Tim Giago: Honor Wounded Knee massacre with tribal holiday

The following editorial was written by Tim Giago, Native Sun News Publisher. All content © Native Sun News.

Why isn’t December 29 a holiday on the Pine Ridge Reservation?
By Tim Giago
Native Sun News Publisher

It will be 123 years since the unspeakable slaughter of 300 innocent Lakota men, women and children at the hands of the soldiers of the United States Seventh Cavalry at Wounded Knee.

The anniversary of this day, December 29, should forever be marked by a Day of Commemoration and Remembrance. I was at the gravesite a couple of weeks prior to December 29, 1990 in order to do a cover story for USA Today. It was a bitter cold day, so cold that the cameraman for USA Today had to climb into his car and warm the camera every few minutes because it kept freezing up on him.

I was there to recall the 100th anniversary of the massacre and to write about it for a national publication so that the non-Indians of America would learn about the terrible tragedy that happened there 100 years ago.

I was also there because Birgil Kills Straight and the Lakota riders were on their way to the gravesite after following the exact trail that Sitanka (Big Foot) took 100 years ago as he led his people to the Pine Ridge Agency seeking the protection of Chief Red Cloud. Sitanka and his followers never made it to the Pine Ridge Agency because they were about to become victims of the worst massacre of human beings on the American continent.

I pleaded with Gov. George Mickelson (R-SD) to stand behind the Lakota people and use his power as governor to erase Columbus Day as a national holiday and to replace it with Native American Day. The catalyst that made it actually happen was the massacre at Wounded Knee. I hoped that the Oglala Sioux Tribe would then make December 29 a holiday so that all members of the Tribe could mourn the loss of so many of their people.

Instead the Tribe under President John Steele chose a day in February as a holiday to commemorate the criminal takeover of the Village of Wounded Knee in 1973. Wounded Knee Village was gutted and burned to the ground. The occupiers took pictures of themselves at the gravesite with little or no regard for the victims of the massacre that lay buried there. They either stole or destroyed priceless works by Lakota artists at the Wounded Knee Trading Post.

It was a wrong thing to do then and it is still wrong. The day that should always be held as sacred is December 29, the day the slaughter of the innocents took place. President Bryan Brewer and his Tribal Council have the opportunity to right this wrong and to choose the true day that the Lakota people can mourn and commemorate the lives of the Lakota who died that day.

We celebrate Native American Day now because I begged the governor to include a commemoration of the massacre at Wounded Knee in our Year of Reconciliation by asking the State Legislators to create a state holiday to honor the victims of Wounded Knee. If not for the 100th anniversary of the terrible day in 1990, and without the support of Birgil Kills Straight and his riders, there would not be a Native American Day.

Birgil and his riders rode to the gravesite at Wounded Knee on December 29, on one of the coldest days of the year. They braved below freezing temperatures in making that ride. They even camped at night where they knew Sitanka and his people camped on their way to Pine Ridge. The Oglala Sioux Tribe should never forget what these riders accomplished that year and they should change the holiday celebration at Wounded Knee to honor the real heroes who died there and those who rode in the bitter cold to honor them. Let us please make December 29 the true day of commemoration and mourning and stop celebrating the criminal destruction of the village of Wounded Knee.

(Tim Giago, Publisher, Native Sun News can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News