This Day in History: Wounded Knee Massacre; Obama Designates Bears Ears Monument; Native Youth Trekking From Canada to Join DAPL Opposition

Burial of the dead in a mass grave after the massacre of Wounded Knee. (Wikimedia Commons)
Burial of Lakota men, women and children in a mass grave after the Wounded Knee Massacre. (Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, an incident that resulted in U.S. soldiers getting the nation’s highest military honor for killing Lakota men, women and children who were trying to surrender. As a 2014 opinion piece in Native News Online summarizes: some 150 Lakota people, and possibly up to 300, were massacred by the US 7th Calvary Regiment near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It continues:

History records the Wounded Knee Massacre was the last battle of the American Indian war. Unfortunately, it is when most American history books drop American Indians from history, as well. As if we no longer exist.

Wikipedia’s entry on Wounded Knee says the Seventh Cavalry had the camp surrounded on the morning of Dec. 29 and soldiers were in the process of disarming the Lakota.

One version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it. A scuffle over the rifle ensued and by the time it was over, more than 150 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men and 47 women and children, some of whom died later)… Twenty-five soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded later died).

Following the massacre, approximately 20 soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions. People have tried for years to get those medals rescinded. Wikipedia says the National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions in 2001 calling on the U.S. government to rescind the awards. According to a Huffington Post item in 2013, Calvin Spotted Elk started a petition to recall the medals. He is a direct descendant of Chief Spotted Elk, a Lakota Chief shot while waving the white flag of surrender at Wounded Knee. Calvin Spotted Elk noted:

“The [Congressional Medal] itself needs to represent true American values. Medals honoring an American massacre of Native people over a hundred years ago are a stain on that honor.”

The petition is still open and has around 15,000 signatures.

Here is a story Minnesota Public Radio posted today: Grief, hope mix on Wounded Knee anniversary.

Obama Proclaims “Bears Ears” a National Monument

Bears Ears (Wikimedia Commons)
Bears Ears (Wikimedia Commons)

On Wednesday, President Obama proclaimed the Bears Ears in southern Utah a national monument, drawing praise from the Native American leaders and criticism from western lawmakers who want the land for economic development.

Among other things, the National Monument designation protects the land from oil drilling and mining projects. According to the BBC, the Bears Ears National Monument “will cover 1.35 million acres in the Four Corners region.”

Obama’s proclamation starts out:

Rising from the center of the southeastern Utah landscape and visible from every direction are twin buttes so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or “Bears Ears.” For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountaintops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States.

The Native American Rights Fund said in a statement: “This designation is the first under the Antiquities Act that comes in direct response to an unprecedented partnership of sovereign Native American Tribes.”

The Fund’s Executive Director, John Echohawk, released this statement:

“In a very real sense, this is a monument to justice as much as conservation. The Bears Ears National Monument protects a living cultural landscape, a place of migration and habitation used by Native Americans since time immemorial.

“This designation marks a significant step towards strengthening tribal sovereignty with a commitment from the U.S. Government to work together with Tribal Nations to manage ancestral lands. This is a dramatically different level of collaborative management with Tribes, ensuring their engagement isn’t merely advisory, but substantive and indispensable.”

A National Monument “is a protected area that is similar to a National Park, but can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government by proclamation of the President of the United States,” Wikipedia says.

In more recent times, the Bears Ears region has other historical significance, including being a haven for outlaws. According to the President’s proclamation:

Cattle rustlers and other outlaws created a convoluted trail network known as the Outlaw Trail, said to be used by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. These outlaws took advantage of the area’s network of canyons, including the aptly-named Hideout Canyon, to avoid detection.

Obama also designated 300,000 acres in Nevada as the Gold Butte National Monument. It is outside Las Vegas, “and will protect rock art, fossils and recently discovered dinosaur tracks,” according to the BBC report.

Update from the Oceti Sakowin Youth on the Dakota Access Pipeline

A group of indigenous youth from Canada are marching 800 miles to join the effort to protect water and oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to an announcement today by Anna Lee, Bobbi Jean & the Oceti Sakowin Youth.

According to the announcement:

The youth have already walked about 400 of the 800 miles they’ll need to cover to reach us, trekking through snow and below-freezing temperatures. We are so grateful for their leadership and sacrifice. …

They were motivated by a devastating oil spill which sent almost 60,000 gallons into the North Saskatchewan River, near their community.

The spill happened in July. A news item from Global News blamed the spill on a “sudden, one-time event” in which the ground shifted and Husky Energy’s pipeline buckled, spilling 225,000 liters of heavy crude oil (about 60,000 gallons) within a tenth of a mile of the river. Approximately 40 percent of the spill went into the river, the report said.

The group of Indigenous Youth from Canada is called Youth Unity Journey for Sacred Waters. (Hint: They could use donations to support their travels. Check out their site.)




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