The film opens with the battle of Little Bighorn, where the Indians won a great victory against the Americans. The Indian boy Ohiyesa, who is the main character in the movie, has just received a feather for his contribution in the battle mentioned above, when his father comes to take him with him to the American community. He wants his son to get a Christian education, as he has, and therefore forces him to leave the Indian tribe. Ohiyesa’s teacher refused to address him by his Indian name and he therefore has to chance his name to Charles Eastman, and is forced to give up his Indian inheritance.
So after an offer is put on the table, where Americans offers to pay a certain amount of money for each piece land the Indians own, because they have found gold in mines on Indian territories and also wishes to lay railroad across the country and over to the Pacific Ocean. In the end, after being threatened on their life’s, some of the Indians, lead by the chief Red Clods, accept the offer and they are moved to reservations, where they are given minimum amounts of supplies, and the American tries to take from them their identity and dignity. A great number of the Indians die from diseases like smallpox, which the Americans has brought with them, and they receive no medical attention, except for the medication, which is available on rare occasions, and which they are give without any examination.
In the mouth after the battle at Little Bighorn Sitting Bull, one of the last Indian chiefs, fled with his tribe to Canada, where Indians were allowed to stay. After a long period of time he and his tribe are told to leave by the Red Jackets, after conflict with other tribe in the area, at which time he surrenders to Americans forces and is taken to the reservations.
While all this unfolded the boy mentioned above has grown up and has finished his medical education and is now a doctor. He is working with the senator Henry Dawes and together they are working on breaking up the Great Sioux Reservation to satisfy the Americans thirst for land while preserving enough land for the Indians to live on. Charles has also found himself a girl, Elaine Goodale, who has gone to the reservations to help with the teaching of Indian children. Charles is at this time ignorant about the way the tribes are being treated and of all the diseases, but he learns the truth through letters from Elaine, and decides to go to the reservations and try to help. He feels betrayed by Dawes, because he hasn’t told him the truth.
By this time a final offer is put one the table by the Americans, but Sitting Bull refuses to accept this offer because the land they are offer won’t fed more than one generation, and even though the Americans know this, they still make the offer. He gets his dignity back when Red Cloud supports him and also refuses to cooperate with the Americas.
Dawes urges Charles to try to convince the Indians to accept the offer, but Charles can’t understand how taking land from the Indians will lead to them getting a Christian education and finally sees that what they are doing is wrong, and refuses to help. He has lost his faith and a lot of the Indians see him has a white man, and want listen to him.
Hope raises for the Indians in the form of the prophet Wovoka and the Ghost Dance, which promises an end their suffering under the White man. This scares the Americans and because they fear that Sitting Bull will use his influence to support the dance, he is ordered arrested. During a struggle between Sitting Bulls follower and the police, Sitting Bull is shot and killed. The follower is followed to the camp at Wounded Knee, and with the purpose of disarming the Indians the police enter the camp and shooting breaks lose. Hundreds of Indian men, women and children are killed in the massacre.
Nothing is the same after this neither for the surviving Indians nor for Charles. He gives up is medical carrier, but he and Elaine soon gets economical problems, and he is forced to find a job with the reservations again. The Indians are being counted and because a number of them have a lot of different names, Charles is given the task of giving each and every one of them an American name. He is hunted by ghosts from the past and refuses to do the task he is given. Charles regrets the fact that he ever agreed to leave his tribe, and when he finds the feather he received in the beginning of the movie and a necklace the was given to him by his father, which symbolises his future, tucked away in an old book, he decides to get rid of them, but he can’t do it and returns home to his tribe.