Early in our nation's history, white settlement of the Americas began a long-standing tradition of misunderstanding and hostility between Native American tribes and United States society. Intercultural communication barriers lent themselves to assumptions and intolerance, which led to warfare, bloodshed, and the eventual destruction of an entire culture's traditional ways of life. Today, stereotypical representations of the "cowboys and Indians" of the 1800s continue to perpetuate hurtful misconceptions that further thwart attempts at understanding between the cultures. One motion picture, released almost two decades ago, served to demonstrate how a thoughtful, respectful approach across cultural boundaries might have resulted in a more peaceful exchange of understanding and appreciation for differences among peoples.
As its main character strives to understand a new people he has never before encountered, Dances With Wolves (Wilson & Costner, 1990) leads viewers on an ongoing exploration of intercultural communication and the overcoming of communication barriers. During one of Dunbar's early encounters with the Lakota, he engages in an experimental exchange at his fort in which Kicking Bird and a hotheaded young warrior named Wind In His Hair, among others, join him to initiate communication. Experiencing what Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond (2008) call "different communication codes" (p. 103), Dunbar and his visitors find themselves unable to understand each other's languages. Because Wind In His Hair carries feelings of suspicion and scorn toward the white man at the fort, he displays feelings of cultural superiority toward Dunbar-what Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond refer to as "ethnocentrism" (p.103)-through his derogatory comments to his Lakota companions, which Dunbar cannot understand.
Differing languages prevent Dunbar from speaking directly to his visitors to determine their motives, and Wind In His Hair's sense of superiority over what he sees as a foolish...
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