Friday, July 1, 2011

Pine Ridge 2011, Day 2

It is day 2. By this point we have visited the Wounded Knee site and the Visitor center at the southern side of the Badlands. If we were able to follow the schedule, we would now be on a hike in the badlands. Unfortunately, it’s raining, and the hike is not going to happen. I’m disappointed, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Instead we will see a documentary that centers on the radio station here on the reservation and the way it is bringing connections to a people who live in remote areas.

The Wounded Knee story is just as startling this year as it was last. Even though it happened in 1890, it feels very recent to the people here. To the Lakotas it is a watershed moment that represents the many broken treaties, and the many ways that their culture, way of life, religion and language have been taken away from them. And it continues to be robbed from them today.
Here’s a rundown of the events that led to that day-December 21, 1890.

1. The Lakota had been fighting to resist having their way of life taken from them. The white man was demanding that the Black Hills be abandoned so gold miners could come in to the area. Previously in the treaty of 1868 the hills had been deeded to the Lakota people “for all eternity”The Lakota held those hills as sacred, so to leave that area and be restricted to such a small tract of land that their whole way of life was forfeited was very troubling to them. In the years before there had been skirmishes and battles that had shed a lot of blood on both sides, including the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

2. Chief Big Foot had been running and now had pneumonia, and his people were hungry and tired. They wanted to come to Pine Ridge to hold a council with the army and other Lakota chiefs.

3. In the mean time the Indian agents and the army were increasingly nervous about the situation on the reservation, reporting what they saw as war dances.

4. What they saw was the ghost dance. This was a concept that had recently been introduced in which the Lakota believed that if they danced to exhaustion, they would see a vision that would make them impervious to the white man’s bullets AND the spirits would allow their ancestors to rise again driving the white man away. The Lakota were dancing the Ghost dance on a very regular basis. Because of the army’s nervousness, over 2/3 of the US military was stationed in South Dakota.

5. The 7th Calvary (same group as had been wiped out at Little Big Horn encountered Big Foot’s group on a plain about 15 miles from Pine Ridge (Wounded Knee) Big Foot put up the white flag of surrender and the people were told to set up camp on a grassy field. They were then called to a council fire where all their weapons and cooking utensils were taken.

6. Something happened. The Lakota understanding is that it was a planned genocide. Whatever started it, the Hotchkiss guns (machine guns)on both sides of the encampment were aimed and the firing began. The women and children were sent into the ravine to try to find shelter, but the army followed them and it became a killing field. A few survived, but over 350 were killed.

7. The part that especially enrages the Lakota is that over 20 Congressional medals of honor were issued to the soldiers that participated that day. That’s an incredible number considering that only 3471 have been issued since the award’s inception during the civil war.

A few years ago the US government wanted to make Wounded Knee a national historic site and develop it. The Lakota asked for 2 things. They wanted a written letter of apology and that the medals of honor be revoked. The government refused. The Lakota refused to allow the designation and development. They see it as a commercialization of the horror and abuse that was visited upon them. They didn’t want the horror of that day to become a tourist site that told the mostly white version of the story in which the Lakota history continues to be denigrated. I can’t say that I blame them, can you?

More later.

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