North Dakota. State #26
From K’s journal…
A pulse in my stomach climbs to my tightening throat. Identity lost, future erased. Final sensations of hope numbed. Fingers turn purple, and mind fades away. I see hands curl gently in front of me, but they are not my own. They are a resident of the Black Hills.
Tears dried up two days foregoing. Cracked skin, and aching souls mourn. This ends. You shall never again remove the cloth from those bony shoulders of yours. This ends. That ounce of love once left has been swallowed into hate. Smiles no more. Retreat. Just retreat into this earth, and finally claim the land as your own. No victory is to be had. No success to be made. You are one of many, left filling a mass grave. You follow him there, evil warden of yours. They search that hollow body, finding nothing left inside. No longer a ghost dancer, you today became the dance.
A world forever changed by one bloody day in December. Tears travel over blood-stained skin, like a river weaving through cracked clay. Frozen images burn deeply in the minds of all, remembering the sacrifice made on that twenty-ninth day.
While disarming them, Colonel Forsyth and his 7th Calvary claimed the lives of 84 Lakota men, 44 women and 18 children. A burial party returned to the sight days later, after a snowstorm, and placed the frozen and contorted bodies into a mass grave. Wrapped in the shawls of their dead mothers, four infants were found still alive. Despite accusations of massacre, response to the event was mostly positive from the American public. Twenty medals of Honor were awarded, and the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer responded on January 3rd 1891 with: ”The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.” The writer of that article was a young editor named L. Frank Baum, who later went on to write The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Today I stand here with the Oglala Sioux. There is no extravagant memorial, nor neatly engraved plaques. All there is to mark the event is a faded sign at the edge of the road and a modestly built kiva sitting beside a hill of graves. The sign reads “Massacre of Wounded Knee,” but the word “Massacre” is on a wooden board, tacked over the original title. It is a recent addition, as December 28, 1890 has finally been recognized as not being a battle after all. We enter the round building and find a dark-haired woman sweeping a dirt floor. Her child runs circles around her. Cracked walls are adorned with memories of fallen “freedom fighters,” quotes, timelines and epitaphs. The room is humid and unventilated. The little girl, whose name we learn is “Feather,” has found a place on the floor to make bracelets. We talk to them about the artifacts and thank them both before respectfully walking out to the mass grave. I approach the plot, marked by sticks and colorful weavings.
In the blazing sun we stand. I have seen enough now to know that every village and nation throughout history has taken the lives and freedoms from others in order to protect and advance their own quality of life. However, sometimes that fear and greed leads to terrible injustices that can never be reversed. Standing on this land, in this quiet moment, surrounded by Feather and her mother, I feel ashamed by the color of my skin. Great pain here was caused by my own ancestors and it can only be understood now in retrospect. While I did not enforce this specific evil, I am humbled for all humanity. I feel it my personal responsibility and the responsibility of generations to come to stand for compassion and unity for every race, religion and region.
What it comes down to is that we will always want what is better for our own family, yet the truth is… we are all one family.