Forty years ago today, the American Indian Movement arrived in Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Concerns focused on corruption in the tribal government and the killing of Raymond Yellow Thunder. The location profound symbolic value.
On December 29, 1890, a band of Ghost Dancers under Big Foot, a Lakota Sioux chief, was surrounded by the 7th Cavalry near Wounded Knee Creek. The demand came for the Lakota to surrender their weapons. A shot cut through the air – it remains unclear from which side. More shots – many. many shots – followed. When the shooting stopped, Big Foot and many of his people, perhaps 150, perhaps as many as 300, lay dead. Reports indicate that nearly half the dead were women and children. This battle, the Wounded Knee massacre, ended the Ghost Dance movement and marked the end of the war of the United States against the Plains Indians.
The events that began on February 27, 1973 led to a 71-day standoff – the siege of Wounded Knee.
The anniversary brings a time to remember both the events of the past and the current situation faced by the Oglala Lakota. Nicholas Kristoff writes:
Unemployment on Pine Ridge is estimated at around 70 percent, and virtually the only jobs are those working for the government or for the Oglala Sioux tribe itself.
There are, of course, some reservations around the country that have struck it rich with gambling or other ventures. But here in the prairies, those riches are only rumors.
Half the population over 40 on Pine Ridge has diabetes, and tuberculosis runs at eight times the national rate. As many as two-thirds of adults may be alcoholics, one-quarter of children are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and the life expectancy is somewhere around the high 40s — shorter than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Less than 10 percent of children graduate from high school.
It is also a time to ponder signs of hope – a campaign to address youth suicide, an effort to make use of renewable energy, and Red Cloud School to name but three. National Geographic has a number of stories as well.
Past, present, and future. Tragedy, resistance, and hope. Remember, learn, and act.
See you along the Trail.