Three years ago a New York friend, having seen pictures in the NYTimes taken from the top of Harney Peak in South Dakota and knowing I came from out that way, said, "I'd sure love to go out there and climb that mountain!" I eagerly replied that I'd be happy to drive and to wave to her from the bottom.
As it turned out, we both got to the top of the mountain, but the most powerful experience of our trip wasn't the climb. Rather, it was our visit to the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Reservation 120 miles south and east of Harney Peak. What a sad, sad sight that was.
The creekside site of the massacre itself is pretty much unmarked. On a knoll nearby we found a monument and graveyard. A native woman and her child sat at the gate hoping for help from visitors to purchase the child's school uniform. I expect we were the only people she saw there that day.
The graveyard and monument site was overrun with weeds and characterized by broken fences, tumbled gravestones, rusted gates and most sadly, the graves of children, many, many children who died before they turned six. Those are not the graves of the children who died in the massacre, but rather of children who have died in the last decade or two there on the reservation. The senseless and preventable deaths of children goes on at Wounded Knee a century after the one-day slaughter.
Come with me below the curl, won't you?
At the time we viewed the seemingly abandoned site of one of our nation's major crimes, I thought, "I want to do something about this. Someone should do something about this. This place shouldn't look like this. It needs to be cleaned up, fixed up and maintained. We need to remember and honor those who died here. We need to learn the lessons Wounded Knee has to teach us."
And then I thought, "Who am I do take up this task? What do I know of the Tribe's priorities and perspective?" Having participated here on DKos in the efforts to bring heating gas during killing winters to the Native people of South Dakota, I wasn't about to quibble with an under-resourced Tribe's priorities; though, still, I wanted something done.
Imagine my surprise then, when I read in this week's New York Times that the Tribe doesn't own the site. http://www.nytimes.com/... Rather, it is in private hands and the owner wants the Tribe to pay him $3.9 million to take ownership. He says that if they don't come up with the money, he'll put it up for auction. Personally, I can't imagine it bringing that much money at auction, but in any case, this site shouldn't be just another real estate transaction making some greedy man rich.
The Times op-ed piece has been republished in the Native press and this morning I read a comment from someone asking "Is there a petition? Where can I sign?" Perhaps there are petitions out there, but when I went to the White House "We the People" petition site I found no one had put one up there. So, I did it. I hope you will join me in asking the President to see that the Oglala Sioux Tribe gets ownership of this property and that a National Monument is created there. To get the attention of the White House the petition must garner 100,000 signatures in the next month -- that is, by May 14, 2013. Please sign it, and send it on to others. We can get this done. Here are some links -- one or another of them will take you to the petition. As I understand it, one works until there are 150 signers, then the petition "goes public" and the other one works.
Those in the know will see that I have an error in the petition. I call the Custer Park a "National Park" in the petition. In fact, it's a State Park. Please don't let that stop you from signing the petition. Maybe, if tourists add this site to their Mount Rushmore, Black Hills and Custer Park visits we'll get something done about infant mortality on the reservation, too. It was a shock to me to see those dated gravestones, it can't help but move people if they get there at all.