On December 29th, 1890, when my grandmother was a young woman of twenty, at a place near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Agency in South Dakota, in what has been called the last battle of The Indiana Wars ,about five hundred soldiers, members of the 7th U. S. Cavalry, because they could, massacred ninety men and two hundred women and wounded fifty other people, members of the Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux tribes.
Actually, there was one more battle. The day after the carnage at Wounded Knee, a group of Native Americans from the Brule Lakota Sioux Tribe from the Rosebud Indiana Agency in South Dakota engaged with troops from 7th Cavalry who were aided by troops from the 9th Cavalry, The Buffalo Soldiers.
The battle erupted as some of the Lakota were trying to enforce some of the terms of the treaty, which they were forced to sign, with the United States Government. They, along with the Cheyenne Tribes were starving, having had their rations cut and because of outright theft by the suppliers. They were desperate.
And that was it; the Indian problem was over and out of the hair of those who claim “ownership” of what is now called “The United States of America.”
I guess it would surprise many of you to know that the U. S. government still treats Native Americans like they were the intruders, intruders in the land that rightfully belongs to them. If you would like evidence, take a vacation sometime and drive to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
I hope you will be shocked and ashamed with what you see.
The United States is comprised of over 3100 counties. The counties that make up The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are the poorest of all those. They share, and sometimes trade positions, that title with the two other reservations in South Dakota, The Rosebud and Lower Brule.
Some members of my family tree lived in the coal mining regions of the Appalachia region. I traveled through that part of our country a couple times and was shocked at the level of poverty that existed in my country. Though conditions have improved somewhat, thanks to the efforts of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton, people still live in a poverty ingrained in the culture of the people. They have been taken advantage of and abused by big corporations for generations and most have come to accept their place in the world.
I had heard that the people living on Indian reservations had it rough. I had lived near both Pima and Paiute Indian reservations over the years but never realize that severe poverty existed that close to me.
As part of a longer vacation, my wife and I planned to visit The Pine ridge Indian Reservation. As we were traveling there, we entered the Badlands. A large part of the badlands are on the reservation. It was an unusual experience to say the least.. Our car’s compass did not work, our GPS system did not work and we could not get connected to our ONSTAR system operator. I stopped the car to look around at the massive rock formations and the trails that ran through them. As I was standing there, the air itself spooked me. It was like it was singing and had color to it, like the colors in a science fiction movie.
We finally arrived at our destination, after getting directions from nearly every person we could find. We stayed at The Lakota Prairie Ranch Resort. If you think resort means some fancy place with a casino and all, forget it. It was a bare-bones place to stay and had a great restaurant attached. The people there were a great source of information and directions around the Pine ridge area. They discussed the history and culture of the Lakota with us. Just as an aside, the Lakota do not have a casino on the reservation.
What we found out while we were there was that 1 in 4 infants are born fetal alcohol syndrome and that Alcoholism rate is about 80%. Until 2013, when the members of the Lakota Nation voted to repeal the ban, Alcohol was not sold on the reservation but nearby merchants build alcohol stores just outside the boarders and it was easy to smuggle it onto the reservation.
We found out that many of the houses we saw had no floor and that most did not have beds. If a family was lucky enough to have a mattress, as many as five people may be cuddled up on that one mattress trying to keep warm. Many homes have no running water or sewage. Heating oil is expensive and many cannot afford to have it delivered to their homes. Some have no electricity or telephone service.
I learned that the unemployment rate was between 80% and 90%, and that the U. S. Government uses its power to keep it that way.
In the early part of the new century, The Lakota began growing industrial hemp to be used in brick making. The level of THC in the industrial hemp is so low and of so poor quality that one could never make a “joint” from it. They could, however, make bricks. This project would provide industry and jobs to the Lakota nation. The government stopped them, with force, in direct violation of the 1868 treaty the Lakota made with the United States. This helped to keep the per capita income of the residents of Pine Ridge at about $4000 a year.
In another wonderful show of faith, the U. S. government confiscated a large chunk of the Badlands, belonging to the Lakota, to use as a bombing range during WWII. In the first two decades of the 2000s, they are still clearing unexploded ordinance so that the land can be returned.
With abject poverty comes an issue like Diabetes, which is about eight times the norm on Pine Ridge.
Other distressful issues on Pine Ridge include:
More than twice the national rate of suicide and you can double that for teens
Infant mortality rate on Pine Ridge is three times the national rate
Twice the national rate of heart disease
The second lowest life expectancy in the western hemisphere
Cervical cancer more than five times the national rate
If, as some people say, the United States is turning into a third world country, just go to The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to see what you will become.
Most of you cannot even imagine living in those conditions, yet we turn our heads and pretend not to see as the government continues to massacre the Lakota.
I visited the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre and stood on the hill where the Hotchkiss cannons (Gatling guns) were fired. Right behind me stood the mass grave that the men, women, and children that were chewed up by the Hotchkiss guns were unceremoniously buried.
I have read several books, articles, and papers and looked at many maps concerning the events of 12/12/1890 and as I stood on that hill, looking across the field where so many would needlessly die, it all came to life. In my minds eye, I could se everything. I hope never to see an event in reality that is so horrible and so heartbreaking.
The Wounded Knee Massacre did not end that day in 1890, it continues today as “We The People” allow our leaders to continue to persecute the very people to whom this land rightfully belongs. Columbus did not discover America; it was never lost. It was inhabited by many nations with trade routs going from New England to South America. It had a thriving economy and one that practiced conservation of resources centuries before the term was invented. But that’s another story.
For now to learn more about the Lakota and to help their situation, visit one, or more, of the sights below.