One hundred and twenty three years ago on the 29th day of December we remember.
On December 28, 14 days after the brutal shooting of Sitting Bull, the U.S. Army sought to disarm and relocate the Lakota people, who failed to stop their Ghost Dance.
The U.S. authorities ordered the arrest of another Lakota chief, Big Foot. Big Foot’s band, which consisted mostly of women who had lost their husbands and other male relatives in battles with Custer, Miles and Crook, had danced until they collapsed, hoping to guarantee the afterlife of their dead warriors. These dances honor the dead and serve as prayer they maybe one with Tunkasila (the great spirit).
The dancers are called Howiwacipi or Ghost Dancer. We dance to pray to Tunkasila (the great spirit) to guide our ghost, our spirit to the right path in life. We dance to guide those recently departed to him. We dance to commune with him and seek his blessings upon those who live today and those who came before us.
After the dance Big Foot believed Tunkasila told him and the roughly 350 Lakota to marched to Pine Ridge Reservation to seek protection from the military. At Pine Ridge they surrendered on December 28, 1890, and were escorted to Wounded Knee by the military, where they established a camp at Wounded Knee Creek. They turned in most weapons except those saved for hunting at this time to demonstrate their peaceful intent.
The following morning, December 29, 1890, the military ordered all Indian weapons to be relinquished and burned. Big Foot argued they had turned in weapons the day before and only weapons for hunting remained. General Forsyth (actually a colonel) claimed Big Foot a liar and ordered his soldier to seize all the Lakota weapons and to search their belongings for hidden weapons.
It was during this time that a shot was fired by an unidentified Lakota. Lakota lore however identified a deaf warrior named Sapa Sunmanitu (Black Coyote) who is believed to have accidently fired into the air as a soldier tried to wrestle his riffle from him. And the slaughter began.
On the frozen plains at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation, government troops opened fire on the mostly unarmed Lakota people who surrender the day before, and massacred 290 Lakota men, women and children, including many trying to flee, in a matter of minutes. Thirty-three soldiers died, most from friendly fire and 20 Medals of Honor presented to surviving soldiers.
Medals of honor to murder 290 innocent people, mostly women and children and more than half shot in the back as they attempted to flee the gunfire. Such bravery these soldiers exhibited don’t you think?
A petition to rescind these metals was put forth last year and went nowhere. Even had the medals been removed it would have served shallow recompense considering the murder of unarmed peaceful people.
The reservations (concentration camps if you will) were meant to teach my people the Oglala Lakota and other native peoples to forget their past, their ways, their god(s) and traditions. Many were force converted to Christianity, forced to speak only English and forced to dress as the European conquers. The ways of my people were almost lost to time.
The systematic genocide waged against the native peoples of this land overshadows even the holocaust. The Teton (Sioux nation) numbers more than twelve million stretching from North Dakota and making up all of the great plains. The Titunwan (Lakota) were a state within that nation. And the Oglala my tribe was a city within that state. These people were reduced to a few hundred thousand during the cleansing wars.
Yet even this couldn’t force my people to die. Our spirit lives today and our dance continues. We seek peace with ourselves, our past and our future. While I don’t live in the past nor blame any alive today for past transgressions I would ask you to reflect upon the past. Only in conscious reflection can we ensure history will not be repeated.
Where once the Lakota made up a fifth (about two million) of the Teton nation today only about seventy thousand remain. Only a third of those still speak our native tongue and practice the ways of our past.
A disarmed people are vulnerable to those in power with a military, guns and no conscience of people they see as expendable. No government is perfect and no matter how great or noble the men who lead it they are still only human. As human they are capable of extremes both good and evil. My people were nearly eradicated by the evil of man and all because they allowed themselves to be disarmed and became to the mercy of those who thought themselves our better.
Never again should any people become victims because they allow themselves to be enslaved by those who think themselves our better. My children will know their past and will know of Tunkasila and Howiwacipi because my peoples spirit can’t be broken.
Do not live in the past but never forget it’s lessons. Ti Tukeye Yuoniha Miye Kola (Live with honor my friends)
~Kuwa Sumanitu Taka (pursuing wolf) aka Michelle Styles – December 5, 2013
**I left all art work authors copyrights in place and none of these three are my original work. Only the words are mine.