Idpol on the path to becoming a warrior
Powwow Highway is a unique narrative that deals with Native American identity politics and takes them on the road. The filmmaker sought to highlight the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1850 with the stand-off and siege of Wounded Knee in 1973, having both incidents haunt the memories of our protagonists Buddy and Philbert.
Buddy is worldly and business savvy, having both been a veteran of Vietnam (the purple heart) and of the 1973 incident at Wounded Knee. While Buddy works for his people (the Cheyenne) and helps protect their business interests, he has a disconnect from his culture, thinking that the old ways are bullshit. Philbert, on the other hand, has a deep connection to the old ways, looking towards them in his attempt to become a Cheyenne warrior. Philbert appears to have never been off the reservation and seems unaware of the deep vein of hurt that comes with the oppression of his people by outside interests.
The men travel southward towards Santa Fe and they hit a few detours (courtesy of Philbert's path to becoming a warrior). Along the way, they meet up with some of Buddy's fellow Wounded Knee veterans, attend a powwow, and stop and pay respect to several places considered sacred by the Cheyenne. These pit-stops introduce Philbert o the highly complex politically-charged world outside of the reservation -- the reasons why identity politics were established. They encounter betrayals by both outsiders (dominant culture) and from within (those who work in the interests of the dominant culture), the difficulties of maintaining a lifestyle in co-ordinance with one's culture outside of the reservation, the lack of any aid for Native American war veterans, and the disconnect one can develop with one's own culture. At the same time, we are introduced to the Cheyenne spirit -- a respect for nature and others, as well as a spirit to endure and persevere through all obstacles.
Both men find in each other that which was missing from their warrior paths. As Philbert's understanding of the complexities of the politics surrounding Native American life grows and becomes more worldly, Buddy finds himself opening up to a reconnection to his culture. By the end of the adventure, both men have moved much closer to the middle -- a combination of reverence and respect for one's own culture and an understanding of what lies outside -- which seem to be traits of a warrior. In the end, both men are well on their way to becoming true Cheyenne warriors.