More From Alder's Ledge

June 12, 2013

Wounded Knee, Broken Heart

The Genocide of the Sioux People
(Idle No More series)

"Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth."
~ L. Frank Baum, speaking of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

When Americans today think of the Wounded Knee Massacre most think of us can't remember what led up to the sudden, yet planned, killing of around 300 Sioux men, women, and children. Schools in the United States often don't even call it by what it is and instead call it "the battle of Wounded Knee". This permits the education system the opportunity to once again whitewash history by painting the victims as combatants instead of the innocent souls they were. Through this distortion of history the masses in America are allowed to forget the blood that was once spilled in the pursuit of the "American dream". 

It is only upon realizing that genocide has plagued Native Americans from the first European settlers that arrived till modern day that we find contradictions in what we were taught about history. We realize that not only are the history books written by the conqueror but the memory of their victims is erased in through its editing. Thus we arrive at the conclusion that what was erased, stolen, must be made whole once more. 

(Miniconjou Sioux chief Big Foot Dead In The Snow)

"The whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit is broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are."
~ L. Frank Baum.

The Sioux people had been cast the role of fierce warriors on the supposedly uncivilized American plains. Their way of life, their native language, and their ability to defend themselves all threatened the progress of American settlers as "Manifest Destiny" played itself out across the rugged frontier. History, in a way, had already predicted what would happen to the Sioux as the last of the Cherokee were marched to their deaths just 50 years prior. With fewer tribes to oppress and nowhere left to deport them too, the Sioux were trapped between America's hate and their own extermination. 

War, as it so often did with Native peoples, spelt the end of the Sioux's freedom on the Great Plains. In 1862 the Santee Sioux, driven by starvation, attempted to seek food from local white traders who promptly responded "If they're hungry, let them eat grass." This callousness and the desperate need of food drove Santee men to attack white settlers who had laid claim to the Sioux's lands. These small attacks were the sparks that would feed the flames of America's rage. 

By the time the Dakota War of 1862 was over the Sioux peoples were a people without a homeland. American politicians, Abraham Lincoln included, had used the opportunity to drive the Sioux onto reservations (ironically Abe was attempting to wipe out plantations in the American South) where they "encouraged" Sioux to take up farming. This form of confinement allowed for the Sioux to be kept under military guard while white settlers flooded the Sioux lands. It also allowed for disease and hunger to spread rapidly throughout the Sioux as they fought to stay alive. 

While the Santee were forced to Crow Creek Reservation along the Missouri river the Lakota Sioux moved further west in an attempt to maintain their struggle against the United States military. Others fled to Canada where they still to this day live on reservations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Yet no matter where they fled to or were forced to, none would escape the genocidal efforts of the governments that surrounded them.

Red Cloud's War and The Great Sioux War would bring even more pain and suffering to the Sioux peoples as they wiggled beneath the crushing weight of an expanding white world. The bleeding of their youth sapped the Sioux of their strength. What had once been a great nation of people was now reduced to a defiant remnant of what it once was. By the time 1890 rolled around the Sioux were left open to massacres and deportations.

Wounded Knee was the most devastating massacre the Sioux would face at the hands of an oppressive and violent government. But it wasn't the first nor would it be the last.

History, as currently written, tells us that the Sioux violently opposed the United States at Wounded Knee. It says that the Sioux were driven by the violent rhetoric of a "ghost dance" to the point of attacking American soldiers. It ignores the fact that the United States military was conducting a campaign of disarmament against the Lakota Sioux. It ignores the fact that the majority of the victims of Wounded Knee were women, children, and elderly. It ignores the fact that American soldiers were witnessed going amongst the dead and shooting their victims corpses. It ignores the intent of the 7th Cavalry as they drove their horses in like bulldozers in an attempt to stampede running victims so as not to leave any Sioux alive.

By the time the smoke cleared there were around 300 Sioux dead on the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation. These members of the Miniconjou and Hunkpapa bands were defenseless. They had no ability to move in the thick winter snow. Yet on that day they had been ordered to move their sick and elderly down to Omaha, Nebraska so that they could be boarded on trains and deported once again. By the time the smoke cleared these Sioux victims were so numerous that American soldiers dug mass graves in which to hide their sins.

The repression of the Sioux would continue throughout the 20th century. Both the United States and Canadian governments would repeatedly break promises and harass Sioux even when the Sioux people cooperated. In the 1960's the Wounded Knee "incident" would highlight the disparity between Native peoples and the rest of American society. Such events would showcase for the world the immense poverty and lack of social services provided to Native peoples in America. Yet for most, it too would be whitewashed just as the original Wounded Knee Massacre had been in their education.

"Kill the Indian, Save the Man."
"Kill the Indian, Save the Man."

Currently genocidal efforts remain underway as states like South Dakota continue to oppress Sioux people through the unlawful sale of land rights and even removal of Sioux children from their families. These actions include the violation of holy sites such as The Black Hills and intentional destruction and diversion of water sources that sustain Indian reservations. Yet despite countless complaints and appeals to federal courts, Sioux are routinely left at the mercy of the states that detest Native peoples and the reservations they were granted.

The removal of children from Native households shows that South Dakota is once again enacting the genocidal policy of "Kill the Indian, save the man". This policy was used as white politicians and missionaries tried to "reeducate" and "assimilate" Native Americans at an early age. It's hallmarks include, but are not limited to; the removal of Native American children, placement of children in white family homes, placement of children in state sponsored boarding schools, and forced conversions to Christianity. This policy forced Native Americans to take on "Christian" names and adapt to Western dress codes. It essentially killed the culture of the Native peoples while forcing upon them the trademarks of "civilized society".

South Dakota has been using this policy to forcibly remove an average of 700 Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota children from their homes every year. Once removed the state attempts to keep children from seeing their families for at least 60 days. This isolation allows for the state to rush Native American children through the system and seek placement in non-Native homes (87% of Native children in foster care in 2011 were placed in non-Native foster homes).

Once removed from the home, South Dakota can regulate what the child is exposed to. This means that the state can decide if the Native child is permitted to learn about their culture or experience it firsthand. Once removed, Native children are segregated from their own heritage.

The genocide against the Sioux people is far from over.

As long as we continue to whitewash the history of Native peoples we continue to allow ourselves to be culpable in the crimes committed against them. By remaining ignorant of the facts that led us to this day, this state of continued repression of Native culture, we permit states like South Dakota the opportunity to act without impunity. As long as the world remains silent about the genocide of the Sioux the Sioux people will continue to suffer from it.

Learn the struggle the Sioux still face...

Learn the history of their ancestors...

Then scream without relent, raise your voice and show your support for Native rights.
"Kill the Indian, Save the Man."

“Never has America lost a war ... But name, if you can, the last peace the United States won. Victory yes, but this country has never made a successful peace because peace requires exchanging ideas, concepts, thoughts, and recognizing the fact that two distinct systems of life can exist together without conflict. Consider how quickly America seems to be facing its allies of one war as new enemies.” 
~ Vine Deloria Jr., Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto

Source Documents
(Note: not all sources listed)

Huffington Post


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