A well-known and respected holy man begins to develop a great following among the people. Enthusiastic accounts of his healing powers, miracles, and spiritual authority begin to reach neighboring communities and the people of other nations. He is fearless in the face of opposition and the political and religious authorities, answering only to his spiritual calling. He is arrested - on false charges - and betrayed by his own people who give false witness about him. Later, they regret their actions and feel great remorse for their roles in his arrest. He is sent to prison where he is humiliated, cut off from his supporters, and subject to mistreatment by the authorities. He is given a death sentence and shown no mercy.
Sound familiar? This is the story of Douglas White, a Lakota Sioux holy man.
I met Douglas in 1992, at the height of his spiritual powers and prestige. He was a renowned healer, a fearless leader, and highly regarded as a "prophet" who could predict the future through his spiritual powers. Non-Indians would call him a shaman. Others would use the term "medicine man." To his own people, he was a wicasa wakan, a holy man, an interpreter for the spirit world. He dedicated his life in service to his people, and was constantly involved in ceremonial activities restoring people to their health, their faith, their families, and their communities.
It's not clear when the federal government first learned about Douglas. I know that he was involved with the American Indian Movement in the 1980s. This might have been enough. The reasons for his indictment have never been disclosed. He was accused of one of the worst crimes imaginable - sexually molesting his own grandchildren. In western culture, even the accusation is enough to soil a man's reputation. For Douglas, this would have caused irreparable damage to his standing among his people. That is, if it was true.
It is not. There is no evidence of Douglas' guilt. The only evidence there ever was - the coerced testimony of two young boys - was invalidated when both boys (now young men) recanted these false charges under oath and polygraph tests. Today, no member of his family believes that he committed these false crimes.
The similarities between the story of Douglas White and Jesus should not be over-exaggerated. Douglas was not a Jewish messianic figure who lived 2,000 years ago and died by crucifixion. And Jesus was not a Lakota Sioux holy man who led sweatlodges and sun dances. But the similarities in the basic story-line should give us pause. It is not as if Jesus' story needs to be read into Douglas' case. Jesus and Douglas both lived under oppressive regimes prejudiced against their people and both were spiritual leaders who resisted this oppression of imperialism and colonization. These similarities are striking as are their politically-motivated and authorized arrests, "trials," imprisonments, and death-sentences - by the "state."
Holy Man: The USA vs. Douglas White is a documentary film narrated by Martin Sheen that I wrote and co-produced to tell Douglas' story.