In 2003, two men from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Richard Iron Cloud and Armando Black Bear, came to San Francisco and became the first Lakota men to complete the swim from Alcatraz Island. They served as the inspiration for Dr. Nancy Iverson, a San Francisco pediatrician originally from South Dakota who had worked in the Indian Health Service hospital on the reservation and was concerned by the well-documented health problems of Pine Ridge residents. Iverson had a vision of a crash course of sorts, in which Lakota would visit San Francisco to learn about and practice healthy living for a week that would culminate with an Alcatraz swim.
The 2008 film From the Badlands to Alcatraz documents the class of 2005’s week of living healthily. The Natives embarking on the journey are Alkapoane White Calf, Lisa and Kelly Water, and Arlo and Philip Iron Cloud — sons of Richard Iron Cloud, one of the first two swimmers, who also plays a role in the movie.
From the Badlands to Alcatraz is screening Wednesday, March 21, at 111 North Central Avenue in Los Angeles. It’s part of the Bringing the Circle Together Native American film series, which was established to bring movies by and about American Indians to the city with the largest American Indian population in the country. Bringing the Circle together will be screening numerous other films over the course of 2012, and beyond.