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Wounded Knee and a Wounded People


Nick at Wounded Knee

I was born on Pine Ridge in South Dakota. When I was growing up, I spent my summers there. Our house was just a couple of miles from Wounded Knee -- a place where the U.S. army did something terrible to the Lakota Sioux people in December 1890. I drove by the Wounded Knee gravesite every time we went to get groceries.


Visiting the site on my recent trip home to Pine Ridge was very sad, because the older I get, the more I see my culture fading. The Wounded Knee gravesite is a reminder of what has happened to my people -- the Lakota people -- and what continues to happen to them today.

Nick at the headstone of the mass gravesite at Wounded Knee

Here is the story of Wounded Knee. During the 1900s, white settlers moved west across the United States. Those settlers, and the U.S. as a whole, saw Indians as a problem -- something that kept them from taking as much land as they wanted. The settlers fought their way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, taking land, killing Native Americans, and killing buffalo on the Great Plains.

Nick thinking about the strong-hearted Oglala war chief Crazy Horse

In 1890, a Paiute Indian named Wovoka who lived in Nevada gave Native Americans new hope. As the story goes, Wovoka rose from the dead, right after a total eclipse of the sun. Some people say it's true. Others say that he just recovered from being very ill, and planned his recovery to happen on the day after the eclipse.

Nick thinking about the Massacre

In any case, Wovoka made a prophecy: If Indians sang and danced to certain songs, the buffalo and the dead people would return, and the white people would be covered by a layer of earth. Tribes all over the West learned about the Ghost Dance, which the Indians believed would save their culture, religion and way of life.

The new religion of the Ghost Dance was peaceful. But settlers and the U.S. government feared that it meant the Indians were going to stage a mass rebellion -- so they brought in the army.

Sitting Bull, a Lakota Chief killed by the Indian Police on the Standing Rock Reservation

In South Dakota, U.S. troops chased a band of Lakota Sioux, led by Chief Big Foot, to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The band surrendered near Wounded Knee Creek -- just a mile from where I grew up. To represent surrender and peace, Chief Big Foot, who was dying of pneumonia, put a white flag outside of his teepee.

One night, U.S. military troops surrounded Big Foot's encampment. No one knows exactly how it happened, but the next day, the U.S. troops shot almost 300 men, women and children as they stood under a white flag of surrender.

But the Lakota struggle did not end at Wounded Knee. What the government did to the Lakota in the past affects the Lakota who live today. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where Wounded Knee took place, is now the poorest county in America. That's not just a coincidence.

Keep the peace--

Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Irene - We don't need no thought control
Nick - Sitting Bull wins one for the Lakota Indians!