500 Nations The Story of Native Americans

500 Nations is an eight-part documentary on the Native Americans of North and Central America. It documents from pre-Columbian to the end of the 19th century. Much of the information comes from text, eyewitnesses, pictorials, and computer graphics. The series was hosted by Kevin Costner, narrated by Gregory Harrison, and directed by Jack Leustig.

Episode 1: Wounded Knee Legacy and The Ancestors
The series begins “where our story ends” with eyewitness accounts of Wounded Knee. The Ancestors next offers excerpts from Native American creation stories, then explores three early North American cultures, including the 800-room Pueblo Bonito in the arid southwest, the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde, and Cahokia, the largest city in the U.S. before 1800.

Episode 2: Mexico
A history of the native nations of Mexico from pre-Columbian times, through the period of European contact and colonization, including the rise and fall of the Toltecs and the growth of Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztec empire.

Episode 3: Clash of Cultures
As Native nations defy a plundering advance of Spanish expeditions in the Caribbean and what will become the southeastern United States, two undefeatable attacks, muskets and disease, cause thousands of deaths.

Episode 4: Invasion of the Coast
Tensions rise as more foreigners arrive in North America, and affect the lives of native peoples. At Jamestown, the story of the Powhatan princess, Pocahontas, unfolds. Thanksgiving at Plymouth leads to a bloody colonial Indian war in 1675.

Episode 5: Cauldron of War
European powers fight to control American resources, turning native homelands into a Cauldron of War. Many indigenous nations side with France, but when the defeated country leaves its native allies vulnerable, a determined leader, Pontiac, rises to prominence.

Episode 6: Removal
Being forced to follow the Trail of Tears displaces Native Americans even though they adopt American ways. Shawnee leader Tecumseh sparks a return to traditional ways but The Indian Removal Act is enforced in 1830. Many stoically accept; others resist.

Episode 7: Roads Across the Plains
Lifestyles of native peoples of the Great Plains end as American settlers destroy huge buffalo herds. Though native leaders pursue peace, they are massacred at Sand Creek. The massacre provokes severe repercussions.

Episode 8: Attack on Culture
Legislative attacks on native ways included the disbanding of communal land. Today, native cultures are allowed to renew, and to remember the lifestyles of America’s original people, and the hardships they endured.

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  • Sarah

    Pretty interesting.

  • Doolie

    Pretty sure “No good deed goes unpunished” was coined by Native Americans.

  • Georgia Laramore

    I am a history buff. It took me three years to develope and complete a NW history project. My libirary has over one hundred fifty history books most about the Pacific Northwest. I live within five miles of the Oregon Trail and have been to most sites in Oregon. I have wandered through and maintained many old cemeteries. I’ve worked at a five acre National Historic Site in Salem Oregon. The Whitman Mission, , the Umatilla Indian Reservation,Battleground Mountain and now the new Frenchtown Historical site are short drives from my home.
    I grew up here in NE Oregon along the banks of the Columbia River. It was at one time the greates fisherie in the world. Ceilo Falls was the traditional home and a major trading area for hundreds of tribal people. I can follow Lewis and Clark’s journals along the river for miles.
    All my life, my sympathies have been with the Native Americans.

    I hold in my hand a family ancestor chart which I have always been proud of. It showes members of the Knowles family after making the long voiage from europe living in New Hampshire, 1635,. They took part in the revolutionary war,the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
    Somehow, in my mind MY ancestors would not have been involved in actions that resulted in theft of property, the loss of culture and the annihilation of a people.
    In the 1840’s another branch of my family fled the starvation, religious persecution and loss of their lands in what was then Bohemia.
    They were able to escape to a new country.
    the Native Americans didn’t have that option.
    Of all the people that should have recognized the plight of Native Americans
    as the same as theirs ,were MY people from Bohemia.
    But they were busy becoming Americans.
    The Walkers are Kansas farmers. The Knowles were Kansas business people.
    None subscribed to the popular thinking that it was America’s Manifest
    Destiny to cross the country in wagons and claim the land from people who had lived here for centuries . But the land they lived on in Kansas had originally belonged to Native americans.
    We came west later, working for the Santa Fe and Union Pacific RR. Most of the dirty work here in the Pacific Northwest was already done. The few Native Americans left were on reservations.

    Now I am faced with the fact that MY people,simply by immigrating to America, are as much to blame for the genocide, the culture rape and theft of property, as those who made the decisions or gave the orders.
    The statement that “I cannot be responsible for the actions of those who lived a couple of hundred years ago.” applies here.
    But I am responsible for MY actions.
    It’s time that MY generation , the Baby Boomers start taking more responsibility for the assault we have helped perpetuate against our plant,against other races and to our own culture.

  • john

    I was hoping the focus of this documentary would be on the native american indians of the what is now called the united states but they get into the cultures of mexico too. kinda disappointed.

    • lifeisbrief

      Hey john, this series focuses on native americans of ALL of the americas (south, central, and north). to only present about ONE facet of that history would do this series a grave injustice. i am please to see that they chose all of the land and not just a part of it.

  • samtha

    this is good

  • linda

    john seems to be looking at the US as something that existed more than 250 years ago. look at a map without the lines.

  • dangitol

    Very inaccurate, inadequate report about Custer’s final battle; misleading or simply incorrect on several points. This made the content veracity factor of all episodes suspect, to say the least. Don’t make the mistake of assuming this is a reliable resource for accurate history telling of this subject matter; it isn’t. If you do the work, i.e., lots of reading and study, you would have to agree that 500 Nations comes up short.