Why We Remember Wounded Knee

December 27, 2018

Vi Waln

Dewey Beard

Spotted Elks band on their way to Pine Ridge Agency was intercepted by soldiers. They had their Hotchkiss guns ready for battle, soldiers waiting guns loaded. Wasu Maza aka Dewey Beard rode ahead of the caravan, approached the soldiers. He dismounted and shoved his arm down the barrel of the Hotchkiss gun! Counting coup! Let the soldiers know he wasn’t afraid, still upset over the murder of Sitting Bull. Although many of his family were murdered that next day, himself wounded badly, he lived to be 97 years old. Courtesy photo.

It is winter on the Great Plains. This is the time of the year when our ancestors fled after the murder of Sitting Bull. There were sick, elderly, children and women all traveling in the caravan. They headed south towards Pine Ridge, walking as fast as they could. They were intercepted by the Seventh Cavalry near Porcupine Butte and were escorted to Wounded Knee Creek. Despite a white flag of surrender raised by Chief Spotted Elk, many in the group were viciously murdered by soldiers armed with Hotchkiss guns on December 29, 1890.

Soon after the guns went silent, a prairie blizzard covered the killing fields, halting any recovery efforts for three days. After the storm subsided, those who traveled to the massacre site were witness to the frozen bodies of our murdered ancestors. A photographer documented the horror of the Wounded Knee massacre for all of eternity.

Recently, I was asked “what the memory of the massacre Wounded Knee means to the folks on Pine Ridge and beyond; why it is so important for it to be remembered?”

The memory of the Wounded Knee massacre lives in all of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people, as well as Indigenous citizens of other nations. There are times when I wonder about the photos. If the photographer hadn’t been there during the recovery of bodies, we would not have seen how the killing fields looked after the blizzard. So, the eternal memory of a mass burial of our murdered ancestors was captured by the photographer.

Another memory ingrained in the minds of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people is that our ancestors were killed and then buried without proper ceremony. That is, there was no sacred food sent to the spirit world with Chief Spotted Elk or any other of the relatives murdered.

Our ancestors were starving. They also were living in an era when there was little hope of survival for those whom refused to be contained by the fenced in reservation, which was perceived to be a prisoner of war camp. Our ancestors embraced the Ghost Dance brought by Short Bull, with the blessing of Wovoka.

The Ghost Dance ceremony was initially held by a Paiute prophet named Wodziwob. The Ghost Dance movement, subsequently founded by Wovoka, promised a return to the way of life before the coming of the wasicu. Our people began praying and dancing with faith the ceremony would save them from the wasicu.

Shortly after the Wounded Knee massacre, rituals and ceremony brought to the Lakota by Pte San Win (White Buffalo Calf Woman), were outlawed by the federal government. During this time, our people conducted ceremony in secret. Our spiritual ways were never lost, as many of our ancestors risked being imprisoned to keep the Lakota ceremonies alive and far away from the scrutiny of the wasicu police.

After the ceremonies were declared against the law, the wasicu attempted to replace our spiritual way of life with Christianity, which was another form of trauma that many of us still suffer from today. Yet, Christian prayer will not stop the ceremonial renaissance we see today. The attempts to colonize our people away from the Cannunpa have failed.

So, when I am asked “what the memory of the massacre Wounded Knee means to the folks on Pine Ridge and beyond; why it is so important for it to be remembered?” I have to say our memories are important as they have resulted in many Lakota people leading our children back to ceremony.

The knowledge of what the wasicu is capable of, specifically the murder of innocent Lakota/Dakota/Nakota and the attempt to strip the Oyate of our spirituality, is why it is so important to remember Wounded Knee.

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