For me, the story presents the universal question - where and how do we find our place in this world?

I would like to thank everyone who made it possible for me to tell Edward Two Two's story in this way, especially all the people who opened their homes to us and shared their lives.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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