December 29 marks the 119th anniversary of what has come to be known as the Wounded Knee Massacre.  It is often cited as   the last major Indian Battle involving United States troops.  The Wounded Knee Massacre, December 29, 1890, took place along the banks of the Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota on what is now known as the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation. 

Wounded Knee has become symbolic of US Army abuse towards native peoples.  In fact, Wounded Knee became an armed camp as late as 1973 as militant American Indians battled federal officials one more time.  Basically local Lakota called for an outside radical group to come straighten out things at Pine Ridge Reservation.  Several people on both sides were killed and/or wounded. (see video link below)

Several posts and comments have been about the Souix and about Pine Ridge specifically.  Many of the young people on that reservation have become involved with gangs.  When one stops and thinks about the tragedy these people have seen, it is almost understandable.  The Souix were programmed for a life of poverty by our government.  The Souix were not all one big tribe, but a nation  of various tribes.  The Souix reservation was carved up into 5 smaller reservations.  The Black Hills, sacred lands to the Lakota,  were taken from them.  Some of their lands were sold for a pittance.  Children were sent off to boarding school, had their long hair cut off, were given white names and were not allowed to speak their own native language.   Most of this history has happened since the Massacre at Wounded Knee. 

My grandmother was born October 30, 1890.  I knew her quite well. She was not an Indian but I often try to put things in time perspective.   Somehow the fact that this massacre happened after her birth makes it harder to accept, hard to deal with as it certainly is not part of ancient history.  In fact, 1890 is getting darn close to modern times.  The auto had been invented and the airplane was only a decade or so off.  How can things like this massacre happen in the United States of America?

The poverty on some of these reservations is simply unimaginable.  These people are the real Native Americans, not us.   Do we have an obligation to make certain that Native Americans and Native American culture survive?  Can they survive in the extreme poverty that many who have not assimilated still live?  What do we have to do? 

Are American Indians often their own worst enemies?  Are their spokespeople standing on principle rather than practicality?  In 1980 the Supreme Court awarded the Lakota $106 million dollars for the Black Hills treaty violation.  They refused to take the money.  They wanted the land.  At what point do they decide that they will never get the land back and to take the money? Are those who are standing on pride representing all the people? I can only imagine what $106 million dollars would do to help overcome some of the root problems on reservations.

There are several resources:    The radio voice of the Lakota Nation.

We Shall Remain (full episodes on PBS.  Wounded Knee  1973 is Episode 5)

7 Thoughts to “Wounded Knee Massacre Anniversary Remembered”

  1. JustinT

    Thanks for the history lesson M-H. All Americans should know about our history before they start spouting about who and what the “real America” ought to be. Do you know anything about the Osage tribe that lived on a reservation that had oil under it? I heard the white folks used every trick in the book to get the oil out of their hands including murder. Just couldn’t stand to see native people benefit financially from the resources of American soil, not even a tiny fraction of them that didn’t get exterminated.

  2. Only a little. I just looked it up. Thanks. I think greed was the great motivator. There are many instances of settlers and the govt trying to cheat American Indians out of any wealth they might have acquired. Often Indian lands are on land no one else is thought to want.

  3. Opinion

    American Indians were mostly nomads with no interest in owning land. The idea of “owning” land was foreign to them. I think they were actually more highly evolved than we were.

  4. Probably. I think that you are probably dead on about the nomadic tribes, Opinion. They did claim the Black Hills as their sacred grounds. And they were awarded the grounds via treaty. So, the Supreme Court rules on the fact the treaty was broken rather than if they should have claimed ownship in the first place, as I understand it.

    Regardless, they should have taken the money. The Palestinians get into principle too much also, and end up with nothing.

    However, many tribes and individual Indians in the east did ‘own’ land and farmed it. Cherokees, Chickasaw, Seminoles jump out at me on that one. And our govt. stole it. I have to build up to being able to watch the Trail of Tears Episode on ‘We Shall Remain.’

  5. What we did to the natives is unthinkable and undoable.

    I have a poem about this (which needs revising). It’s on AnotherSun.

    The Guilt of Wounded Knee

    Leonard Peltier in Prison Writings depicts the second battle at Wounded Knee, a day in October 1975 when two FBI agents were murdered. Peltier, part of the American Indian Movement has been serving his two life sentences; however he maintains that he did not kill the agents, and much of the evidence points to his innocence.

    How ignorant of me:
    On the Arizona Reservation
    I thought the brown-skinned
    Family of ten I saw in that white station
    Wagon was Mexican. They were Indian.
    North American, like me, but the real thing.

    They stared at me and I looked at
    The clay beneath my dusty feet.
    I knew what they were thinking
    (Or at least I thought I knew): “Gringa.”
    And maybe they were, but it
    Probably was more like : “Watchishu”
    “White Man,” evil one
    that brings about the sun
    dance, the dance of pain.

    I want to shout, “I didn’t do anything!”
    But just as Peltier claims his guilt is for being Indian,
    So mine is for being white. But I
    Never meant to take your land, I cry.
    I was born here. As if anyone has a choice
    of where they’re born. If I could

    sweep history up and roll it into
    A new clump of earth, a new world,
    I would gladly place it in your ancient
    Hands. But still the fear I hold: that
    You would aim and throw it back.

    (c) Katherine M. Mercurio 2002

  6. Wolverine

    Some things in our history are a stain which we can never eradicate. Wounded Knee is one of them. The Trail of Tears is another. And I think Moon-howler will agree with me that what we did to Chief Joseph and the Nez Pierce is in that category. We can never wipe it out, but we can try to make amends, even now.

    I hesitate to blame government as the exclusive agent of these events. Government was trying to satisfy the demands of and political pressure from the people for land and wealth. If you read a history of the Cherokee, you will find that the biggest evil in the whole thing was us, the people. What was done to the Cherokee in north Georgia and southeast Tennessee was nothing short of grand larceny by the Whites of both those states. And this to a tribe which in many ways had begun to imitate multiple elements of our own settled agricultural and educational ways. A rather weak central government at first failed to put a stop to it and then seems to have resigned itself to trying to end the crime spree by having the Cherokee move “voluntarily” to Oklahoma, promising the Oklahoma land to them forever but then expelling the Indians who already lived there to free up that territory for the Cherokee.

    One of the saddest stories I have ever read about the Indians of the West happened on the High Plains. I am writing this off the top of my head and cannot remember exactly which tribe was involved. I think it was the Southern Cheyenne but I may be wrong. In any case, this tribe lived up around Nebraska. When they were defeated, they were moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. They were devastated. The new reservation was nothing at all like their old home. They began to disintegrate as a people. Then their chiefs decided that they all had to try to go home. The remaining ones banded together and started a long trek across western Kansas. But they were ambushed and harassed all along the trek, gradually losing people and chiefs until their band was just a shadow of the group which had started out. They had committed the crime of leaving the reservation without permission. All they wanted to do was go home. Eventually someone in our government took pity on them, and the survivors were settled on a reservation in the North which was like their old home.

    I am a proud American, as proud as anyone. But there are moments when I look back at certain parts of our history and wonder how we could sometimes be such heartless asses.

  7. Wolverine, I agree 100% with every word you wrote. Chief Joseph is one of my favorites and what was done to him and his people was atrocious also. And you are right…the govt was simply acting as an agent. Greed and manifest destiny at its ugliest. The saddest part is there is no way to undo what has been done.

    I don’t think that money can fix most of the woes. When I think about what has happened to the American Indian, I am shamed to be white, to be perfectly honest. Very few things make me feel that way. In most cases, I can honestly say that I didnt cause the problem so I am not at fault. In the case of Indians, it shames me. And I don’t blame them for hating us with every ounce of their being.

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