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The Curse of Wounded Knee

133 Years after the massacre of approximately 300 Lakota Sioux men, women, and children by the United States Army at Wounded Knee Creek, near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota - we haven't forgotten...but have we learned anything?

Imagine that - a government that kills its citizens for practicing their religion. The Ghost Dance is a ceremonial dance done by certain indigenous peoples - and practiced at a time when the United States was breaking virtually all of its treaties with the original inhabitants of North America. The dance was done by the tribes to pray for relief from the genocide being perpetually perpetrated against them, this time via the passage of the US Indian Removal Act (IRA) of 1830. The IRA was signed into place by President Andrew Jackson, allowing the ability to grant lands to tribes west of the Mississippi River in exchange for the land they currently resided on. And had inhabited for literally THOUSANDS of years before being removed. Surely, nothing could possibly go wrong with the implementation of that plan, could it? Nazi Germany didn't think so when they modeled their strategy of Lebensraum after the American removal policy shortly before starting WWII. Just disregard or pretend any other number of currently relevant examples of the hypocrisy and contradiction of US domestic and international policy isn't readily available. Do as we say, not as we do - the unspoken foundation of US political rhetoric.

The passage of the Indian Removal Act would lay the bedrock of the resulting near extermination of the indigenous peoples of North America. The notorious Trail of Tears, the forced march of southern tribes to what is now known as Oklahoma, is estimated to have included approximately 100,000 Native Americans over the period of the IRA, of which nearly 30% would die by shootings, beatings, starving, dysentery, exposure, or any other number of ailments brought on by the US sanctioned domestic genocide.

Life didn't get any better once those who survived made it to their allocated land on the other side of the Mississippi River. Though the US government had promised money and food in exchange for the land they had taken from the tribes, they weren't (and aren't) known for the integrity of their word and on top of that, the United States Civil War had just broken out and the federal government couldn't even manage themselves, much less uphold promises they never intended to keep to the Native Americans in the first place.

So began what would be one of the shortest wars in United States history, the US-Dakota War of 1862: clashes between the government and its white settlers against the peoples occupying the land they coveted: the Native Americans. It was over within 5 weeks, when the Dakota surrendered and returned 300 captives they had taken.

“The state reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. The sum is more than all the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth."

The Daily Republican, Winona, MN

In the trials of the Dakota Indians held after the end of the war, over 300 male tribal members were sentenced to death by the federal government. Upon review by President Abraham Lincoln, all but 38 sentences were commuted. Those other 38?

They were all executed, and to this day, the federally sanctioned killing of these 38 Native Americans remains the largest single execution in American history.

To add insult to injury - that injury being DEATH - Minnesota then passed the Dakota Expulsion Act of 1863, prohibiting any Dakota member from living in Minnesota. This legislation is still in effect and has yet to be repealed, despite multiple calls to for action.

So, in the face of their impending decimation and genocide by the very individuals entrusted with their guardianship, the United States government, the Native American people turned to what had always saved them: their ceremonies and traditions. Except, plot twist, the federal government would not make it legal for American Indians to practice freedom of their religion until 1978 - over 100 years later, when Congress passed the Indian Religious Freedom Act. Well, when you pray for forgiveness instead of asking the almighty federal powers that be for permission - those almighty federal powers that be get BIG MAD.

December 29th, 1890: Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota

The government decides to demonstrate their power and make an example by sending the cavalry to arrest Sitting Bull in Standing Rock when he continues to practice the ceremonial Ghost Dance. Except, instead of arresting him, they kill him. Betcha didn't see that one coming.

Fearing for their own lives, other tribal members fled to Wounded Knee Creek where other Lakota had gathered. When approached by the US 7th Calvary and ordered to disarm, the Lakota began to turn over their weapons so as to avoid further bloodshed. Sitting Bull's deaf son, Black Coyote, was unable to hear what was being discussed during the tension laden moments. When he continued to hold his gun, two soldiers approached from behind and attempted to remove the Winchester firearm from Black Coyote's arms forcefully. According to multiple bystander reports, it was during the soldier's attempt to forcefully disarm the hearing-impaired man that the gun he was holding accidentally discharged harmlessly up into the air. But that was all it took for soldiers on either side of Wounded Knee Creek to open fire on the Lakota who were there, to include elders, women, and children.

By some accounts, some Lakota had just settled into their blankets on the ridge while awaiting capture and were shot through those blankets. An interview with Wasú Máza, the last known survivor of the massacre of Wounded Knee who passed in 1955, told Eli Ricker in the "Ricker Tablets" that the gunshots of the soldiers rained down like a hailstorm and he saw bodies of infants and young boys and girls in the ravine, shot by the soldiers lining both sides of the creek. When the smoke settled and the sounds of gunfire faded, over 250 Lakota would be dead and thrown in mass graves. Wasú Máza, later known as Dewey Beard, would lose his mother, father, wife, and child in the massacre. He would go on to build a new life raising horses on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Before, once again being uprooted when the United States War Department annexed over 320,000 acres of land in 1942, to include the land he lived on. He died poor in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1955 at the age of 96. Before ever being able to legally practice his own religion.

Wounded Knee would once again gain notoriety in 1973 when it was occupied by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM). They had originally intended to protest at the tribal administration offices of tribal leader Richard Wilson but when Wilson sought refuge within the confines of the Bureau of Indian Affairs police protection and jurisdiction to avoid facing his opposition, the American Indian Movement and their supporters chose to protest at Wounded Knee for its cultural significance.

Tribal leader Richard Nelson was seeking to avoid impeachment by the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) for corruption and abuse of office, to include intimidation, voter fraud, and harassment by Nelson's private militia, the "Guardians of the Oglala Nation" (GOONs). When the efforts at impeachment failed, due to rumored collusion with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the members of AIM chose to protest the actions of the tribal government, as well as the federal government's failure to once again uphold treaty promises of fair and equitable treatment of Native Americans, by occupying Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

When Nelson reached out for assistance to the US Marshalls, the United States Department of Justice sent out 50 deputies, in case of any "civil disturbance" during the planned peaceful protest. Though representatives of AIM sought an open meeting with tribal and federal officials, within hours of law enforcement arriving, roadblocks had been placed up to prevent anyone from leaving the area and anyone caught attempting to do so was arrested. This stand-off lasted for about 30 days before the Department of Justice decided to change tactics.

In the depths of a South Dakota winter, the leaders within the DOJ opted to "starve out" the occupants of Wounded Knee, cutting off water, electricity, and access to food. After 71 days, the standoff between the 200 AIM members and Dakota supporters ended, amidst still ongoing rumors and unsolved murders regarding the events of that siege, 45 years ago.

200 impoverished tribal members seeking federal protection from the corruption and abuse received at the hands of their tribal governments - only to be met with over 170,000 rounds of ammunition by the US federal government, of which 20,000 rounds were spent on the village of Wounded Knee over a period of just 2 days.

Despite the fact that no federal law enforcement personnel were killed during this 71 day occupation, a prominent leader of the American Indian Movement remains incarcerated in federal prison to this day, based on witness testimony that has been proven to be unreliable.

So what have we learned in the 45 years since Wounded Knee took another hit, from a massacre to a siege?

We've learned that the Black Hills of the Dakotas and the Black Snake of Big Oil will always be an avenue for the federal government to remind Native Americans that even though we are STILL HERE, they will never stop reminding us that they'd prefer we weren't. Standing Rock and the lawyers behind the most recent hearing regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act are more than effective indicators of this.

As is their refusal to act YET AGAIN when tribal members seek out federal protection from the unjust and corrupt actions of a tribal government to the detriment of its membership. Protections as afforded to every indigenous citizen of this country by the passage of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Protections that are nothing more than smoke and mirrors to provide for the continued disenfranchisement of this country's original inhabitants and, ultimately, their extinction. Even if it means destroying it from the outside in via corrupt tribal officials such as Richard Wilson and Aaron Payment of the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, or his illegally appointed protege, Austin Lowes.

Forty-five years later and Wounded Knee is still bleeding.

Wahsay Geezhgo Kway

"Shining Sky Woman"

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