As soon as Jesse Short Bull arrived in New York for the premiere of “Lakota Nation Versus the United States,” he knew he was off to a good start when he walked into town.

“The guy at the wheel, without provocation [or us] say anything about where we came from, just talks about Crazy Horse and how he was his hero,” Short Bull said. “I don’t know if that was a good sign, but you could see where I think people would really like to understand this story and this story.”

Anyone looking for an education in Native American history, and those who don’t even know it yet, would do well to indulge in the exciting experiment that Short Bull and co-director Laura Tomaselli have set up to pass on the foundation. of the Landback movement in South Dakota to return millions of acres of ancestral land to the indigenous community. While Short Bull and Tomaselli give a platform to a number of voices from the Lakota nation, especially Layli Long Soldier, the Ogala Lakota poet whose lyrics give shape to the deep connection between the people and the land, the Black Hills themselves- selves are allowed to speak as the film positions vibrant landscape scenes against the devastating history that surrounds it, recognized in 1868 by the US government as Sioux territory in treaty and then stolen once the gold was discovered in the ground.

This theft is revealed to be barely limited to property in “Lakota Nation Versus the United States” when land rights are gradually diminished by how Native Americans have come to be viewed by much of America as well as by the way they saw themselves, separated from their traditions and any sense of controlling their own destiny as they were forced into cultural assimilation. A barrage of pop culture ephemera lend credence to the idea that images have become as effective a weapon of subjugation against the indigenous community as barbaric practices designed to break their spirits such as child separations and mass executions and “Lakota Nation Versus the United States” brilliantly reframes much of the history Americans have known, from the division of the Lakota into separate reservations to the establishment of Mount Rushmore, as acts of aggression and injustice.

Although it remains a question of whether the land will be returned, “Lakota Nation Versus the United States” is able to return some of the power as the leaders of the Landback movement are able to reclaim their narrative and the film in a provocative way. – and often playfully – upends assumptions about the US government’s claim to the Black Hills. As the film gains new supporters for the cause in Tribeca, where it is starting its festival, Short Bull and Tomaselli, who previously helped craft another electrifying rethinking of American history as “MLK/ FBI” by Sam Pollard, explained how they came to collaborate and create frames that could last for centuries, as well as navigate a production during the pandemic.

How did you join forces on this?

Jesse Taurus Shorts: It was crazy because we have a mutual friend [Ben Hedin], the producer of the film, and it was thanks to this mutual friend that we started the conversation to move this project forward and that was the first snowflake. Then pretty soon Laura was the next snowflake and it became a snowball and it just kept coming down the hill and picking up a lot of amazing people.

Laura Tomaselli: We’ve met on the phone several times, but the first scout trip we took last year in May, and I remember our first conversation, [with] we’re chain smoking – I was still terrified, I was like, ‘What are we trying to do with this movie?’ [Jesse] told me something that I think about all the time, which is, “We need to get around the walls of how people are already thinking about this story.”

Jesse Taurus Shorts: Once I first met Laura, I was like, “She gets it.” ‘Cause in Indian country there’s a lot of controversy around it [Landback] project. There’s a lot of heated feelings surrounding it, so it’s not something you can take lightly. Once I met Laura, we had the same vibe and I knew we were going to work on this project together with as much dedication and care as possible.

There is a truth version of this movie where you fit in with the backers of Landback. What made you want to go back in time so much?

Laura Tomaselli: There is something that [Jesse] said about the treaty, i.e. it’s from 1868, 150 years ago – a lot of people think that doesn’t matter. But [my] the entry point was the lawsuit, which is called Sioux Nation versus United States, and then as we put it together, it expanded to become the Lakota Nation and the story of their fight against colonization. But I wasn’t necessarily trying to cut another stock footage, because they’re tough, and it seemed okay in terms of pressing today.

Jesse Taurus Shorts: What I think is unique is that the people of the Lakota nation, the Oceti Sakowin, all the people that we feature in the film, that little sample, every generation has always had that. Once this treaty was inactive, there were always these active people who tried to keep it going all this time. It’s just that a lot of them are lost to history or we may never know their faces or their names, but they always kept that alive. It was never a relic [so] even though many of these folks aren’t necessarily working on the treaty, per se, they still carry the same spirit as their relatives of long ago. But a lot of America just doesn’t have access to much of that history. It’s hard because I work in tribal government and one of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome with people off the reservation is just getting [everyone] up to speed. There are people, even in our own state, who no longer think we exist. It’s hard.

Jesse, I understand you’re from Pine Ridge, so these images seem to have lived in your head forever and the land is integral to the telling of the story. Were there any that you had to have in this film?

Jesse Taurus Shorts: From day one Laura and I wanted to emphasize trying to bring the land as its own character, to try to show that relationship that our people really insist on having with the land, so we were both very adamant about trying to make it look as good as possible with the rest of our team, that we show that love, [which is] how many of our people see it.

Laura Tomaselli: Almost in a holy way, not necessarily Christian or anything like that, but that was the point. We had a lot of conversations where I was like, “Jesse, what are we missing?” He was always saying ‘I think we’re missing the piece of real relationship with the land’ which as an outsider is something you don’t understand until you sit down on it and you start to understand it. At least [that’s] what I was trying to do, because [these scenes] are visceral, they can evoke that feeling that Jesse is talking about and I’m not going to take you all the way there, but if I can get you there a bit, that’s cool.

How did Layli Long Soldier come to this?

Jesse Taurus Shorts: A lot of these people, I had some sort of relationship before the film was made, and I grew up with Layli. I lived not far from where her dad was, and her dad was a Pine Ridge Indian education painter and lo and behold, Layli would eventually become one of my instructors. What’s so critical about Layli is that she looks at the language, like in the treatise, and enters it like in her latest book “While”, finds the space between each letter, and looks at it so meticulously and carefully, even more than a lawyer would and really find out what’s inside. And having Layli be a counter to a lot of archival voices, and just one voice for all Oceti Sakowin, her voice represents the whole Lakota nation because the way she says it and the way she takes language so seriously.

Laura Tomaselli: I didn’t have Layli as a teacher or anything like that, but at first when I read “Wheas” then I listened to her reading – and she loves to read her own work, which is amazing. She cares about the art of this narrative – I [thought] oh my goodness, if we could put that in the movie, that would solve that storyteller’s dilemma to some degree, because when you’re trying to cover this massive story, and you’re going to have to use news anchors for exposition, just for opportunity, so we have to [ask] who is our Lakota presenter? At least for me. Who is the voice, this counterpoint to all the white people in the offices? So she certainly worked that way, but also in the poem, where she says, “Maybe I’m not going in chronological order,” [I thought] I’m going to jump into the edit. It allowed us to really [think] maybe we can move things around.

What was it like knowing where to film current events, especially given the pandemic?

Jesse Taurus Shorts: Last year was really stressful because Pine Ridge was about to get back to some level of normality when it came to big events and things of that nature and it seemed like it was just when we were about to shoot home, all tight again. And Pine Ridge is unique because, while the state of South Dakota had no mask mandate, no vaccine mandate, Pine Ridge was quite the opposite. They really wanted to take care of our people, so the rules were really stuck. In fact, we had checkpoints [for] people coming to the reservation, and it’s the same with a lot of other reservations like Cheyenne River, so that threw a wrench in things. We probably could have had more stuff for Laura to feast on when it comes to editing, but we’re making do with what we can.

Laura Tomaselli: Going into it, I was like, “Well, we must have [footage of] that pow wow and then that moment of catharsis, especially after COVID. It will be so good. But each time there was a spike in cases. That’s one thing I feel really lucky for is that it forced our hand – I love [that there’s] the protest at the end, where it’s honest and big and it doesn’t always have to be this image of a powwow.

It was a strong point to finish. And that’s just the beginning of the movie, but what’s it like to get here and let the world know it?

Laura Tomaselli: We delivered our print five days ago, so I think sharing it with the room of the people we’re going to share it with tonight is going to have me completely in tears for about 17 hours, but it’s going to be beautiful.

Jesse Taurus Shorts: I’m just taking it as it comes. Once we got going, I knew something like this would happen and we would get him to a place where he needed to be. And when I get home, I really count on my blessings, and I just hope that maybe we can help someone understand where a lot of our people come from at Oceti Sakowin. If it could help them learn a bit more, I think that would be a good thing.

“The Lakota Nation vs. the United States” will be screened again at Tribeca June 17 at 5:45 p.m. at the East Village.