Friday, June 3, 2011

WOUNDED KNEE: Sacred ground for American Sioux Indians. Our June feature.

Red Cloud (on right with feather head-dress), chief of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, who defeated the US Cavalry in several encounters 1866-1868 (Red Cloud's War) resulting in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, that gave the Sioux rights of "absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" of the South Dakota Black Hills and surrounding territories.  

It's an old story, retold many times, but never enough for its full importance to sink in. 

When Christopher Columbus landed in the Western Hemisphere in 1492, the place was already thriving with tens of millions of native Americas, great civilizations covering continents north, south, and central.  Over the next 400 years, waves of Europeans would come and systematically settle the land,  dispossessing native people of their traditional homes along the way, often through brutal violence.  In no place was this done more forcefully than in the USA, and the final stroke, breaking the last resistance, came at a small creek on the South Dakota Sioux reservation called Wounded Knee.

We remember Wounded Knee today mostly for two events: First is the December 29, 1890, massacre of between 150 and 300 Indian men, women, and children, as the men were being disarmed en route to the reservation -- often portrayed as the final climax of the Plains Indian Wars of the 1800s.  Then, three generations later, in 1973, came the second event, a siege mounted by 300 descendants of the original Wounded Knee Indians (calling themselves the American Indian Movement) who, in an attempt to protest decades of poverty, corruption, and broken promises, took up arms and seized the town of Pine Ridge on the Reservation.  They held it for 71 days against US marshals, FBI, and military support.

Over the next few weeks, Viral History is proud to bring you a series of posts about Wounded Knee, setting the record straight on this history and updating it to the 21st Century.  
  • Part I: The Closing Frontier, from Red Cloud's War, to the Little Bighorn, to the events setting the stage for 1890;   
  • Part II: 1890 -- The massacre
  • Guest Blogger Marshall Matz on the 1973 siege.  Matz, as a young staff lawyer to US Senator George McGovern (member of a delegation brought to Wounded Knee to negotiate an end to the 1973 siege), had a unique close-up view of those events that he shares for the first time,
  • A take by Johnny Cash on the 1890 massacre.  Cash, the great country singer & song-writer, visited South Dakota after the 1973 siege and wrote a beautiful song about the 1890 episode, which we share here;  
  • WOUNDED KNEE EPILOGUE- Karla Fetrow on the incarceration of Leonard Peltier. A big thank you to our friends at online magazine SUBVERSIFY for this post where Karla Fetrow brings the saga into the 21st Century with the tale of Indian activist Leonard Peltier who in 1975 was accused of murdering two FBI agents under questionable circumstance and who remains in prison today.
  • Finally,  a digression to the famous 1876 battle of Little Bighorn in nearby Montana and a facet that I have always found haunting -  the story of Major Marcus Reno, Custer's second in command.  Reno survived the battle but came home to accusations of cowardice, two military Court Martial prosecutions, bouts of drinking, a broken marriage, and an early death.  Who paid the bigger price? Custer, who "died with his boots on" in Montana?  Or Reno, who had to come home and face defeat?  
Why Wounded Knee?  Why now?  Yes, this spring marks the 38th anniversary of the 1973 siege.  And, yes, this summer will mark the 135th anniversary of the Little Big Horn battle.  But this story has an importance beyond these dates.  Today in 2011, the descendants of Sitting Bull, Red Cloud (photo above), Crazy Horse, and the other great Sioux chiefs and warriors still live on those same South Dakota reservations in terrible conditions, with unemployment reaching over 50 percent and all the related social problems of intense poverty -- too far away from population centers to base an economy on casinos or tourism.  And despite decades of talk, there seems little hope for the next generation without change. 

The legacy of Wounded Knee lives on, and with it the responsibility to make things right.

So stay tuned during June as the drama unfolds.  Enjoy.  


Betty Steger said...

I am so impressed that you are tackling this subject. I have read several books on the subject, including Peter Mathieson's "In The Spirit of Crazy Horse." Very few Americans know the true story about this event in history. Congratulations! Betty Steger

Anonymous said...

"Remembering Wounded Knee 1973" by Carter Camp

Ah-ho My Relations,
Today is heavy with prayer and reminisces for me. Not only are those who walk for the Yellowstone Buffalo reaching their destination, today is the anniversary of the night when, at the direction of the Oglala Chiefs, I went with a special squad of warriors to liberate Wounded Knee in advance of the main AIM caravan.

For security reasons the people had been told everyone was going to a meeting/wacipi in Porcupine, the road goes through Wounded Knee. When the People arrived at the Trading Post we had already set up a perimeter, taken eleven hostages, run the B.I.A. cops out of town, cut most phone lines, and began 73 days of the best, most free time of my life. The honor of being chosen to go first still lives strong in my heart.

That night we had no idea what fate awaited us. It was a cold night with not much moonlight and I clearly remember the nervous anticipation I felt as we drove the back-way from Oglala into Wounded Knee. The Chiefs had tasked me with a mission and we were sworn to succeed, of that I was sure, but I couldn't help wondering if we were prepared. The FBI, BIA and Marshalls had fortified Pine Ridge with machine gun bunkers and A.P.C.s with M-60's. They had unleashed the goon squad on the people and a reign of terror had begun, we knew we had to fight but we could not fight on wasicu terms. We were lightly armed and dependent on the weapons and ammo inside the Wounded Knee trading post, I worried that we would not get to them before the shooting started.

As we stared silently into the darkness driving into the hamlet I tried to foresee what opposition we would encounter and how to neutralize it... We were approaching a sacred place and each of us knew it. We could feel it deep inside. As a warrior leading warriors I humbly prayed to Wakonda for the lives of all and the wisdom to do things right. Never before or since have I offered my tobacco with such a plea nor put on my feathers with such purpose. It was the birth of the Independent Oglala Nation.

Things went well for us that night, we accomplished our task without loss of life. Then, in the cold darkness as we waited for Dennis and Russ to bring in the caravan (or for the fight to start), I stood on the bank of the shallow ravine where our people had been murdered by Custers' 7th Cavalry. There I prayed for the defenseless ones, torn apart by Hotchkiss cannon and trampled under hooves of steel by drunken wasicu. I could feel the touch of their spirits as I eased quietly into the gully and stood silently... waiting for my future, touching my past.

Finally, I bent over and picked a sprig of sage - whose ancestors in 1890 had been nourished by the blood of Red babies, ripped from their mothers dying grasp and bayoneted by the evil ones. As I washed myself with that sacred herb I became cold in my determination and cleansed of fear. I looked for Big Foot and YellowBird in the darkness and I said aloud ---

"We are back my relations, we are home." Hoka-Hey

Carter Camp- Ponca Nation AIM