Healing the Warrior's Heart

More than two years in the making, the Western Folklife Center’s public television documentary Healing the Warrior’s Heart is complete and will premiere on KUED Channel 7, Salt Lake City, in conjunction with the Veterans Day holiday in November. This one-hour special examines the emotional trauma of war through the prism of Native American tradition and ceremony. The program reveals the central role that military service plays in Native life and explores the spiritual traditions that help returning American Indian soldiers reintegrate into society. These traditions hold lessons for the nation as we seek to bring comfort and healing to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

The program’s narrator is Peter Coyote, who is perhaps PBS's most recognized voice. He's done work for Ken Burns, and also appeared in feature films including Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” Peter's typical fee is far beyond the budget for this project, but he liked the subject matter enough to offer his services at a small fraction of his rate!

Watch KUED 7's current on air promotion for the show.

Watch the trailer to learn the themes we explore in this program.

Much of the documentary focuses on members of the Blackfeet tribe in northern Montana. The Blackfeet Nation is a place where warrior identity is very much alive in our time, even though many current soldiers have lost the connection with the healing traditions that were practiced by their ancestors. Yet there are others for whom those traditions remain relevant, both during their deployment as well as in their re-entry to society. The documentary includes interviews and scenes with spiritual leaders, veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, elder veterans, family members and tribal leaders.

Healing the Warrior’s Heart is being submitted to PBS with the hope of securing a regional and possibly a national airing. The show will be screened at the Native American Journalists Association annual conference this July in Santa Clara, California, and later that month at the Utah Governor’s Native American Summit in Orem, Utah. We are seeking other opportunities to show the film to Native and veteran audiences.

Visit our blog and Facebook page for detailed accounts of the film's production.

Members of the media, for a digital press kit, click here.

Following are some photos from our first film shoot on the Blackfeet reservation:

Vietnam War veteran Marvin Weatherwax presents an eagle feather to Martin Connelly, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
To help tell some history about Blackfeet warriors, we organized a re-enactment that included several riders in full regalia.


Taki interviews Earl Heavyrunner, who served in Desert Storm as well as in the recent war in Iraq. Upon his return, the elders of the Blackfeet tribe gave him the title War Chief.
The intrepid crew scans the horizon: Paul Maritsas (Sound), Taki Telonidis, Gary Robinson (Partnering Producer), and Doug Monroe (Director of Photography).

Thanks to the generous support of the project’s current funders, we were able to “green light” production in the spring, but we are still looking for completion funding. Support this important project by becoming a Western Folklife Center Stakeholder and selecting the “Media Programming” designation.

Listen to a radio story for NPR's All Things Considered that was derived from our research into Healing the Warrior's Heart.

Sweat Lodge at the Salt Lake City, Utah, VA Center, photo by Taki Telonidis

Directed by Taki Telonidis, Healing the Warrior’s Heart is a production of the Western Folklife Center in collaboration with Gary Robinson of Tribal Eye Productions and KUED Channel 7. It is made possible by: the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation; George Gund; the Interculture Foundation; the Kalliopeia Foundation; the R. Harold Burton Foundation; My Good Fund; a Pacific Mountain Network Enhancement Grant; the Utah Humanities Council; Gordon and Shirley Rock; The Barton Family Foundation, a donor advised fund of the Denver Foundation; and Western Folklife Center stakeholders.

For more information, contact Taki Telonidis at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .