Bury the presidential campaign at Wounded Knee
"When L. Frank Baum described the great, parched prairies of Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it wasn’t Kansas he had in mind. The gray mass of cracked land that he placed little Dorothy in the middle of was, in fact, South Dakota. He based this drought-punished landscape on observations he made during his time there as editor of The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer.

He was living in South Dakota at the time of the Massacre at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It was a volatile time for the region and Baum, long before he found any fame, became a voice for the settlers who were at odds with the natives of the Dakota territory. After Wounded Knee, he offered the following words on the editorial page of his newspaper: “Our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians.”

Soon after writing those words, he was swept up in a tornado of his own and landed in his Emerald City of Chicago in time for the World’s Fair, allowing the tragic saga of the Dakotas to unfold behind him.

Some 120 years later, what appeared to be the same tornado swept Hillary Clinton through the Badlands for her final stand. Last week, she stood before 300 Lakota Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation at Little Wound High School and declared, “I will fight for you!” She was met with wild enthusiasm, and rightly so. The Pine Ridge Reservation in the southeast corner of the state is a troubled and forgotten pocket of America. Bill Clinton was only the second US President to visit the reservation. The first, nearly 70 years ago, was Franklin Roosevelt.

It seems a proper finish for this ever-increasingly bizarre primary season: two exhausted and adored presidential hopefuls vying for the affection and approval of Lakota Indians in one of the poorest and neglected pockets of our country.

Shannon County, South Dakota, which is on the Pine Ridge reservation, is the second poorest county in America. The first is Buffalo County, also in South Dakota. In fact, half of the top ten poorest counties in the United States are in South Dakota. And here comes Hillary and Barack, sleep deprived and sweat drenched around the final bend.

Nick Tilsen grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation. He’s 26 now and can rattle off the laundry list of obstacles that a young person faces there: rampant and wildly destructive substance abuse, the lowest paid teachers in the country, 75 percent unemployment, pervasive gang activity, domestic abuse. He’s much more eager, though, to discuss the future of Pine Ridge.

In a very deliberate but casual tone, with a hint of an accent, he casts aside the symptoms and identifies a solution. He says, “Young people need to know who they are. With Native people, at the core of that is culture and spirituality. That’s how our people have survived all the things the government has done to us.”"

Get the Story:
Russell Morse: Leaving the Campaign at Wounded Knee (New American Media 6/3)

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