Monday, June 27, 2011

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Charles Eastman: Senator, please sit. Sir, if every individual were taken personally under your care, as was my good fortune, I admit, the outcome might be what you seek. But I am not the example you held up to The Friends of the Indian. I am the example of nothing. I simply do not see how placing each Indian man on a desolate, 160-acre parcel of land is going to lead his children to medical school.
Henry Dawes: It will, in time. But first, this must pass. Or I guarantee you, destitution is all the Sioux will ever know. I have many opponents, Charles, in the press, in Congress...
Charles Eastman: You have an opponent before you, sir.

First of all, if you haven't seen the movie Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, find it and watch it.  It's about the events leading up to the Wounded Knee Massacre; the U.S. government taking land and basically stripping the culture away from the Sioux Indians. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Dee Brown. I have the book, but I haven't read it yet. I think I will after seeing this movie now.

Anyway, the quote above is from the movie. The part that's bold is what really stuck out to me. Senator Dawes believed that by giving each Sioux family 160 acres of land, that it would make their lives better, even though the government was taking land away from them....and of course, they were taking the best land away.

The 160 acres was for the head of the household and his future generations. Think about that. The 160 acres was for the head of the household and his future generations. Most families have more than one kid. So, you even though 160 acres is a lot at first, you eventually have to divide that. And that means that after each generation, that 160 acres gets smaller and smaller and smaller. And the land  they were given was really poor. They couldn't farm it. Sitting Bull even pointed that out to both the Sioux and the white men who were there. That land was not going to sustain future generations.

Dawes said that if the Sioux would agree to sell their land and take these 160 acre parcels, then their lives would get better. They would not see their destruction. They would not see destitution. But I've been there. I've been to Pine Ridge, I've been to Wounded Knee. I spent 10 days living among and working with the Lakota Sioux of Pine Ridge, South Dakota. And Shannon County, South Dakota, where Pine Ridge is located, is the poorest county in the United States today. By selling their land, by taking the 160 acre parcels, by doing what the U.S. government said would benefit them, it made them destitute. It made them the very kind of people they were promised they would not become.

And watching this movie and seeing the massacre at Wounded Knee brought me to tears. I visited the mass grave where those who lost their lives in that massacre are buried. I thought it broke my heart then, but seeing the senseless massacre being really breaks my heart now. I'm still crying, and that part of the movie was over 10 minutes ago.

Despite everything that has happened to them, the Lakota are a proud people. They have not lost hope, they have not given up. And they have retained their sense of themselves, despite efforts to strip them of their identity and culture. I feel very blessed to have been able to go to South Dakota and meet some of these wonderful people and learn more about them. And even though in 1980 the U.S Supreme Court ruled that the taking of the Black Hills violated treaties signed with the Sioux, they refused to give the Black Hills, which is land that the Sioux consider sacred, back to them. They offered compensation instead. The Sioux have refused it. They still hold to their claim on the land, and even though the compensation is now worth over $600 million, they won't take it. I don't think they will ever take the money. Money is not what they want. They want the land that is rightfully theirs, land that was stolen from them. And I honestly can't blame them for wanting that.

Seeing this movie has definitely made me want to return to Pine Ridge at some point. I definitely want to take some more time to experience the culture and be around the Lakota again.