I don’t generally venture into the political in a public forum, however, some things need to be said because it is just right to speak out. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.” To remain quiet is to ignore the great need in a land where truth, justice and liberty are upheld. Aaron Huey: America’s Native Prisoners of War video brought this to mind when I recently watched this TedTalk video. What a powerful photo essay about a place that I had the opportunity to visit in July 2010.
Aaron passionately outlined the challenges the Lakota and Sioux are facing. Last summer, I had an opportunity to see it firsthand, and the images are not easily erased. Let me describe my experience. We drove down to South Dakota for a family vacation to attend a weekend of outdoor concerts, see Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Devil’s Tower, the Black Hills, and go camping. After we finished seeing the sites, I had one more thing in my bucket list that I wanted to do. I wanted to go to Wounded Knee. If you look at the map I’ve embedded, the Oglala Reservation is a large area south of Rapid City, and from first glance, Wounded Knee should be pretty straight forward to find.
Not so! We drove southeast from Rapid City watching the looming black horizon filled with lightning draw near, almost as a metaphor of what we were soon to see. We drove eventfully on to the Reservation filled with wide open fields; some developed and others empty grassland. I couldn’t believe how much land there was. Then out of the blue was a huge casino and hotel in the middle of nowhere. My wife and I looked at each other and commented about how it seemed so oddly placed. Beyond the casino, we continued to drive and see relatively nothing again for miles. Slowly, we began to see the odd house trailer scattered alongside the road. There was so little development of the land or resources.
Then we drove into Pine Ridge past the Red Cloud Indian School, which was a stark contrast from the rest of the homes and buildings that displayed so much poverty. We were overwhelmed by what we saw. I reflected back to my days of growing up on Atikameg Lake First Nation in Canada, and found myself thinking that even though we had very little back in the 1960’s, these people in 2010 have far less. Little did I know what I would hear firsthand from some of the community members.
We looked at the map and continued down the #18 highway in search of Wounded Knee. We drove past Batesland realizing we were now off the Reserve, but we hadn’t seen a sign for Wounded Knee. I kept saying, “You’d think with such a huge significant event like Wounded Knee, there would be a sign.” We had been so used to signs everywhere pointing out Mt. Rushmore, and every little underground cave open for tours. But not one sign for Wounded Knee. I put it into the GPS, and nothing. The map just showed a general area, but no roads. We knew we were in the right area, so we started taking roads north of the #18 and crisscrossing back and forth. Finally, we found it. A big green sign with writing on it describing the events of the that dreadful day in 1890.
Not much of a sign considering what happened over a hundred years ago. It was almost as if the American government didn’t really care if people visited this site, read about it, or even found it for that matter. There was no tourist booth, other than free standing poles with makeshift pine boughs draped across to shelter people selling a few trinkets and necklaces from the summer heat To one side of the stand were two binders full of photocopied pictures describing the Massacre at Wounded Knee, but no government issued pamphlets or brochures. One elder was there who explained about the living conditions on the Reserve. Across the way, his sister lived in a trailer without power or running water. She used an outhouse, and had a 100 ft. extension cord running from a power pole that had a makeshift power box so she could run a hot plate. The stories were sad and heart wrenching.
And then there was this picture taken in 1890. The elder asked me if I knew why the person pictured to the left was wearing a scarf around his head. I shrugged, “I don’t know.” He replied, “Because he was scalped by the Cavalry.” I don’t know about you, but that really hit me hard. The whole event was wrong, but so much information is being buried from the public. I left Wounded Knee that day with a pit in my stomach. It stayed with me for days, and rightly so. Herein lies the problem. The treaties, which are binding covenants between the government and the people need to be honoured. Apologies for the atrocities need to be made. The government cannot look the other way and ignore what is happening in Oglala.
I really appreciated Aaron Huey’s talk. It made me think, it made me remember, now I want my voice to to join his and speak out calling for action.