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Imagine being out in a blizzard in subzero cold, without modern insulated or padded clothes.  A group of riders on horseback completes a ride to Wounded Knee across the Dakota plains every year to commemorate a tragedy.

We should all remember.

Why? One might ask.  Dec. 29, 1890 was a long time ago and doesn’t usually rate much of a mention in history class.  

On this day, 500 troops of the 7th Cavalry, who had lost the famous battle of Little Bighorn to relatives of these people, were there to see to it that the last of the free Indians of the plains territory gave up their weapons and entered into life on the reservation.  One of the tribal group, who happened to be deaf, seemed to ignore an order to lay down his rifle.  The soldiers panicked, then opened fire.  They had  four wagons mounted with a predecessor to the machine gun (Hotchkiss guns) in addition to rifles and pistols.  Since the firing was essentially into a circle, the casualties on the cavalry side were more than likely friendly fire.  200 men, women and children were killed on the spot, and an unknown number of the estimated 150 who fled the scene on foot froze to death.  

The massacre followed a series of massacres in a holocaust.  Maybe it should be called Wounded Heart, because it ought to be a matter for the heart for all of America.

The history most people know is a recounting of the military events of the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries that are most widely described and talked about.  Usually the recounting beefs up the justification for organized military units attacking unorganized ordinary people.  

The basic reason for remembering is to learn lessons, so as to produce wiser future ways of dealing with other human groups outside our immediate understanding.  

The Middle East comes to mind as a place to contemplate how to apply such lessons, but Latin America also should be in mind as well.

A common element is a tendency to see browner skinned racial or ethnic groups, particularly if they have a religious tradition that is outside Christian experience, as strange and to become very paranoid about them.  It isn’t all religion that causes people to behave this way, it is specifically the Christian religion that does, because it has as its core, a belief that other people are inferior and should be brought to heel.  Nowhere does this get stated in the Bible.  It is a consequence of a history particular to Europe in which religion became a tool for building and maintaining state power.  The rise of the state was made possible by efforts to separate people from a tribal system based on families and extended family communities that were maintained through a spiritual relationship with the earth, with local nature and local place.  Breaking this system had to happen before people could be citizens of a state and units of economic productivity instead of self sufficient.  This was  not done through persuasion, but through pain.

Demonization was a powerful political tool, still used today.  To call someone a “witch” was initially no real insult.  However, after a lot of women had been horribly tortured and burned at the stake, the term, along with other terms such as “heathen” became terrorizing at the mere mention. Still are, hundreds of years later.

The word, “heathen” originally referred to someone who lived in the country, out in the heath.  Out in the country, people were generally less interested in the going thing, so they had to be persuaded through terror to go along.

This terrorism of the state became cultural and normal.  European citizens began to be systematically uprooted from village communities and the life they had become accustomed to as peasants under the feudal system in the 1600s.  A prime motivation was land and money.  The prior Neolithic order, which was similar to that of Native American tribal groups, and which the Christian state builders had broken, was primarily focused on the principle that the strong should serve the weak and the wealth of the community shared among its members.  The new ethic was that the strong could exploit the weak and become enriched and empowered above others in the process.  The feudal village was a step in the evolution of modern economics.

The baronial estate had a population of peasants who worked the land and lived in the feudal village composed of extended family relationships.  The focus of the Neolithic ethic was the estate instead of the tribe.  The estate provided for those who lived there in exchange for the military service of the men.

At some point, the aristocracy realized that greater wealth could be achieved by getting rid of a lot of peasants and putting a more businesslike management of the land in place.  To do this, laws were changed, debt was made a crime and people were hanged or sent to Australia and America by courts set up to administer this process of liquidating the population.  

So, when Europeans got to America they had been indoctrinated in a hatred for non-Christian Others, and especially for people living as their ancestors had.  Since the truth of history was unavailable to them, there was a mixture of beliefs and experience that were acted on.  Some remembered that it was the aristocrats who had set them up for betrayal and supported a more democratic form of social organization.  Some made friends with the Indians, others fought them.

But right from the start, the momentum of Christianizing as a process of political aggression towards others seen as wrong, as “heathen” created a justification for extreme prejudice and the use of deadly force, particularly in the taking of land and enlarging state power and wealth.

This interpretation of history can be found in a book called, “Exiled in America”  edited by Oren Lyons and several other Native American students of history.  The attempt results from a study to understand what happened back there in the past that has led us to today.

The Haudenoshaunee people, aka the Iroquois Confederacy (straddles the New York/Canada border), has maintained a civil government for some 600 years and in some respects, formed a model for the Founders who incorporated principles of the confederacy into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
There is some scholarship on this as well, even though it has largely been suppressed by the academic profession, especially historians.

It is my belief that America will never come to its full potential until it comes to terms with the meaning of its indigenous heritage.  

To me, when I look at Vietnam and Iraq, I see ongoing tragedy with roots in the holocaust of Indigenous America and prior European history.  We are now becoming a truly multicultural society, due to many waves of immigration that began really with the first peoples.  

In looking around in towns on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona like Kayenta or Ganado or Chinle, places where the majority population is Dine', you can see how history could have been different.  It could have been a large exodus of people coming over from Asia centuries ago that created the larger population of the US instead of Europe.  One could review the reasons why it happened the way it did and conclude, “No way!”   but given ten thousand years of time, there really is no reason why it couldn’t have happened.  A thousand or more years in the future and the prospect is that the human race would have mixed quite a bit more because of the increased general mobility.  

So this whole history of nursing some sort of grievance against Others simply because they have a different religion or they look different should be seen for what it is:  a long chapter in human evolution that we should study in order to become wiser and to find a way to transcend outmoded models for organizing ourselves in societies.

We ought to perhaps look into the religious practices of indigenous peoples (those of America and those of Europe and other places around the world) and see a wisdom there about the earth as a living wholeism in which every thing in creation, including the planet itself is alive and deserves respect as interrelated.  The Lakota practice on entering a sweat lodge is to honor this by saying, “Mitakuye Oyasin,”
meaning “all my relations.”  Literally this observes the interrelatedness of all people, all flora and fauna, unseen spirits and the earth itself as a living being.  This wholeism is a healing opposite of the fear of the Other and need for greed represented by the barking of the Hotchkiss guns, echoing into cold air.

Personally, I will light some sage and maybe some tobacco and contemplate this in the light of where we are, on the verge of a new year, with the upcoming inauguration of a multicultural president.  May we all walk in beauty.

Originally posted to Stuart Heady on Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 05:47 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  ah, but ya see, those Injuns got what they (6+ / 0-)

    deserved, because they were TERRORISTS.
    They were bad, mean, sneaky TERRORISTS, because after having their land stolen and being treated like shit they felt obliged to resist against the cannon and Gattling guns of the US army with bows and arrows.
    And if ya don't see that they got what they deserved and that it was all their fault, then you're a TERRORIST too, and probably a COMMIE ATHEIST as well!

    So there! My daily snark.

    We're shocked by a naked nipple, but not by naked aggression.

    by Lepanto on Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 06:03:09 AM PST

    •  There's that popular T-shirt with a number of (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kaliope, Dvalkure

      armed Native Americans on horseback, with a caption that says something like "The Original Dept of Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorists Since 1492."

      To change ideas about what land is for is to change ideas about what anything is for. - Aldo Leopold

      by Mother Mags on Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 09:33:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  pagan was like heathen (5+ / 0-)

    pagan in old latin mean't country dweller. So the cityfied christians thought the backward country hicks had to be christianized.

    NASA wants an Internet for Deep Space join the debate, pros and cons for space spending.

    by Vladislaw on Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 06:06:45 AM PST

  •  What?!?!?! (0+ / 0-)

    This terrorism of the state became cultural and normal.  European citizens began to be systematically uprooted from village communities and the life they had become accustomed to as peasants under the feudal system in the 1600s.

    Not peasents...SERFS. A serf is a kind of a slave. While not Chattel that can be bought and sold freely,  "a serf owned only his belly" a Serf cannot leave the village or manor and had almost no rights. You seem to be saying this was somehow GOOD....

    ...oh yeah, of course, if the European serfs remained enslaved, they couldn't have come to America and killed the Indians.

    •  I use the terms interchangeably (6+ / 0-)

      The reason for remembering Wounded Knee is to deal with the issue of cultural and racial prejudice, which has roots in European history that a lot of people seem unfamiliar with.  Specific terms, to me, don't need more precise definition if the resulting psychopathology and its effect on our politics both past and present is what one is interested in.

      Prejudice against Indian people is still evident, especially in border towns in Arizona and places where there is a history dating to the time of Wounded Knee. But it is also alive and well in the way we look at the Middle East and Latin America.  

      •  Gaza is a reservation.. (0+ / 0-)

        In fact, one could argue that the Israeli template for the structure of Gaza is based on the American reservation system.

        Let's take the people who have been inhabiting a certain piece of land, herd them onto a much smaller piece of land, fence that land in, control their movements in and out, control the movement of basic necessities in/out and send your soldiers in on missions of death where anything goes.  God forbid if those living on the reservation try to defend themselves or even try to revolt against this stifling lifestyle.

        That is Gaza today and is very reminiscent of many of American reservations shortly at the time of their creation.  

        I am not sure, but I would not be surprised if some reservations today are still surrounded by fencing and ingress/egress is still monitored.

  •  History (16+ / 0-)

    The history of Wounded Knee often reflects more American propaganda than what actually happened. Many historians cite this as the last battle in the Indian Wars. In fact, the military engaged Indians in battle many times after this.

    Historians often cite this as the end of Wovoka's Ghost Dance movement, apparently unaware that this religious movement continues and is still being practiced. Much of the stuff in main-stream history books about the religious aspects of this incidence rely heavily upon non-Indian accounts of the religion and their interpretation of it.

  •  Excellent diary and I am grateful (10+ / 0-)

    that you brought the anniversary of this massacre to our attention today.
    As far as comments

    We ought to perhaps look into the religious practices of indigenous peoples (those of America and those of Europe and other places around the world) and see a wisdom there about the earth as a living wholeism in which every thing in creation, including the planet itself is alive and deserves respect as interrelated.  The Lakota practice on entering a sweat lodge is to honor this by saying, "Mitakuye Oyasin,"
    meaning "all my relations."  Literally this observes the interrelatedness of all people, all flora and fauna, unseen spirits and the earth itself as a living being.  This wholeism is a healing opposite of the fear of the Other and need for greed represented by the barking of the Hotchkiss guns, echoing into cold air.

    Not ought to, we have to. The Native American ways we attempted to strip away and make extinct is what can save us all in the end.
    The conditions indigenous persons live in yet today speak volumes about what we as a country and individuals lack.

    Personally, I will light some sage and maybe some tobacco and contemplate this in the light of where we are, on the verge of a new year, with the upcoming inauguration of a multicultural president.  May we all walk in beauty.

    I will also.
    Mitake Oyasin

    •  that is just another rewrite of history (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cambridgemac, Al in NY

      First, I think what happened to native American people was terrible and should not be forgotten or rewritten. But to believe that they had idyllic relationship with nature is just so much BS. How exactly did all the large mammals in N. America become extinct? They were hunted into extinction.

      Additionally the were a relatively small population in a very large land. It is much easier to live in harmony with the environment under those circumstances. Population density is probably the key determinant whether an eco system recovers.

  •  south dakotan thanks you; another massacre (6+ / 0-)

    remembered here.

    Dream, that's the thing to do (Johnny Mercer)

    by plankbob on Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 07:03:41 AM PST

  •  Dancing Rabbit Creek. Sounds as if something (4+ / 0-)

    beautiful should happen there , doesn't it? Maybe so , but something monstrous did as well.

  •  Most succesful at gencide write it's history (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rickeagle, dancewater, mamamedusa

    Most Native American culture is a ghost. The history of millenia on two continents will never be known.  Those few sho wrote it were silenced by Conquistadores and moved 1,000 miles on foot.    You are not beloveed for rattling those chains.  Pity also the people who won.  Their ancestors are doomed to attempt to forget their bloody beginnings forever, while the dead repose in innocent bliss.      

    "Obama. He's redefining what a politician is... take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future " Bob Dylan

    by SmithsLastWord on Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 08:11:50 AM PST

  •  What a well written diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Santa Susanna Kid

    I would recommend in the future including some links to provide verification of the event.  Some of us like to delve deeper into the topic.  :-)

    ~"Breaking" is just another way to scream "FIRST"~

    by CWalter on Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 08:26:56 AM PST

    •  Beyond Google (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      walkshills, kaliope, JVolvo, mamamedusa

      There are whole libraries full of material.  The best I have seen so far that comes to mind immediately, include  "Custer Died for Your Sins." by Vine DeLoria and pretty much anything by him.  Also "Basic Call to Consciousness," by Akwesasne Notes which is a Haudenoshaunee publisher.  "Exiled in America," is a scholarly work used in history classrooms by progressive teachers. Joseph Marshall is a writer and historian who has about a dozen books out that are either nonfiction history studies or fictional westerns from the Lakota point of view.  Check out his "Hundred in the Hand."  There is an interesting little book about the family history from the Powhatan descendants of Pocahontas's relatives by a guy named Custalow that isn't exactly the Disneyfied version.  

      Also check out the national call-in show, Native America Calling which airs on a number of NPR stations or on the web.  

      •  also (7+ / 0-)

        beginners should read "Indian Givers" by Jack Weatherford to get an idea about our contributions to modern society. You should then read 1491 to avoid the mistakes some commentors(keepingitstraight) have made here. Then progress to Vine Deloria's books. The only decent book about Wounded Knee 1973 is "Voices from Wounded Knee" put out by Akwasasne Notes. Also there is a new enclyclopedia out about native americans pre-Columbus but I forget the publisher.

  •  Bigfoot riders (10+ / 0-)

    each year young Lakota, led by dedicated older men and women, reenact the long forced march of Chief Bigfoot and his doomed band. Right now they are about home to Wounded Knee where they'll be honored by the People for sacrificing themselves to remember and honor those who suffered in 1890.

    It has been cold in South Dakota with freezing winds blowing snow in whiteout conditions, just like it was in 1890, but these brave kids year after year ride in remembrance of their ancestors so they and this day will never be forgotten.

  •  I don't know if this is in print anymore but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kaliope, Dvalkure

    can be read, in its entirety here, is a book of articles written by Custer, My Life on the Plains.

    These were individually printed articles that formed an eventual collection.

    They clearly show the thinking of the time and, imho, are a valuable asset to understanding the mindset that allowed each and every massacre, large and small.

    I loaned my copy out to someone perhaps 30 years ago and never got it back.  Sigh.  

    Whose marriage do we get to vote on next?

    by cany on Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 09:54:52 PM PST

  •  Power, simply power... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cambridgemac, kaliope

    The Indians were doomed. On land that would support a thousand Indians white men could live there in their many thousands. Like a plague of locusts we whites devoured all before us - we still do.

    As Chief Joseph said: "It does not require many words to speak the truth."

  •  Thank you for this diary, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kaliope, Dvalkure

    and thanks also to its rescuer.  

    Your comparison to contemporary policies in the Middle East is powerful.  Some of Bush's State of the Union addresses seemed to be lifted directly out of the old vocabulary of Manifest Destiny.

    Regarding how European and Euroamerican Christians have justified their near-total discounting of Native religion and rights, one excellent piece of scholarship is Robert Williams's The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest (1990).

  •  Thanks for resources (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kaliope, Dvalkure

    I'm a public librarian new to my current branch, so I'm doing some extra quick collection development prior to the American Experience's five-part "We Shall Remain" airing in April.  There is good new scholarship and certainly that is from native peoples and other increasingly well-studied people, and encouraging language recovery efforts.  

    Thanks again.  It's always exciting to see the winter ride, also.

    "I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself." John McCain

    by gazingoffsouthward on Tue Dec 30, 2008 at 12:32:27 AM PST

  •  My Lai (0+ / 0-)

    Interesting post though a bit esoteric....

    Incidentally I had dinner in William Calleys house at his table.  The thing about wars and monday morning quarterbacks is it is inherently jacked up.  You state above miscommunication due to a hearing impairment and scared young men led to a firefight that should never have been.  My Lai and Haditha and Wounded Knee are events that occur in war.  Don't question the war crimes, question the war that led to the crimes.  Is it a just war?  If so and our 17-21 year old average aged BOYS we sent to fight it cut them slack.  If not don't scapegoat the Lt. Calleys focus on the greyhaired senators, congressmen and presidents that initiated such said wars.  And if you have not carried a weapon in defense of our flag hold your tongue when judging the judgement of men who defend your freedoms.  It is easy to claim you would act in manner X in situation Y.  It is another to face such trials.  

    -matt

    I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. Che Guevara

    by Paid Troll on Tue Dec 30, 2008 at 03:24:45 AM PST

    •  All are responsible (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dvalkure, cacamp

      To call Calley a scapegoat is ridiculous. There is such a thing as personal responsibility.
      Of course the leaders are the true masters of war, but responsibility flows both ways.
      "But if every last sergeant had refused to go back into the army there could have been no war either."-Tolstoy

      My sympathies are with those who have been forced to fight in wars, but they're not always defending our freedom, more often in our history, it's been about defending the rights of the wealthy to export misery.

    •  Calley murdered 500 women, children (0+ / 0-)

      and old men.  He was turned in by another SOLDIER.  And not all SOLDIERS in his regiment participated.

      You have a choice: honor the soldiers who commit massacres or honor those who oppose them.  Make your choice.

  •  I drove past Custer's home in MI (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cacamp

    on the way back to DC.  I had very strong inclinations to burn it down and purge this nation of Custer's memory forever.

    Remember the Battle of Greasy Grass.

    "It stinks." - Jay Sherman

    by angry liberaltarian on Tue Dec 30, 2008 at 05:58:23 AM PST

  •  In point of fact, (0+ / 0-)

    the Hotchkiss guns fired at Wounded Knee were 3-inch artillery pieces carried by cavalry units of the time, not early machine guns. Also, the Army handed out a bunch of Medals of Honor to the members of the 7th for their actions in this "battle."

  •  i have one quibble with the diarist (0+ / 0-)

    t isn’t all religion that causes people to behave this way, it is specifically the Christian religion that does, because it has as its core, a belief that other people are inferior and should be brought to heel.  Nowhere does this get stated in the Bible.

    The KJV specifically aims to support "the divine right of kings".

    I truly believe the politics of James' court heavily influenced that translation of the Bible.

    John Edwards:"One America does the work, another America reaps the rewards. One America pays the taxes, another America gets the tax breaks."

    by BlackSheep1 on Tue Dec 30, 2008 at 04:13:36 PM PST

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