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.