Centennial – The ‘Roots’ of Native Americans

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The epic mini-series Centennial opened with an introduction by James Michener, who wrote the novel. It was a great lead in to the many hours of story that followed. Part four is For as Long as the Waters Flow, which you could say is about moving forward.

The loss of Elly Zendt in the previous episode clears the path for widower Levi Zendt (Gregory Harrison) to marry Lucinda, the daughter of Clay Basket and Pasquinel. Clay Basket is now married to McKeag (Richard Chamberlain) and together they have raised Lucinda.

Lucinda’s two brothers, though, are more prone to the half breed monikers and go to live with the Indians. There’s actually a very emotional, eye opening scene between Levi and Mike, who is one of Pasquinel’s sons. Mike is way more passive and tolerant than his older brother, but yet he tells us about the fine line he’s walking between two worlds. When he talks about the land and who owns it, it makes my heart stop. It is a very sad commentary on the white man’s selfishness. The truth is, we stole the land from the Native American. No matter how people try to rationalize and explain it, it’s the truth. It’s so crystal clear that it makes me cry.

This is actually why I’ve longed compared Centennial to Roots. Both tell the story of the white man’s arrogance. We stole people and enslaved them in Roots and we stole land and pushed the Native American onto reservations in Centennial. Both are shameful.

All of this is why another classic scene with Pasquinel’s other son, the much battered Jake, and McKeag has always bothered me. I lament it so much. Jake always disliked McKeag, but there comes a point when he actually agrees to dance the highland reel with McKeag, who convinces him to dance out their hatred, just like he and Pasquinel had before. It’s heartwarming and heartwrenching at the same time in that Jake does on, only that’s when McKeag dies. It’s the only time I felt bad for Jake.

One of the great moments of this terrific mini-series is finally getting to see Pasquinel’s women meet. This happens when Clay Basket accompanies Lucinda to St. Louis and they meet Lize (Sally Kellerman). Though Clay Basket’s true love is McKeag, it’s a palpable moment when the women come face to face.

There’s also the introduction of Hans Brumbaugh (footballer Alex Karras who turned out to be a pretty good actor), gold miner turned potato farmer, but the crux and most important story elements are with the Indians.

Nick Ramus is powerfully poignant as Lost Eagle throughout the mini-series. He does a superb job of symbolizing the once powerful Indian nation and their ultimate fate of a thousand unkept promises by the white man. Ramus’ demeanor and facial expressions throughout tell their own emotional story.

The worst of this emotional tale happens in The Massacre, episode 5. It is truly one of the most difficult episodes of Centennial. It’s hard to watch a slaughter, especially one that is so morally wrong as what we see happen here. It makes my stomach churn.

The injustice of what occurs is so enormous. The warped logic of the white man in believing that they were justified in trying to not just taking the land, but to exterminate a race. That’s what we see in this episode. What were they thinking back in those days?

In The Massacre, Colonel Frank Skimmerhorn (Richard Crenna) is one of the wickedest characters in mini-series history, second only to the role Chuck Connors played in the aforementioned Roots. Both are vicious men you just hate from the start.

Skimmerhorn led a sickening charge and yet, people thought he was their savior. It’s a ridiculous notion, but history books are full of verification. The hope is with the few men who find the guts to refuse to participate in the killing of innocent children. It’s not easy to watch, especially when you ponder what those Indians would think about white man’s abuse of their land today.

Centennial doesn’t hold back. We’ve moved from the first trappers respecting the Indians and the land to the pioneers being afraid and the government treating Native Americans like lepers, pushing them further away from their own land. It’s a shame that it’s so representative of the truth.


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