The Wounded Knee Cemetery on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Adam Singer

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: The legendary words of Chekpa

Native Sun News Today Columnist

Is it true that the world map will be drawn by pilgrims, by killers and by the dead? That is what I read somewhere and remembered the phrase when an old relative we called Chekpa told us so, in Dakota Indian words.

Chekpa told us a story about maps, and he told us in his own words of the encroaching murderous American ideologies of land theft as his way to help tribal people of newer generations discover what the their old nations had been enduring for more than a hundred years.

He said the white-man Agent at Fort Thompson stood beside him in the trees at his grandfather’s camp land in the 1920s and instructed him that he would soon be “relocated” to his own “allotment” on the Crow Creek Reservation. Chekpa said “no”, to the offer and signed no papers. Eventually, the agent signed the “form” himself. 

This forced “relocation” of the old man was called, The Allotment Act, in legislative terms but, in actuality, it was a politico-economic extortion by the federal government in 1887against the people with the intent to move thousands of them off their treaty protected lands. It was made into law three years before the blood of thousands of Lakota was frozen into the snow during the worst massacre called Wounded Knee by the U. S. Seventh Cavalry.

Not Without Our Consent, Lakota Resistance to Termination, 1950-59, by Edward Charles Valandra. University of Illinois Press (2006)

Even though old Chekpa knew what the score was it wasn’t until the later Termination Laws of the 1950s that most of the people who lived on Indian reservations for over a hundred years really “got it.”

By that time, Chekpa, like the ancient seaman of Samuel Taylor’s 1798 poem, The Ancient Mariner, had walked hundreds of miles along the Crow Creek, not with a ghost bird tied around his neck, but with the obsession of his need to tell his people of their fate, the theft of their homelands.  

You can see the difference in the tale of The Ancient Mariner: in the Coleridge version, the ancient seaman is blamed for the killing of the albatross bird and punished for the eventual death of his sea mates. A superstition. In our version the Indian didn’t kill his own nor did he steal his own land but is, worse, punished for the loss of it as well as his own poverty. A reality.

The poetic metaphor used here is rarely told in history books or law courses in this country. Nor in the lit classes one is assigned. The nation’s professors of history are just now beginning to include (without the metaphors) the work of a scholar like Dr. Edward Charles Valandra, a Sicangu Lakota who has published the most important work in the recent decade, Not Without Our Consent, on this shameful land theft tactic. It tells you more than you want to know about “the allotment act."

Valandra says this about History: “The United States’ reveals a path littered with schemes of genocidal social engineering and cultural modification using non-native values in determining justice”. He cites the 1885 Major Crimes, the 1924 enforced Citizenship Act along with the Allotment Act as evidence.”


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