|The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun
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Entrance to mass grave burial site at Wounded Knee. PHOTO BY/Christina Rose
WK descendants speak out
Many see museum at Wounded Knee as positive thing
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor
RAPID CITY—The conversation surrounding the sale of Wounded Knee has included commentary from people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, activists from urban centers, academics, and non-Native columnists.
Excluded from the discussion however has been the Mnicoujou descendants of Wounded Knee, who feel that a memorial at Wounded Knee would allow them to correct history once and for all.
“If they are ignoring the opinion of the Mnicoujou, they are doing to us what they did to us from the start, it is wrong. Even after we die, they are still doing this to us. Maybe we should bring them home (those buried at Wounded Knee), if they do then they won’t have nothing to fight over or buy,” said Sybil Lone Eagle, an elder and descendant of Wounded Knee. “This makes me upset, makes me want to holler loud. Those are our people. That’s why we are defeated, there is nothing left. The Great Sioux Nation in the treaty isn’t there anymore. They divided us and we still think that way,” she added.
The majority of news reports have failed to make note of the historical fact that those murdered at Wounded Knee were not Oglala Lakota, but were in fact Mnicoujou Lakota and Hunkpapa Lakota. The Mnicoujou are now settled on the Cheyenne River Reservation and the Hunkpapa are on the Standing Rock Reservation that straddles the South Dakota and North Dakota border. The Sioux Nation is made up of several groups of people scattered across multiple reservations in South Dakota. It was understood by the U.S. government that a united Sioux Nation would be virtually uncontrollable and sought to weaken the nation by separating the bands geographically.
“I feel in response to the past issue or misleading information from the media, is that maybe they aren’t aware of the history of the Mnicoujou and the Hunkpapa journey from Standing Rock to Cheyenne River, then on to the land of the Oglala. We are all bound by blood in this matter, some of our relatives stayed in Pine Ridge, others fled home to Cheyenne River. We share a common interest in the sensitivity of the issue,” said Joe Bring Plenty, former President of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “The Mnicoujou story is long over due. It’s time for our elders and relatives to pass on their history, in a good way to strengthen each other, to bring our people and relatives back together. Let’s never forget who we are and where we come from; we are Lakota, it’s in our veins and we will always be Lakota until the day we die,” he added.
After the murder of Sitting Bull on Dec 15, 1890 by Indian agents who feared he was to join the Ghost Dance that was being practiced at Wounded Knee, approximately 200 Hunkpapa Lakota family members began traveling to Wounded Knee. The travelers were intercepted at Cheyenne River by the agency Superintendent and the Indian leader Hump, who convinced all but 40 to surrender. The remaining 40 led by Spotted Elk continued on to the Pine Ridge agency where they were arrested near Porcupine Butte and forced to camp at Wounded Knee. On Dec 29, 1890, many of them were massacred.
At the time of the massacre, the approximately 350 men, women, and children under the leadership of Chief Big Foot were traveling to the agency in Pine Ridge where they hoped to find shelter, food, and medical attention. The Mnicoujou Lakota believed that they would be safe amongst their relatives the Oglala Lakota, led by Red Cloud.
In the days leading up to the massacre, the U.S. cavalry caught up to the group of Indians on their way to the Red Cloud Agency which is located in the town of Pine Ridge in southwestern South Dakota and about 30 miles from Wounded Knee. The soldiers under the command of James Forsyth allowed Big Foot to use a government wagon to ride in, due to his illness. Big Foot could barely stand due to a debilitating case of pneumonia and his age. When both groups arrived at Wounded Knee to camp, government officials were still unsure about how to handle the situation.
The decision was made to disarm the group of Indians. During the disarming of the group, a scuffle broke out over a weapon and the government began to fire on the camp indiscriminately. The slaughter continued on for hours as the latest technological tools of death were fired by the soldiers into the unarmed camp. After the initial onslaught, soldiers chased down men, women, and children who were fleeing the destruction and struck them down with both small arms fire and army issued blades. It is widely considered to be the largest single act of genocide by the US government in history. In remembrance of the atrocities at Wounded Knee, 27 Medals of Honor were distributed to the soldiers.
After the massacre, some of the survivors settled on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and others went back to the Cheyenne River Reservation in central South Dakota. The majority of the descendants of the massacre are not living on the Pine Ridge Reservation or in the community of Wounded Knee that is adjacent to the mass grave where the U.S. soldiers placed the bodies of those killed there in 1890, and the site of the takeover by AIM in 1973.
“The Hohwozu is the name the Mnicoujou was originally called. The Hohwozu have the right to decide what is appropriate. After the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, some Tiwahe (family members) stayed in Pine Ridge, other Tiwahe came back to Wakpa Waste’ (Cheyenne River), where it all began. No commercialization should be allowed but a memorial park like the one at Little Big Horn is needed,” said Manny Iron Hawk, chairman of Hawk 1890, one of two groups representing the descendants from Cheyenne River.
As the story over Wounded Knee has gone global, there has been a presumption by both national and local non-Native news outlets that the opposition to the development of Wounded Knee is universal. According to sources on the reservation however, the questions posed by the media have been about the production of tourist sites like casinos and amusement parks, and not about a possible memorial. For the Mnicoujou and many other residents of the reservation, a memorial is necessary and wanted.
“Whatever happens there at Wounded Knee, the Mnicoujou should be included. Our history is something we never forgot. We shouldn’t be left out of any of the decisions that are taking place with the Wounded Knee Massacre. It would be good to create a memorial park, because the stories would be accurate from the Mnicoujou side of the history,” said Wally Little Moon. “If it’s the memorial park commemorating our Mnicoujou relatives that were killed there, then OST and the descendants should come together for negotiations,” he added.
Margo Iron Hawk, a Mnicoujou elder who is also a descendant of Wounded Knee, supports the erection of a memorial at Wounded Knee.
“It would be good to have a memorial, for our youth to be proud of. To tell why our ancestors died and how we survived. We can see it in our youth; they need to be given something to be proud of and shown where they come from,” she said.
Support for a possible memorial, although not unanimous, has significant backing from Lakota people throughout reservations in South Dakota. Craig Dillon, Oglala Sioux tribal councilman, recently told the British Publication The Guardian that he was in favor of a museum and a place where vendors could sell what they produce.
Retired owner of Native Sun News, Tim Giago (Oglala Lakota), has recently proposed an idea to build a Native American Holocaust Museum at Wounded Knee where an accurate depiction of the plight of Native people could be told, and tribal members on social media have expressed support for a monument to those who have passed away there, if it is done in a respectful way. Joe Brings Plenty feels that it could be a chance for the Mnicoujou to show the world what really happened at Wounded Knee.
“I would support a memorial park erected at the location, with walkways and monuments showing where the teepees and events occurred. There needs to be more information available to educate the public. The American public at this point has been misled by naming this a battle; it was never a battle. It was a massacre that ended tragically with many innocent lives taken and changed forever. The historical trauma our relatives, as well as ourselves, have faced in the past years is fatal to our Nation’s health. A memorial park would assist in retelling a history and honorable struggle of our nations will to live. This would give us an opportunity to honor our relatives in a good way, to remember them and allow them to be remembered in the way we know they deserved to be remembered, with the greatness they lived and passed on through the traditional culture we continue to practice today” he said.
He would also add that books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, which is often cited as the authoritative account of Wounded Knee, is historically inaccurate and a holocaust museum could potentially reeducate Americans about the atrocities that happened to Native people everywhere.
“I certainly hope our Oglala relatives wouldn’t feel the need to act without the Mnicoujou having some say in the matter. I don’t want to see our people fight over this issue. It’s not honorable or practical to fight over such an issue. We are all Lakota whether we reside on Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe or Rosebud Sioux Tribe; we are no different from each other, only difference we have is what area our ancestors were fenced in on,” said Brings Plenty.
(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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