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Remembering Wounded Knee December 29, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, First Nations, Genocide, Human Rights.
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Roger’s note: Today marks the 124th anniversary of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, which was followed decades later by the 71 day occupation in 1973, led by the radical American Indian Movement (AIM).  It serves as a reminder that the American nation was born in genocide and to this day the First Nations Peoples of North America live in a shamefully degraded state.  Dee Brown’s history is must reading to understand how we got to where we are today.  It may seem like ancient history, but it is still living history to Native Americans, and it will be until justice is accomplished.

 

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December 29 is the Anniversary of Wounded Knee

By John Christian Hopkins, Diné Bureau Hopkins1960@hotmail.com, December 29, 2005

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WINDOW ROCK – To the rebuilt 7th Cavalry, what happened at Wounded Knee 115 years ago today was a great victory; with 20 of the soldiers winning Congressional Medals of Honor for their “heroic” deeds that bloody day.

The chain of events that led to the massacre began earlier that year, when a Paiute prophet named Wovoka predicted the coming of The Messiah to restore the Indians’ place in the world. It was a crude combination of Paiute religion and Christianity.

To entice The Messiah to appear, the Lakota Indians began to perform the Ghost Dance. It quickly built to a frenzy.

Settlers feared another Indian war and soldiers were sent to stop it. It was decided to arrest Sitting Bull who did not practice the Ghost Dance; but did nothing to thwart its popularity.

The aging chief was confronted by Indian policeman, backed by soldiers. Shots rang out suddenly and the unarmed chief was killed.

The soldiers retreated to their fort; the Sioux feared more soldiers were coming to kill them all. Chief Big Foot fled the reservation. Cavalry reinforcements arrived and encircled the fleeing Indians. As it was near dark, the troops the 7th Cavalry surrounded the Indians and waited for morning.

A gray, frigid morning came and the Indians found themselves surrounded by soldiers and Gatling guns.

The commanding officer told the Sioux to surrender their weapons. A deaf Indian was confused when a nearby soldier tried to yank his rifle away; the Indian tugged back and the gun went off, harmlessly into the air.

The soldiers opened fire on mostly unarmed elderly Indians, and women and children. When the firing halted, approximately 300 defenseless Sioux had been butchered.

Most of the wounded soldiers were the victims of friendly fire, since they had formed a circle around the Indians and were then struck by their own comrades.

It was too cold to bury the dead, so the soldiers took their captives and herded them into the closest building where they could be guarded. The building was a church, still decorated with a Christmas banner reading “Peace on earth, Good Will to Men.”


Another Version of the Wounded Knee Massacre

 

Faced with the threat of starvation, the Ghost Dancers began to return to their agencies in late December. Chief Spotted Elk’s band was now made up of nearly 400 cold and hungry people. Nearby, troops of the Seventh Calvary found some of the Ghost Dancers and escorted them to Wounded Knee Creek to spend the night. The night before the ‘Wounded Knee Massacre’, Colonel James Forsyth had arrived at Wounded Knee Creek, and had ordered his men to place four Hotchkiss cannons in position around the area in which the Indians had been forced to camp. Despite their cooperation, the Indians were disarmed in the morning. They were surrounded by 500 U.S. soldiers, and had no choice but to surrender their weapons. However, the soldiers met resistance from one, Black Coyote (a deaf man), who was hesitant to relinquish his gun. As they struggled to take it from him, the gun was accidentally fired and on December 29, 1890, what has become known as the ‘Wounded Knee Massacre’ took place. Following the firing of the first shot, many Indians retrieved their guns and began firing at the soldiers. While the soldiers fired back with cannons and explosives, the Indians attacked with knives and tomahawks, but their weapons were no match for the soldiers’ heavy artillery. The end result was the massacre of at least 150 Indian men, women and children, Spotted Elk being among one of the killed, as well as 25 officers dead and 40 wounded.

 

The accidental firing by the Native Americans is open to criticism. One account by Phillip Wells, a mixed-blood Sioux who was an interpreter for the Army, claims that the incident was started by a medicine man. A meeting took place on December 29, 1890 between Colonel Forsyth and Spotted Elk. At the meeting Colonel Forsyth demanded that the Native Americans turn over their weapons. Spotted Elk claimed that they had no weapons. At this point a medicine man commenced to perform the Ghost Dance, during which he encouraged the young warriors, saying that the soldier’s bullets would not harm them, and they would turn to dust. After the medicine man had completed his dance, a gun was discovered under a blanket of one of the Native Americans. The gun was confiscated by a cavalry sergeant. After Phillip Wells told the Indians that is was important that they be searched individually, five warriors cast off their blankets, revealing guns. One warrior fired his weapon into a group of soldiers who were told to return fire. The medicine man then proceeded to stab Phillip Wells, nearly slicing off his nose.

 

Following the Massacre that day, U.S. soldiers left the wounded Native Americans to die in a three day blizzard. They later hired civilians to remove the bodies and bury them in a mass grave:

 

“Then still frozen stiff, the bodies were dumped unceremoniously into the hole…”

 

It was said that some of the Americans stripped the corpses of their clothing and collected some of their personal items as mementos of the occasion. Following the burial, the Americans lined up and took their picture beside the mass grave and twenty medals of honor were later given to honor the U.S. soldiers who participated in the massacre.

 

In 1903, a monument was erected at the site of the mass grave by surviving relatives to honor the “many innocent women and children who knew no wrong…” who were killed in the massacre. Today, some family members are still seeking compensation from the U.S. government as heirs of the victims but they have been unsuccessful in receiving any monetary settlement so far.

 

Beginning in 1986, a group began the Big Foot Memorial Riders to continue to honor the victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre, specifically Chief Spotted Elk. This ceremony has grown increasingly larger every year since then, and riders subject themselves to the cold weather, as well as the lack of food and water that their family members faced. They carry with them a white flag to symbolize their hope for world peace and to continue to honor and remember the victims so that they will not be forgotten.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wounded_Knee_Massacre#Another_interpretation

Occupy Wounded Knee: A 71-Day Siege and a Forgotten Civil Rights Movement

The death of Russell Means serves as a reminder of the vision of the American Indian Movement.

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Russell Means, right, beats the drum at a meeting of the Wounded Knee occupation on March 10, 1973. A photojournalist who managed to get inside the cordon made a series of images of the stand-off and negotiations. (Associated Press)

On February 27, 1973, a team of 200 Oglala Lakota (Sioux) activists and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized control of a tiny town with a loaded history — Wounded Knee, South Dakota. They arrived in town at night, in a caravan of cars and trucks, took the town’s residents hostage, and demanded that the U.S. government make good on treaties from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Within hours, police had surrounded Wounded Knee, forming a cordon to prevent protesters from exiting and sympathizers from entering. This marked the beginning of a 71-day siege and armed conflict.

Russell Means, one of AIM’s leaders, died yesterday. Means was a controversial figure within the movement and outside of it; as his New York Times obituary put it, “critics, including many Indians, called him a tireless self-promoter who capitalized on his angry-rebel notoriety.” After getting his start in activism in the 1970s, Means went on to run for the Libertarian presidential nomination in 1987, and for governor of New Mexico in 2002. He also acted in scores of films, most famously in a lead role in the 1992 version of The Last of the Mohicans.

For all the contradictions of his life, he was no less controversial than AIM itself. The Wounded Knee siege was both an inspiration to indigenous people and left-wing activists around the country and — according to the U.S. Marshals Service, which besieged the town along with FBI and National Guard — the longest-lasting “civil disorder” in 200 years of U.S. history. Two native activists lost their lives in the conflict, and a federal agent was shot and paralyzed. Like the Black Panthers or MEChA, AIM was a militant civil rights and identity movement that sprung from the political and social crisis of the late 1960s, but today it is more obscure than the latter two groups.

The Pine Ridge reservation, where Wounded Knee was located, had been in turmoil for years. To many in the area the siege was no surprise. The Oglala Lakota who lived on the reservation faced racism beyond its boundaries and a poorly managed tribal government within them. In particular, they sought the removal of tribal chairman Dick Wilson, whom many Oglala living on the reservation thought corrupt. Oglala Lakota interviewed by PBS for a documentary said Wilson seemed to favor mixed-race, assimilated Lakota like himself — and especially his own family members — over reservation residents with more traditional lifestyles. Efforts to remove Wilson by impeaching him had failed, and so Oglala Lakota tribal leaders turned to AIM for help in removing him by force. Their answer was to occupy Wounded Knee.

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Occupiers escort negotiator Harlington Wood (background, in trenchcoat) into the captive town on March 13, in a government attempt to end the crisis. At the time, Wood was Assistant U.S. Attorney General. (Associated Press)

Federal marshals and National Guard traded heavy fire daily with the native activists. To break the siege, they cut off electricity and water to the town, and attempted to prevent food and ammunition from being passed to the occupiers. Bill Zimmerman, a sympathetic activist and pilot from Boston, agreed to carry out a 2,000-pound food drop on the 50th day of the siege. When the occupiers ran out of the buildings where they had been sheltering to grab the supplies, agents opened fire on them. The first member of the occupation to die, a Cherokee, was shot by a bullet that flew through the wall of a church.

To many observers, the standoff resembled the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 itself — when a U.S. cavalry detachment slaughtered a group of Lakota warriors who refused to disarm. Some of the protesters also had a more current conflict in mind. As one former member of AIM told PBS, “They were shooting machine gun fire at us, tracers coming at us at nighttime just like a war zone. We had some Vietnam vets with us, and they said, ‘Man, this is just like Vietnam.’ ”

When PBS interviewed federal officials later, they said that the first death in the conflict inspired them to work harder to bring it to a close. For the Oglala Lakota, the death of tribe member Buddy Lamont on April 26 was the critical moment. While members of AIM fought to keep the occupation going, the Oglala overruled them, and, from that point, negotiations between federal officials and the protesters began in earnest. The militants officially surrendered on May 8, and a number of members of AIM managed to escape the town before being arrested. (Those who were arrested, including Means, were almost all acquitted because key evidence was mishandled.)

Even after the siege officially ended, a quiet war between Dick Wilson and the traditional, pro-AIM faction of Oglala Lakota continued on the reservation — this despite Wilson’s re-election to the tribal presidency in 1974. In the three years following the stand-off, Pine Ridge had the highest per capita murder rate in the country. Two FBI agents were among the dead. The Oglala blamed the federal government for failing to remove Wilson as tribal chairman; the U.S. retorted that it would be illegal for them to do so, somewhat ironically citing reasons of tribal self-determination.

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Means announces AIM’s settlement with the U.S. government as negotiator Ken Frizzell of the Department of Justice and Oglala Lakota chief Tom Bad Cobb look on. (Associated Press)

Today, the Pine Ridge reservation is the largest community in what may be the poorest county in the entire United States. (Per capita income in 2010 was lower in Shannon County, South Dakota, where Pine Ridge is located, than in any other U.S. county.) Reports have the adult unemployment rate on the reservation somewhere between 70 and 80 percent. AIM — and Means — drew a lot of attention to the treatment of indigenous people in the U.S. But perhaps more than any other civil rights movement, its work remains unfinished.

 

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