Today’s time at Fort Berthold was quite remarkable. We started the day at Crow Flies High, a large bluff top named after a famous Hidatsa chief. From the top of the bluff, when the lake water is low, you can see the foundations of several buildings that were either lost or moved when the Garrison Dam flooded the riverbottoms. This is also the location where Clark spotted Lewis and reunited on their way back to the white civilization.
Afterward, we went to the Four Bears Museum to learn more about the history and culture of the Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara peoples. Everyone explored the museum and then the group came together to ask the curator, Joe, one burning question that they had after seeing the exhibits. He shared what he knew about creating star quilts and the transition that the people here had from a bartering system to that of the US dollar. He also spoke of the personal impact made by the construction of the Garrison Dam. When he was growing up many elders refused to even go to the river-turned-lake. His grandmother spoke of something black, very bad, swimming in the water. He then wondered aloud if that black snake was the oil now being extracted from the ground at breakneck pace. After speaking about the burial customs of the local tribes, he spoke of the logistics of moving their dead from the riverbottoms to the lands that are now inhabited. Some were moved, some were left -- and some coffins/bones still occasionally appear as erosion around the lake occurs and will float on top of the lake. When this happens, the bones are taken to a spot designated for this purpose and reinterred. One of the saddest moments was when he spoke of how some people, heartbroken over the loss of their riverbottoms, decided to stay and let the waters rise around them.
In the afternoon, we took advantage of the beautiful lake, which has now become a world-class destination for boaters and anglers. The water was chilly but refreshing. Hard to swim, however, knowing what was once beneath you...
This evening was spectacular. We went to the annual Mandaree pow-wow to take in the dancing, drumming, and Indian tacos! We were able to witness several types of dance, such as traditional (men’s & women’s), grass (men), jingle (women), fancy shawl (women), and fancy bustle (men). Chad was able to see and talk with the elder who led his naming ceremony and Leslie was able to meet up with a cousin she had never before met. Everyone, however, felt welcomed and deeply moved by the experience.
Tomorrow we head home with minds filled with information and hearts burning for action. We look forward to your help as we process this remarkable week together.
Today was primary a travel day from our Pine Ridge to Fort Berthold in North Dakota, which afforded us some of the most breath-taking scenery in the United States. On our way, we studied the history and culture of the Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara people that live here. Immediately upon arrival we were brought to the shores of Lake Sakakawea where an Earth Lodge village is maintained. A relative of Leslie, Gary, is a caretaker of the site and spoke to us a bit about traditional culture. The three tribes that were forced to live here were not nomadic like the Lakota. Instead, they created long-lasting lodge communities and engaged in farming. Women played prominent roles in the life of the community. The gardens were maintained by the women. Women owned all of the lodges and could choose who remained or should be “kicked out” for poor behavior. Tribal clans were also passed down on the side of the mother. Men could be given gifts but as soon as they were brought into the lodge it became managed by the woman. Who says feminism wasn’t alive in the 1800s?
We decided to combine two of our blog posts together. Yesterday, we drive from Pipestone to Wall, SD. While on the road, we read about the conflicts over the Black Hills in preparation for today’s tour of Wounded Knee with Fr. Harold EagleBull. Before we arrived at Wall, we detoured to Badlands National Park -- taking a very warm hike across one of the plateaus. Everyone stayed hydrated, although some needed more of a reminder than others. We learned that the badlands were amako sic or “land bad” because of lack of water and exposure. The French called them La mauvais terres for traverse or “bad land for travel.” The land is of significant scientific importance as it is the richest bed of fossils from the oligocene epoch. So, if you enjoy your museum dinosaur bones, thank this area of the world. It was humbling to think that somewhere just south of where we were hiking the body of one of the greatest leaders in Native American history, Crazy Horse, was buried after his murder at Ft. Robinson. Legend is that no one is left alive who knows the location.
Today, we traveled to the Wounded Knee Massacre Site. When we arrived, some local women who were selling jewelry were eager to tell us their story. Did you mind immediately say, “Well, she just wanted to sell you guys stuff?” Well, our new friend Valerie’s first sentence was, “If what I have isn’t what you want, that is OK, but is good for me to be here and speak of our history so others can learn.” She pointed out the major locations of where the massacre took place. In December 1890, many Lakota elders, women and children were intercepted and brought to camp along Wounded Knee Creek. The men had been hunting elsewhere. At that time, the Lakota had been practicing the Ghost Dance, meant to honor and promote the return of the dead and their way of life. While it is said that the frightening appearance of the dance inspired the massacre, many in Native communities saw it as merely “payback” for loss of the Black Hills expedition (which had killed General Custer). She also spoke that is a descendent of natives involved in the Wild West Show and to the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. She recalled how, as a young girl, she was kept inside for days at a time out of fear that the surrounding troops would repeat their actions from 1890. At night, flares were shot into the sky and she claimed that these were responsible for burning down many of the area churches.
We were certainly operating on “Indian Time.” We were late, or he was - or we both were -- who knows, We had his grandson helping us drive around town searching for a brown truck with black rims. At any rate, we found each other. He spoke of the importance of language -- not just passing on the native tongue and oral tradition to future generations but also how we use the English language to describe and support Native Americans. For instance, he spoke of the derogatory origin of the word “sioux” and how it would be a great step in the process of reconciliation if we were to stop using a French word used to a group a people that are unique in language and culture and use the forms of identification actually preferred by First Nations communities. He spoke of the differences between lakota and dakota dialects. Discussion is underway to ensure that our prayers in the Episcopal church have a (d/l) option in front of words where the dialect matters. Right now, as he described it, everything begins with only ‘d’ and it isn’t inclusive of Lakota culture.
When we asked what we, as allies for peace and reconciliation, could do his response was to continue to merge education and ministry -- and help our collective psyche come to accept that events that pop up from decade to decade all bubble from unresolved conflict in the 19th century. He told the participants to share what they have learned and invite others to come and learn the ways of the Lakota, which may very well be different than what is written in their classroom texts. He also wished for continued collaboration with our faith community; he and others are working within the system but how until those systems are fixed there must be partnership with the outside -- especially, as he said, at the time of the Holidays. Perhaps helping our new friends fight their fight could be something we consider as a form of support this fall?
At Fr. Harold's suggestion, we stopped at Red Cloud’s grave. This chief was behind the success that Natives found in the battle for the Black Hills, which included the defeat of Custer. This is only one of a few times where the US military has been defeated in battle.
We ended our day by stopping by the site of a large dig site for woolly mammoth fossils. What a stark reminder that we of European descent are not the most recent human inhabitants of this land but we, as humans, are far from the the first inhabitants of this land at all.
Today we wrapped up our tour of sites and stories tied to the US-Dakota War. We started at Bishop Whipple Mission, which was built immediately following the war. We walked through the cemetery, took note of all of the people with the first name ‘Henry’ or ‘Cornelia’ -- or even ‘Henry Whipple.’ It is clear that the many Dakota had a positive relationship with Bishop Whipple and the Episcopal Church. A man by the name of Good Thunder, buried next to the church, was the first native to be baptized by Whipple. There would be so many to follow. At the back of the property is a spot filled with tall grass and wild lilies where the only known bodies from the Mankato execution were reinterred and where the remains of other natives cast from the state have been able to finally come home.
Our next stop was Pipestone National Monument, which contains the highest quality stone for making ceremonial pipes. An native artist shared with us how the stones are carved and we even learned that the dust generated from making the pipes can be used for other purposes, such as jewelry, magnets, etc.
After walking through the tall grass prairie and learning about the native species found there, we drove across the border into South Dakota. Just on the other side of the border is the grave of Little Crow, chief of the Dakota during the US-Dakota War. Around his grave we reflected on this first Minnesota leg of our journey. We left a braided lemongrass bundle and a St. Christopher’s medal. Little Crow was murdered after the war while picking berries near Hutchinson. He was scalped several times so that settlers could cash in on the bounty placed on him. Then, he was decapitated, firecrackers were placed in his ears, and then paraded through town. For 100 years it and other bones of his were placed on display at the Minnesota History Museum before being returned to the family in 1971. In 2012, the Dakota held a “homecoming” ceremony where members of the Dakota community marched from the town where Little Crow was buried into Minnesota.
In the car we listened to This American Life’s series called “Little War on the Prairie.” It was remarkable to be in the places being described by the authors while listening to it. It is remarkable how little we, as Minnesotans, know about this conflict. While we were not responsible for the removal of the Dakota people, our ancestors did benefit from that removal. Therefore, it was only fitting for us to confront what was sacrificed in order for pave a way for the many blessings we enjoy today.
This evening we camp at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne at a group tipi site. Hot dogs and s’mores are on the menu! Tomorrow, we wander into the heart of the Dakotas.
After such a warm send off at St. Christopher's we began our trip west by first stopping at the Two Rivers overlook with a clear view of Bdote -- the convergence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers -- and a place of major significance for the Dakota people. These were the waters that bore a people. However, in 1862 they also became a place of isolation, desolation, and disease as those native peoples who had survived the US-Dakota Conflict were camped there until arrangements could be made for either prosecution under US Law or relocation to the West. It was haunting to look down on this ground that certainly intercepted so many tears. However, we were proud to learn that Episcopalian missionaries, such as Bishop Whipple, were among the very few who visited the camps to baptize, confirm, and bring into communion through the Eucharist.
After our stop at Bdote, each car read three excerpts telling the story of the lead up to the war, major events of the conflict, and lasting impacts of these actions. We spent a lot of time on the Traverse de Sioux treaty of 1851 and the many ways that it set the table for the later war.
From Bdote we drove to Mankato and paid our respects at the site that once held the scaffold that hanged 38 Dakota men in 1862. We learned about how many of these individuals were certainly innocent of any wrongdoing during the conflict. Across what is now Riverfront Drive, we witnessed the location where those executed were laid in shallow graves only to later be pillaged by universities and physicians for medical study. Tomorrow, we will be able to pay homage to the final resting place of one recovered skeleton as it was buried in the cemetery near Bishop Whipple Mission. At this point we were really beginning to feel us become part of this story.
We finally reached the Lower Sioux Agency Museum late in the afternoon as thunderstorms will beginning to build over the southern horizon. The experience was amazing. One of our tour guides was a descendant of Little Crow (fifth great grandson), who led the Dakota people during the time of the conflict. The other was a direct descendant of Chief Wabasha. We were able to see the storehouse where goods were withheld from the starving Dakota before the breakout of the war (the only structure still standing from the original agency settlement) and the foundations of buildings that held significant meaning in or after the war. A cool part was being able to learn about games played by Plains Indians. Ben even got a tutorial on playing lacrosse with traditional equipment. (Oh, and did you know that games would sometimes be played with goal posts eight miles a part and would be used to solve real-life conflicts?)
This evening, we are hunkered down at Jackpot Junction and decompressing by the pool. It was a wonderful day. We feel fortunate for your support and the support of our God as we make this journey of deep listening!
On Sunday, we depart on our pilgrimage of several sites central to understanding the historical and current events impacting the relationship between Native American and European American communities in Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota. In the days ahead we will learn about the US-Dakota Conflict at the Lower Sioux Reservation; walk the lands used to mine stone that was used to construct ceremonial pipes; receive a tour of the Wounded Knee massacre site by Episcopal priest Harold EagleBull; spend time taking in the sheer beauty of the Black Hills; hear the story of individuals who have grown up on the Fort Berthold Reservation and the pride they have for their people and country; and learn about native dancing styles and attend the Mandaree Celebration (pow-wow). Our final stop, Fort Berthold, is also the center of the recent fracking boom where traditional ways of life have been turned upside down. It will be important for us to become aware of ongoing justice issues found in today's world.
It will be a packed week! We invite you to join us in our adventure by following along. We will be posting daily with a description of our day, major "a-has" and pictures.
Thank you for your support of this learning adventure!