Weekend reads: The Episcopal Church hires racial reconciliation staff; Efforts to strip Medals of Honor from Wounded Knee Massacre, and more

In this blog:

  • Episcopal Church appoints Rev. Isaiah “Shaneequa” Brokenleg (member of Rosebud) as officer for racial reconciliation
  • Remove the Stain Act introduced in Congress, an effort to strip Medals of Honor from soldiers participating in the Wounded Knee Massacre
  • Chief Standing Bear, a civil rights hero, honored with a statue in Washington D.C.’s National Statuary Hall

The Episcopal Church appoints Rev. Isaiah “Shaneequa” Brokenleg as officer for racial reconciliation

According to a media release from The Episcopal Church:

The Rev. Isaiah Shaneequa Brokenleg has been appointed staff officer for racial reconciliation for The Episcopal Church, a member of the Presiding Bishop’s staff.

Brokenleg will work to catalyze and organize Episcopal efforts to embrace and practice Becoming Beloved Community, the church’s long-term commitment to racial reconciliation, healing and justice. She will support networks of regional leaders and coordinate church-wide efforts, especially around StorySharing, pilgrimage, anti-racism training and liturgical resource development. …

Brokenleg is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Nation).  She is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota, where she grew up, and the place she calls home.

Brokenleg has a master of divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a masters of public health from the University of Minnesota.  Prior to priesthood, she worked as a clinical epidemiologist, and served Indian Country in the Great Lakes region.

Remove the Stain Act moves in Congress, an effort to strip Medals of Honor from soldiers participating in the Wounded Knee Massacre

Burial of the dead in a mass grave after the massacre of Wounded Knee. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Remove the Stain Act has been introduced into both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, an effort to strip 20 Medals of Honor given to U.S. soldiers who participated in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, according to a story in Indian Country Today.

Rep. Deb Haaland, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna Pueblo (D-New Mexico), and Rep. Denny Heck (D-Washington) introduced the House version of bill in June, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) introduced the Senate version of the bill.

According to the Indian Country Today story:

“We cannot whitewash or minimize the dark chapters of our history, but instead must remember, reflect on, and work to rectify them,” Merkley said. “The massacre of innocents could not be farther from heroism, and I hope this bill helps set the record straight.”

Click on the links for more details.

Chief Standing Bear, a civil rights hero, honored with a statue in Washington D.C.’s National Statuary Hall

Standing Bear and family. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Each state gets to choose two historical figures to represent itself in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington D.C. In 1937, Nebraska initially chose politician William Jennings Bryan and Arbor Day founder Julius Sterling Morton, according to a Washington Post story.

Nebraska lawmakers recently decided to change their statues, the story said. Chief Standing Bear replaced Bryan and author Willa Cather will soon replace Morton.

Standing Bear was the first Native person to testify in U.S. District Court and the first Native person to win a civil rights case, in U.S. ex Rel. Standing Bear v. Crook. While he won a landmark ruling, the story behind Chief Standing Bear and his Ponca people is tragic on many levels.

For background, start with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which triggered a flood of settlers to the Ponca homelands in present-day Nebraska. It increased pressure on all Native nations in the area, and increased fighting among them. In the case of the Ponca, it meant more raids against them by the Brule and Oglala.

Under duress, the Ponca ceded lands to the U.S. government in an 1858 treaty. According to Wikipedia, the Ponca’s new lands were unsuitable for farming. The U.S. government failed to live up to treaty promises. The Ponca suffered persistent famine. An 1865 treaty allowed the Ponca to return to their traditional grounds. Yet a short three years later, the U.S. government illegally gave their land to the Santee Dakota as part of treaty negotiations to end Red Cloud’s War.

The Washington Post picks up the story:

The U.S. government finally took action in 1876 but not in the way the Poncas had hoped. Congress declared that the Poncas would be moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in exchange for $25,000. Though the bill stated clearly this would all happen “with the consent of said band,” when the Poncas declined the inferior land they were offered in Oklahoma, they were forced to leave anyway.

By the time they arrived in Oklahoma in 1878, it was too late in the season to plant; they also didn’t get any of the farming equipment the government had promised them. More than a third of the Poncas died of starvation and disease — including Standing Bear’s sister and his beloved son.

On his deathbed, Standing Bear’s teenage son asked his father to bury him in the land of their ancestors, back in Nebraska. According to the Post story, the son “told his dad he was worried that if his bones were not buried with his ancestors, then he would be alone in the afterlife.”

When Standing Bear and his fellow travelers arrived in Nebraska with his dead son, Brigadier General George Crook had the group arrested for leaving their reservation. (The Post story says Crook was sympathetic to Standing Bear’s wish, but was following orders. Crook did go to the press with Stand Bear’s story, which apparently helped Standing Bear get pro bono lawyers for his case.

Standing Bear and others sued for a writ of habeas corpus in 1879. (Such a writ allows a person imprisoned and ask the court to order a hearing on the detention, with the arrested party present.)

The fundamental legal question District Court Judge Dundy had to answer was: Is Standing Bear a “person” who had standing in court to ask for the writ of habeas corpus?

The District Attorney prosecuting the case said “no.” He argued that only American citizens had the right to sue under a writ of habeas corpus.

Judge Dundy ultimately sided with Standing Bear and ordered him and the other Ponca freed. He concluded:

That an Indian is a ‘person’ within the meaning of the laws of the United States, and has, therefore, the right to sue out a writ of habeas corpus in a federal court, or before a federal judge, in all cases where he may be confined or in custody under color of authority of the United States …

That the Indians possess the inherent right of expatriation, as well as the more fortunate white race, and have the inalienable right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ so long as they obey the laws and do not trespass on forbidden ground.

Standing Bear was able to bury his son at their ancestral home, and he was buried there, too, after he died.

Comment: Minnesota could learn from Nebraska. Minnesota’s two statues in the National Statuary Hall honor Maria Sanford (donated in 1958) and Henry Mower Rice (donated in 1916). Sanford is little known today. She served on the University of Minnesota faculty from 1880-1909, championed women’s rights, supported the education of blacks, pioneered the concept of adult education, and became a founder of parent-teacher organizations. Rice is better known, the namesake of Rice County. He lobbied for Minnesota statehood, was one of the state’s first two U.S. Senators, and was one of the area’s political elites that made money off of treaties and the business opportunities they created. Is it time to pick some update heroes?

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