Powwow Highway (1989) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Depicts the struggles of reservation-dwelling Native Americans in the North Central United States. The main character is an introspective and lovable person in a process of seeking pride and identity through traditional and mystical means of gathering power. His high school friend, who is a Vietnam War Veteran, is exerting power as a highly principled social activist, using a modern rational materialist adversarial model of progress.

  • Buddy Red Bow is struggling, in the face of persecution, by greedy developers and political in-fighting, to keep his nation on a Montana Cheyenne Reservation financially solvent and independent. Philbert, a simple-minded friend of Buddy's, ardently pursues Native American/First Nation wisdom and lore wherever he can find it--even on Bonanza--in order to earn his warrior name. He's even got his war pony, Protector: a beat-up old wreck of a car. Buddy's sister has been arrested in Santa Fe, and together Buddy and Philbert set off on a road trip to look after her kids and go bail her out. However, Bonnie's arrest has something strange about it as her friend Rabbit points out. As the miles roll by, Philbert's faith challenges Buddy's hard-edged view of the world (and occasional bout of reckless violence), and together they face the realities and dreams of being Cheyenne in the modern-day US as they fight to free Bonnie and her children and elude the Feds.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Buddy and Filbert leave the Reservation to take a road trip across the badlands of the American Midwest to save Buddy's sister from unjust imprisonment. On the way, they encounter truth, love, magic, and healing. Not mentioned in other synopses, but this movie is FUNNY. The journey across Badlands backroads also traverses the emotional territories of comedy, tragedy, and existential mystery. ~~~~~ Powwow Highway is a Native American cult classic. "For the Northern Cheyenne tribe of Lame Deer, Montana, the American Dream has taken a grim detour. Here, Buddy Redbow is a committed activist battling a suspicious land-grab. Philbert Bono is a serene spiritual warrior guided by sacred visions. But when Buddy's estranged sister, Bonny Redbow, is framed and jailed in New Mexico, the two men take Philbert's rust-wrecked '64 Buick 'war pony' on a road trip that makes some very unexpected stops along the way." It's a realistic, sometimes surrealistic view of the times for not only the Northern Cheyenne, but for most tribes in America. From third world living conditions to ill treatment by authorities and the general public. Against this background is the story of two Cheyenne men on very different paths, one spiritual, one materialistic, who end up on a road to save one of their own from wrongful imprisonment. Along the way they come to a greater understanding of each other and themselves, to heal old wounds and renew faith in their past as well as their future.

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