6 tribes sue Wisconsin to try to stop November wolf hunt

Six Native American tribes are suing Wisconsin to try to stop its planned wolf hunt in November

By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press 21 September 2021,

The Chippewa tribes say treaties give them rights to half of the wolf quota in territory they ceded to the United States in the mid-1800s. But rather than hunt wolves, the tribes want to protect them.

The tribal lawsuit comes three weeks after a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups sued to stop Wisconsin’s wolf hunt this fall and void a state law mandating annual hunts, arguing that the statutes don’t give wildlife managers any leeway to consider population estimates.

Hunters blew past their limit during a court-ordered hunt in February. The state Department of Natural Resources set the quota at 119, but hunters killed 218 wolves in just four days, forcing an early end to the season.

Conservationists then deluged the department with requests to cancel this fall’s hunt out of concerns it could devastate the wolf population. Agency biologists recommended setting the fall quota at 130. But the agency’s board last month set the kill limit at 300. The tribes have claimed their half, but since they won’t hunt wolves, the working quota for state-licensed hunters would be 150. The lawsuit alleges the board’s decision to set the quota at 300 was a deliberate move to nullify the tribes’ share and was not based on science.

The DNR’s latest estimates put Wisconsin’s wolf population at roughly 1,000. Opponents say hunters probably killed at least a quarter of the population if poaching is included.

“In our treaty rights, we’re supposed to share with the state 50-50 in our resources and we’re feeling that we’re not getting our due diligence because of the slaughter of wolves in February,” John Johnson Sr., president of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

The Ojibwe word for “wolf” is Ma’iingan, and the Indigenous people of the Great Lakes region often call themselves Anishinaabe. The wolf holds a sacred place in their creation story.

“To the Anishinaabe, the Ma’iingan are our brothers. The legends and stories tell us as brothers we walk hand in hand together. What happens to the Ma’iingan happens to humanity,” Marvin Defoe, an official and elder with Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said in the statement.

Hunters, farmers and conservationists have been fighting over how to manage Wisconsin’s wolves. Farmers say wolves kill livestock, while hunters are looking for another species to stalk.

The six tribes are represented by Earthjustice, which is one of several groups that are suing the federal government over the Trump administration’s decision last November to lift Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across most of the U.S. and return management authority to the states.

Gray wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are considered part of the western Great Lakes population, which is managed separately from wolves in western states. The Biden administration last Wednesday said federal protections may need to be restored for western wolves because Republican-backed state laws have made it much easier to kill the predators. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s initial determination that western wolves could again be imperiled launched a yearlong biological review.

Dozens of tribes asked the Biden administration one day earlier to immediately enact emergency protections for gray wolves across the country, saying states have become too aggressive in hunting them. They asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to act quickly on an emergency petition they filed in May to relist the wolf as endangered or threatened.

The Untold Stories of Wes Studi

When Wes Studi broke through in Dances With Wolves and The Last of the Mohicans, he was cast as a terrifying villain. But for many in the Native community, he was a hero channeling decades of righteous anger. Tommy Orange tells the story of an overlooked icon who forever changed the way Indigenous people are depicted onscreen.



We went to see Dances With Wolves in the theater as a family. I don’t know how many movies all of us went to together. That was maybe the only one. Native people playing Native people in a movie being shown in a movie theater? It was an event. This was 1990. I was eight. There’d been nothing close to that moment in my lifetime. We were used to Italian Americans playing crying Indians in anti-litter PSAs. Otherwise, I’d seen no Native people onscreen. After the movie, in the car, my dad, a Cheyenne man from Oklahoma who’d majored in Native American studies at Cal Berkeley, summed it up as “glamorized Indian history with white man hero.” But at the time I was hungry to see any Native actors at all. You can’t know what it’s like unless you know what it’s like, to want to see yourself in the world as badly as Native people do—we who, on top of being almost completely unrepresented, are misrepresented when we are represented. So what if Dances With Wolves made us the backdrop for the dominant culture’s bearded-nice-guy-white-hero mythology? At least we were there, living and breathing onscreen, even laughing, even making jokes at Kevin Costner’s expense, showing how we tease like we do. Make us villains, fine, but make us the toughest Pawnee anyone had ever seen. Enter Wes Studi.

But Wes doesn’t see himself as having ever played a villain. “I play those guys like they know they’re doing the right thing,” he tells me over Zoom one recent afternoon. “As far as they’re concerned, they’re not villains. They’re doing what they have to do in order to either maintain their life or further their own interests. I think it’s only human.” And this was the point. Wes Studi gave us a human in each of his roles, moved us beyond caricature, and broke through to play characters who weren’t specifically cast as Native Americans. He delivered what Native people hunger to see and want other people to witness: how we are here and how we are human.

The first Native person to appear in the film—some 30 minutes into what seems until then a sleepy Civil War story—Wes is shown debating with his fellow Pawnee about whether to attack a white man who’s built a distant campfire. “I would rather die than argue about a single line of smoke in my own country,” he proclaims. The way he said “my own country,” the way his face exuded a kind of effortless ferocity, scared me and made me proud all at once. Then watching him kill that guy as he begged them not to hurt his mules while one of the other Pawnee enjoyed some of his campfire food—that really did something to me. I felt changed leaving the theater. And a couple of years later, when Wes played Magua, the vengeful Huron warrior in The Last of the Mohicans, I found that I was rooting for the villain. If I had only two options as far as Native depiction in film went—to root for the villain or root against Native people—I’d choose the villain every time.

The Untold Stories of Wes Studi an Overlooked Native American Icon
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In the process, he’s become the biggest star we’ve ever had in the Native acting world, but he’s never attained actual stardom. To most audiences, he’s just a fearsome face. “That’s one thing that we haven’t had,” Wes says. “A sustainable part of the fabric of showbiz.” For years he’s been dreaming of an all-Native film—a Native director, producer, writer, and cast. But first, he stresses, “we need some stars. To do a full Native-cast feature or series, it’s going to need men and women, and recognizable people who put people in theater seats.” Wes has been working in the industry long enough to know the struggles we’ve faced in our fight for representation. But to hear his story is to know where we’ve come from, despite the setbacks Native people encounter when even dreaming of making it onto the screen. And that’s a narrative that fills me with hope.

The first thing to mention is his face. “He has one of the most arresting faces in cinema,” says director Scott Cooper, who cast Wes in his 2017 film, Hostiles. “It’s a road map of a man who’s lived, who’s seen things. That penetrating gaze of his holds the lens unlike anyone else outside of Denzel.”

It’s true: His face is very arresting. The piercing gaze, the ragged cheekbones, the deep-set laugh lines that spread out from his eyes and drop down from the corners of his mouth. Then he actually smiles, opening his whole face up, and for a moment I’m reminded of my father. How they both have this real stern expression, which isn’t really all that stern, just sort of waiting for when the next joke might land.

The Untold Stories of Wes Studi an Overlooked Native American Icon
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“I always wanted to be a working actor. I’m not here to be a personality. I’m here for the work.”

Wes is talking with me from his home outside Santa Fe, in an area called Arroyo Hondo. He’s a little frustrated with the video-chat technology, but once his wife, Maura, helps get the feed working, he settles into an expression of quiet curiosity. Wearing a blue Nike windbreaker, he’s sitting in a very New Mexico interior, with a guitar hanging on the adobe wall and viga-style exposed logs stretching across the ceiling. There’s a Fender amp at his side—he plays bass guitar in a band called Firecat of Discord, named for an Oneida figure who appears in times of chaos to restore a sense of calm.ADVERTISEMENT

For the past 25 years, he and his wife have led a mellow life here. Most mornings he wakes up and lets his dog out, a blue heeler who “blasts his way out of the house.” Then he puts water on for coffee and goes out to feed his horse, Chloe. Wes has spent most of his life around horses, and he often rides the trails bordering his property, sometimes venturing for several hours to the distant outpost of Eldorado.

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Suit, $6,750, and shirt, $775, by Brioni. Tie, $225, by Turnbull & Asser. Hat, his own.

Horseback riding is how he stays in shape for the “leathers and feathers,” as he playfully calls Westerns. And those roles are primarily how he’s kept working all these years, in over 100 projects, to the point that he’s quietly become an acting legend. “I always wanted to be a working actor,” he says. His voice is deep, with a warm rasp. “I’m not here to be a personality. I’m here for the work.”

Wes has mostly played stoic, historic Native Americans—the title character in Geronimo: An American Legend, a skeptical Powhatan chief in Terrence Malick’s The New World, a dying Cheyenne leader in Hostiles. But he’s also transcended the classification of Native actor: He’s the arms dealer Viktor Sagat in Street Fighter, a police detective in Heat, a Na’vi chieftain in Avatar. “He’s kind of this unicorn, as far as Native actors go, in that he’s a working Native actor,” says Sydney Freeland, a Native filmmaker. “You have all these talented people, but they get typecast,” she continues. “They only work when they have the Western movie that shows up. ‘Oh, we’re going to tell a story about the railroad going across the United States—bring in the Indians.’ The thing that sets Wes apart is that he’s an exceptional actor. So he can do those roles, but he can also be a detective in a Michael Mann film.”

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Coat, $3,250, and shirt, $570, by Louis Vuitton Men’s. Bolo tie, vintage. Vintage hat from Santa Fe Vintage.Sunglasses, $290, by Versace.

But Wes hasn’t always been serious. Even when he’s playing a comedic role, it’s dry—he’s a kind of Indian straight man, being funny about being so serious, like in 1999’s Mystery Men, where he plays a cloaked mystical teacher and superhero-team unifier who speaks with Yoda-like syntax, or in A Million Ways to Die in the West, when he tells Seth MacFarlane after drinking the whole bowl of Indian medicine, “You’re totally gonna freak out, and probably die.” It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, but delivered deadpan, with no trace of a smile.

Sterlin Harjo, a director who recently cast Wes as an eccentric uncle in Reservation Dogs, a forthcoming FX comedy series about Native teenagers committing crimes on a reservation in Oklahoma, says that Studi’s most intense roles belie his range. “To most of the world, he’ll always be Magua,” he says. “But Wes is a really funny guy. His physical humor is something that I don’t think that people expect.” Cooper likewise stresses Studi’s versatility: “He can play contempt and impatience and reluctance and dignity, often all at once. There’s this deep humanity that radiates from him, and that’s because of his life experiences outside of cinema.”

The Untold Stories of Wes Studi an Overlooked Native American Icon
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As a child in the 1950s, Wes never even considered being an actor. He grew up outside the town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in an area at the foothills of the Ozarks called Nofire Hollow. TV and electricity were wondrous and foreign concepts. “We just marveled at all that,” he says. His mother, a housekeeper, was 17 when he was born; his stepfather, a ranch hand, was soon shipped off to Germany during the Korean War. When Wes was five, he was sent away to school in Muskogee, 30 miles southwest of Tahlequah, where he learned to speak English so fluently that when he returned home for the summer, he had to relearn Cherokee. “There I am in my grandmother’s house,” he recalls, “and my grandmother looked at me after I said something in English and said, ‘Oh, no, we don’t speak that. Not in my house.’ ”

After Wes’s first year of school, the family moved to the outskirts of Avant, Oklahoma, where they worked on a remote ranch and largely existed in isolation, there being few Native Americans in the area. “That’s where I got used to the idea of being the only brown guy in town anywhere,” he says. His dreams in those days were limited: “nothing beyond getting a good meal and having a horse to ride.” That changed in high school, when Wes attended a Native boarding school. “I was just freaking amazed at the number of different kinds of Indians that I saw,” he recalls. “It was a big cultural awakening.”ADVERTISEMENT

When he was 17 he joined the National Guard, and in 1968 he was activated to serve in Vietnam. He saw plenty of action. “Ambushes happen,” he recalls, “and the firefights start and then all hell breaks loose.” Once, a platoon mate on his riverboat was incinerated by a rocket. (“All that was left of him was a boot,” he says.) Sometimes the friendly fire was the worst; he still remembers artillery from a U.S. airship “coming down like raindrops.” Occasionally he draws on those memories for his performances, but mostly he tries to forget. “It’s an awful thing to see dead bodies lying around, floating down rivers,” he says. “The inhumanity of warfare is something that I’m glad I’ve seen, but I don’t ever want to see it again.”

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By the time he came home, the war had become pretty unpopular. “People didn’t want to hear anything about what happened over there,” he says. After returning to Oklahoma, he became a peace activist and began demonstrating for Native rights. He joined the American Indian Movement, a grassroots organization formed in response to the poverty and police brutality many Native people faced, and in 1973 he joined hundreds of other activists, led by future Last of the Mohicans costars Russell Means and Dennis Banks, at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. There, for 71 tense days, they occupied the town of Wounded Knee, the site of an infamous 1890 massacre of more than 300 Lakota by the U.S. Army. Recruited to drive a truck loaded with supplies along back roads into the encampment, Wes was intercepted by federal agents and thrown in jail, but it turned out he was only a decoy: Meanwhile another truck actually delivered the supplies.

Even now, nearly half a century later, Wes grows animated as he recounts that period of activism. “It’s like the only time we are noticed is after we make a raid of some kind, right?” he says. “I guess it really goes back to the old days. You have to ask yourself, do we as Indians always have to be demonstrating or fighting something? You know, causing a big uproar about something in order to be noticed?”

In the years following the occupation of Wounded Knee, he wandered. He moved to Tulsa, where he trained horses and helped revive a Cherokee-language newspaper. In the early 1980s, an old family friend from his father’s sweat lodge circle invited him to a performance at an American Indian community theater, where he discovered a latent desire to act. His first paid gig was in a stage adaptation of the book Black Elk Speaks, about the life of an Oglala Lakota medicine man, with the lead played by none other than David Carradine, a white actor who, in addition to playing a half-Chinese character on Kung Fu, could apparently also pass as Native. As Wes puts it, “They wanted a star, and they got him.”

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“We Natives have kind of a love-hate relationship with Westerns…. They’re a way for Native-looking people to get into the business. It was the only way I got in.”

Wes was soon eager for bigger roles and quickly came to a realization. “I wasn’t gonna be able to do it in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” he says. “Otherwise you’re doing community theater the rest of your life.” He was working in a bingo hall when he made his decision: One evening he announced to the crowd that he was going out to L.A. to see if he could make it as an actor. He was in his 40s, with little money and no car; he rode the bus to auditions and crashed on a friend’s couch. But his timing was good. A few years earlier, two of Hollywood’s preeminent Native actors—Will Sampson, of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fame, and Jay Silverheels, of the original Lone Ranger—had started an organization called the American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts to help Native actors find agents. Soon, Wes landed representation and a role in Powwow Highway, a road comedy about life on a Cheyenne reservation. A year later he became the Toughest Pawnee in Dances With Wolves.

The film would go on to win seven Academy Awards, gross over $400 million, and transform the Western genre through its sympathetic portrait of Native Americans. But at the time of its theatrical premiere, Wes was struggling financially. “By that point I had spent all my money from the movie,” he says, “so I was working at an Indian store, selling turquoise and silver.” This was in the L.A. neighborhood of Reseda, at a shop called the Red Tipi, right across the street from a movie theater. “At first there weren’t that many people going to see that movie,” he says. “It got some rugged press.” But within a couple of weeks a line began to form, and Wes soon found himself comforting dazed theatergoers who’d been awakened for the first time to the U.S. government’s crimes against Native people. “We dealt with mainly guilt,” he says, “and all kinds of emotions people would have. If nothing else, they wanted to come over and just say sorry.”

There was something so perfect about this scene, this moment in his life. I mean, it was funny, with that neon tipi sign and those possibly tearful white people coming into the store to buy something from a real Indian at an Indian store. But it also felt so true to the life of any Native American artist or actor, there being some suspicion that the people interested in making our careers possible by buying our art might be doing so for reasons other than genuine reverence for our work—perhaps out of pity, or guilt, or after learning something that changes the way they think about Native people.

Say it’s the Standing Rock protests in 2016, and you find yourself selling a novel about Native Americans the spring after that awful fall when Trump’s ascent to power began to jack up half the country’s anxiety about what being American even means. Or say it’s Dances With Wolves dominating the Oscars and you’re Wes Studi, selling Indian souvenirs to guilt-ridden patrons. “We made some good sales while that movie was playing there,” he says, flashing a smile. “And it stayed there a long time.”

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The success of Dances With Wolves created new possibilities for Native actors, and in the years that followed Wes got the parts of Magua, the Indian villain in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, and the starring role in Geronimo: An American Legend. In some ways, playing the Apache leader turned prisoner of war came naturally to him. “You and I are Indians,” Wes says to me. “We know what it feels like to be outsiders, to not be a part of this particular society. I’m playing a guy who was thought of as a terrorist back in the day. He has a lifestyle he’s trying to defend, and he has a culture that he is a part of that he’s not willing to give up.”

After Wes shot The Last of the Mohicans, he married Maura Dhu, a jazz singer he’d met in L.A., and they moved to Santa Fe to raise their soon-to-be-born son. Around this time, Wes heard that Michael Mann was directing an upcoming film starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, and one day he called the director. When Mann answered, Wes said, “So I heard you’re making a film with Pacino and De Niro and Wes Studi.” Mann laughed. But Wes got a call some weeks later and was offered a part in Heat as a police detective—not a Native role, just that of a cop going after bank robbers who eventually gets to shoot Val Kilmer. “It was a recognition that I was not just an Indian actor,” Wes says, “that I was an actor above and beyond my race.”ADVERTISEMENT

Still, he says, it was Native-specific roles, particularly in Westerns, that continued to form the backbone of his career. “We Natives have kind of a love-hate relationship with Westerns,” he says, at the same time acknowledging that “they’re a way for Native-looking people to get into the business. It was the only way I got in.”

The genre still needs to undergo more changes, but Westerns are slowly moving toward a more human depiction of Native people. That shift is evident in Hostiles, Scott Cooper’s 2017 film, in which Wes plays Yellow Hawk, the dying Cheyenne chief being escorted back to his reservation by a soon-to-retire U.S. Army captain portrayed by Christian Bale. He was acting opposite one of the great Method actors, but for this role, and many others, Wes underwent his own dramatic transformation. To play Yellow Hawk, he learned basic Cheyenne, just as he’s gained proficiency in over a dozen other Native languages for his roles. He admits that he’s sometimes groping in the dark. “It has more to do with using the language as best you can when you really don’t know absolutely anything about it,” he says. “All you can do is depend on whoever is teaching you. Which syllable do I use to make this word sound like I know what I’m doing?”

When I first saw Hostiles, I was so proud to find out Wes spoke solely in Cheyenne for the part. I didn’t grow up speaking the language, though my dad is one of the last living speakers of a particular Southern Cheyenne dialect. Talking with Wes, I realized he was trained by a guy from Lame Deer, Montana, where some Natives speak a Cheyenne close to what my dad speaks. During the pandemic, I started learning the language with my family, and when I recently rewatched Hostiles, I listened for any familiar words or phrases. There wasn’t much. I’m not a good student of Cheyenne. But between what I’ve learned recently and what I heard from my dad growing up, Wes’s lines seemed familiar, and that was a good feeling.

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I had the chance to meet Wes Studi previously, in October 2019. He had admired my novel, There There, and his agent reached out, inviting me on Wes’s behalf to the Governors Awards, where he’d be receiving an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. I’ll always regret that I didn’t go. I was overwhelmed at the time. I was promoting my book and I’d said yes to too many things. It didn’t sound as desperate then as it does now as I write it here. Regardless, I should have gone. The moment was historic. Later, I watched the ceremony on YouTube. U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo introduces Wes magnanimously, and Christian Bale presents the award. When Wes gets onstage, Oscar in hand, he thanks Bale and then simply says, “It’s about time.” Which gets a big laugh, followed by big applause. And he’s right.

Native Americans were some of the first people to be filmed—three dancing Sioux were the subject of an 1894 short film shot at one of Thomas Edison’s studios—and we’ve been a part of the industry for more than a hundred years. It is about time. But we’ve also been stuck in a certain time period. Relegated to the past. America hit the Pause button on what Native people meant to it after James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans. The country preferred its Natives gone. The only good Indians were the dead ones. Our noble, vanishing race. This is much trod territory—that we’ve been wronged, that our story hasn’t been told. But the truth is that Native people actually have been allowed to be part of America’s story, only in a way that’s convenient for the mythology the country has fashioned for itself. We were here at the nation’s beginnings, then became a dying enemy, and from that point forward it only made sense for us to live on in Westerns, as villains, or as dreamy medicine people preternaturally connected to the land.

Wes starring in films that have nothing to do with Native American heritage is something we acutely desire: to be allowed to play parts without having to authenticate our realness as Indians. We want to break through as U.S. citizens, without anyone questioning whether we’re true Indians just because we’re capable of seeming like everyone else.

Of course, there are some cultural differences that will always persist. Wes says that in the ’80s, a white reporter once asked him, “What makes you so different from us?” At the time, he said that he didn’t know, but since then he’s come to a conclusion, he says. “What really makes the difference between us and American society is that we hold on to our ancestors,” he says. “We have nothing to feel ashamed of about what they did for us. We wouldn’t be here if they didn’t do what they did for us. We wouldn’t exist had they not made the treaties.” It strikes me that what Wes is saying pertains not just to Native culture but to Native filmmaking more specifically. When he accepted that Oscar, it seemed to be with the knowledge that he was part of a lineage that went back to Jay Silverheels and Will Sampson and stretched forward to some unknown project, not yet greenlighted, that would one day win the Native community another statue.

The Untold Stories of Wes Studi an Overlooked Native American Icon

In early May, Wes went to Oklahoma to shoot his part in Reservation Dogs and to spend Mother’s Day with his mom. Now in her 90s, “she’s still pretty darn perky,” he says. When he was a child, he helped her with English, but these days they mostly speak in Cherokee. She’s had this big poster of him as Geronimo up on her living room wall for years. “When you gonna take that thing down?” he’ll ask her whenever he visits. As he recounts the story, it strikes me that there are layers here. “The most famous Indian playing the most famous Indian,” I say to him. He laughs.

He was going back to see his mom again Memorial Day weekend, and to Pawhuska, the seat of Osage County, to see the Indian relay races—an old Native sport where riders race bareback horses, three different laps on three different horses. Just a few miles away is where Martin Scorsese recently filmed Killers of the Flower Moon, his adaptation of David Grann’s book about the murders of Oklahoma’s Osage Indians during the 1920s, when oil discovered beneath their reservation made them rich. I ask Wes if he was tapped for the film. “For the longest time they were checking my availability as they redid the script,” he says, “but when they finally started casting, the calls stopped.”

Wes points out that the cast does include Tatanka Means, the son of his old Last of the Mohicans costar Russell Means, and he’s encouraged by that sense of continuity. As for the industry as a whole, he stresses that there are so many more Native Americans involved in filmmaking than there were when he started out. “And now,” he says, “they’re able to write from their Native mindset.”

Sydney Freeland, who worked on Reservation Dogs with Sterlin Harjo and directed multiple episodes of Peacock’s Rutherford Falls, a comedy about an upstate New York town with a large Native community, credits Wes with part of that shift. “He laid the groundwork for a lot of the stuff that people are doing now,” she says. “There’s a lot of roles coming up, but they’re contemporary roles. They’re not period pieces. It’s not ‘We’re going to make a Hollywood Western with cowboys and Indians.’ That’s due in large part to the foundation that he’s put out there for everybody.” Freeland described a moment on the set of Reservation Dogs when she looked back and saw all these familiar Native faces. “These are people whose couches I’ve slept on,” she says. “A Native showrunner, cast, and crew.” It was what Wes had been dreaming of ever since he first wandered into Los Angeles, more than 30 years ago.

I’ve been thinking about the state of Native acting a lot this year. The TV rights for the adaptation of my novel were dropped by HBO, and I had a feeling that it was because there were no stars to cast, too few known faces to sell the show. This was wrong, of course, because then along came Rutherford Falls, the first proper Native TV show in this country, with a largely Native cast and Native writers room, and Reservation Dogs is on the way.

But most of all, it was wrong because we still have Wes Studi, our lodestar, blazing the trail ahead with his brilliance. I was recently asked to write a short film for a production company out of Oakland. I’d never written a screenplay before, but I did start dreaming up a script, written for Wes Studi specifically. Something that would showcase all of his talents, as a charmer, a humorist, a speaker of several languages. He’ll be an older Native man traveling across the American landscape, visiting A.A. meetings along the way. He’ll be a poet who published his first book in his 70s, after a lifetime of addiction. He’ll rob banks with handwritten notes. His twin brother will have died recently, and the book will be coming out at the end of his trip. Something like that. I’m probably not the one to do it. But someone else should. Write it with Wes in mind. With all that he can do, and with all that it could mean to have him star in a film everyone sees. Well, obviously not everyone. Just enough of an audience, which is all we’ve ever asked for.

Tommy Orange is the author of the novel ‘There There,’ a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This is his first article for GQ.

A version of this story originally appeared in the August 2021 issue with the title “Wes Studi’s Untold Stories.” Courtesy


This….after almost 160 years!!!!!!

Colorado governor voids 1864 order to kill Native Americans

By PATTY NIEBERGAugust 18, 2021 Associated Press

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs an executive order that rescinds proclamations from Colorado Territorial Gov. John Evans in 1864, at the Capitol in Denver, Colo. on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. Gov. Polis handed sage to the various tribe representatives and speakers after signing. (Rebecca Slezak/The Denver Post via AP)

1 of 2Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs an executive order that rescinds proclamations from Colorado Territorial Gov. John Evans in 1864, at the Capitol in Denver, Colo. on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. Gov. Polis handed sage to the various tribe representatives and speakers after signing. (Rebecca Slezak/The Denver Post via AP)

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday rescinded a 19th century proclamation that called for citizens to kill Native Americans and take their property, in what he hopes can begin to make amends for “sins of the past.”

The 1864 order by Colorado’s second territorial governor, John Evans, would eventually lead to the Sand Creek massacre, one of Colorado’s darkest and most fraught historic moments. The brutal assault left more than 200 Arapaho and Cheyenne people — mostly women, children and elderly — dead.

Evans’ proclamation was never lawful because it established treaty rights and federal Indian law, Polis said at the signing of his executive order on the Capitol steps.

“It also directly contradicted the Colorado Constitution, the United States Constitution and Colorado criminal codes at the time,” the Democratic governor said to whoops from the crowd.ADVERTISEMENT

Polis stood alongside citizens of the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, many dressed in traditional regalia. Some held signs reading “Recognize Indigenous knowledge, people, land” and “Decolonize to survive.”Eugene Blackbear Jr. prays before various tribal leaders speak and Gov. Jared Polis signs an executive order Tuesday in Denver. (Rebecca Slezak/The Denver Post via AP)

Ernest House Jr., who served as executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs under former Gov. John Hickenlooper, said Polis’ order is important to the state’s government-to-government relations with tribes, the acknowledgment of history, and a movement toward reconciliation.

“I think there’s oftentimes the general community think of American Indians as the vanishing race, the vanishing people. And I think it starts with things like this,” said House, a citizen of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. “It gives us a place that we were important and that our lives were important.”

A broader push for reconciliation and racial reckoning has occurred across the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, including efforts to remove Confederate monuments and statues of slave traders, colonizers, conquerors and others. Some states, including Colorado, have banned Native American mascots in schools.

That movement coupled with renewed attention to Evans’ history also prompted Polis to create an advisory board to recommend name changes for the highest peak in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, known as “Mount Evans.” Discussions are taking place within the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs to choose “more culturally sensitive names,” said Alston Turtle, a councilman with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

Evans governed the territory of Colorado during three years of the Civil War, from 1862 to 1865. He resigned after the Sand Creek massacre happened under his order.

Col. John Chivington led the Nov. 29, 1864, slaughter. He and his soldiers then headed to Denver, where they displayed some of the victims’ remains.

The massacre is one of several long-ago terrible events that many Americans don’t know about, such as the Snake River attack in Oregon in 1887, where as many as 34 Chinese gold miners were killed. Others occurred within the lifetimes of many Americans living today, like the 1985 bombing by Philadelphia police of the house that headquartered the Black organization MOVE, killing 11 people.

Rick Williams, a Lakota and Cheyenne descendant who studies Native American history, found the original Evans’ order while researching the aftermath of the Fort Wise Treaty of 1861, in which U.S. government representatives met with Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders to establish a reservation along the Arkansas River in eastern Colorado. Williams said only 10 people signed the agreement.

“The next two years, it was hell for Indians because they didn’t sign the treaty, and they tried to kill as many of them as they could. And when that didn’t work, (Evans) issued an order to declare war,” Williams said.

One of Evans’ orders deemed Native Americans “enemies of the state,” and the second called for Colorado citizens to kill and steal from them, Williams said.


Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

She Struggled To Reclaim Her Indigenous Name. She Hopes Others Have It Easier


NPR logo
Emma Bowman, photographed for NPR, 27 July 2019, in Washington DC.


Danita Bilozaze, alongside her daughter Dani, celebrated the completion of her master’s degree in education with a portrait session last year at Kye Bay in the Comox Valley, British Columbia. Bilozaze’s studies focused on Indigenous language revitalization.Karen McKinnon/McKinnon Photography

For as long as she can remember, Danita Bilozaze knew that the name on her birth certificate, “Danita Loth,” didn’t reflect her Indigenous identity.

From the stories her mother recounted to her, she knew that Catholic missionaries had changed her family’s name. Her great-grandfather, a man known as Lor Bilozaze, was written into priests’ logs as “Loth Bilozaze.” Government record books in Canada ultimately dropped the “Bilozaze,” and Loth became their surname.

She never felt a connection with that name. But “Bilozaze,” which means “the makers” in her native Denesuline language, she said, is integral to the preservation of her identity and culture as a member of the Cold Lake First Nations.

“It means everything to me because it lines up with who I am,” she said. “I am an educator, I am a teacher, I am a baker, I’m an artist. I’m always, always, forever making things. So when you have something that was taken away from your family, like your birthright or your name and you have a chance to make that right for future generations, it means everything to take back what is rightfully mine.”

“Lor Bilozaze,” the name of Bilozaze’s great-grandfather, was changed to “Loth Bilozaze,” according to a photocopied document found in the Provincial Archives of Alberta. “Bilozaze” was later dropped from government records.Provincial Archives of Alberta

A step toward reconciliation

Last year, the 49-year-old began an emotional and frustrating nine-month-long journey to officially change her name.

Earlier this month, federal officials in Canada announced a new policy process that allows Indigenous citizens to restore their names on government-issued identification, including passports, for free until May 2026.

It’s unclear how many Canadians, 5% of whom are Indigenous, will pursue name reclamation under the new policy.

Frank Deer, a research chair and associate professor in Indigenous education at the University of Manitoba, says that most First Nations tribal members have lost their original Indigenous names to history as a result of forced assimilation and poor government record-keeping.

Among native people who can’t reclaim their names because of inadequate records, Deer says there’s a growing interest in acquiring new Indigenous names that carry a meaningful connection to their communities.

“Many are actually not reclaiming a lost name,” he says. “They’re simply claiming a name.”

A history of “cultural genocide”

The new policy implements a six-year-old recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s known as Call to Action No. 17: An appeal to all levels of government to allow residential school survivors and their families to reclaim names changed by the residential schools.

The policy was unveiled against the backdrop of last month’s harrowing discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in a mass grave at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

“It was a very harsh reminder that as a country, we have to come to grips with the fact that the residential school system was something that could have and did occur in a country that prides itself on our diversity and our relationship with Indigenous peoples,” Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino told NPR.

Uncovering The ‘Unspoken Traumas’ Of Native American Boarding Schools

Between 1830 and 1998, Canadian governments and churches separated more than 150,000 native children from their parents and confined them to mandatory boarding schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission said the effort amounted to “cultural genocide.” There — at Indian residential schools like Blue Quills in Alberta, which Bilozaze’s grandmother attended — students were given Christian names, had their hair cut and their clothes replaced with uniforms, suffered physical and sexual abuse, and punished for speaking their own languages.

The commission estimated that over 4,000 children died while at the schools. The shocking discoveries have continued. A week after leaders of Indigenous groups said that at least 600 bodies, mostly those of children, had been found in unmarked graves outside another shuttered residential school near Grayson, Saskatchewan, 182 more human remains were found near a another former church-run school in Cranbrook, B.C.Canadian Indigenous Chief: ‘Nobody Can Deny Residential Schools Were The Genocide Of Our People’

In March 2020, Bilozaze was as immersed as ever in that history of cultural erasure. She had just completed her master’s degree in education after studying the revitalization of Indigenous languages and the reclamation of native identities. Yet when she was awarded her degree, her diploma did not reflect her roots. She wanted it changed to her Indigenous name.

She met few who understood what reconciliation should look like

Bilozaze thought the commission’s call to establish a name reclamation policy would make the process easier.

Yet, at every step she described in getting her name changed, she found ignorance around reconciliation.

“Instead of just going and doing this work, I now have to educate people along the way,” she said.

Her first step began last September with a visit to get her fingerprints taken at the federal police station near her home in the Comox Valley region of British Columbia. A clerk asked her to explain why the fees should be waived for her application.

Opinion: My First-Nations Identity Feels More Like An Absence

So Bilozaze pulled up documents on her phone and began teaching the clerk a history lesson.

“Then I went and I sat in my car and cried,” Bilozaze said.

She would go through nine months of delays, anguish and repeating her story. Altogether, application fees can run upward of hundreds of dollars. Eventually, through petitions, she managed to get most of the charges reimbursed.

By winter, her pursuit stalled. Her certificate of name change — the document she needed in order to make revisions on official IDs — was held up at the Land Title and Survey Authority. When the document did arrive in her mailbox three months later, it appeared singed and wrinkled — rendering it void.

“At that point, I’ve got nothing to prove who I am,” she said.

Bilozaze’s Change of Name Certificate from the Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia arrived burnt and crumpled in the mail, rendering it void, she said.Danita Bilozaze

So she went through the process again. She proceeded to get her land title as well as her three university degrees changed to her Indigenous name.

Then came the passport. Instead of enjoying their spring break this year, the teacher and her daughter drove the three hours from their home in the Comox Valley to a passport office in Victoria to get their names changed.

That’s where she met Samantha MacPhail, a supervisor at Service Canada’s Citizen Services Branch. For the first time in the entire process, Bilozaze says she started to see things turn around. An apologetic MacPhail gave Bilozaze’s application her full attention, Bilozaze said.

Following daily updates from MacPhail, Bilozaze finally got her official passport on May 26.

A harrowing journey offers a crash course on cultural sensitivity

MacPhail worked to ensure her colleagues could learn from Bilozaze’s experience. Bilozaze’s fight to legally change her name has provided a teaching opportunity for some 1,000 employees within Service Canada as a part of workplace training programs on reconciliation.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Bilozaze is the first person in the country to have her fees waived to get her passport changed to reflect her Indigenous name. Her 15-year-old daughter, Dani, is the second.

To mark her graduation, Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani dressed in traditional Indigenous wear. The beaded yokes, Bilozaze says, bear plants representing her native Denesuline people of Cold Lake First Nations.Karen McKinnon/McKinnon Photography

In an email last month, MacPhail thanked Bilozaze for letting her share her story, including on a call with leaders at the national level.

“Your story has continued to move others, both to tears and to action,” MacPhail wrote. “Because of your action and your bravery, Indigenous Canadians across the country will no longer walk into our offices and be met with a non-answer.”

Bilozaze said that other people in her community want to legally reclaim their names. “But of course, there’s fear,” she said on June 21, Canada’s Indigenous Peoples Day. “No one wants to have to push that hard.”

She’s a reluctant poster child in the protracted pursuit of Indigenous reconciliation. As Bilozaze said she told Service Canada when asked to share her experience: “If it’s going to help people like me, definitely use my story — only if it’s going to help those that are coming behind me to do the same thing.”


‘I promised Brando I would not touch his Oscar’: the secret life of Sacheen Littlefeather

Steve Rose

In 1973, she made history at the Academy Awards, appearing in place of Marlon Brando, declining his statuette and making a speech about Native American rights. She has been speaking out ever since

Sacheen Littlefeather at the 1973 Oscars
Sacheen Littlefeather at the 1973 Oscars. Photograph: Album/Alamy

Sacheen Littlefeather begins by announcing that this will be one of her last interviews: “I’m very, very ill. I have metastasised breast cancer – terminal – to my right lung. And I’ve been on chemotherapy for quite some time, and daily antibiotics. As a result, my memory is not as good as it used to be … I’m very tired all the time because cancer is a full-time job: the CT scans, MRIs, laboratory blood work, medical visits, chemotherapy, infectious disease control doctors, etc, etc. If you’re lazy, you need not apply for cancer.”

For the next couple of hours, speaking over Zoom from her home in northern California, as she trips down memory lane her solemn demeanour gives way to chattiness and laughter. At 74, she has lived a full, eventful life, though she will be for ever remembered for an event that took up little more than one minute of it, on the night of 27 March 1973. This was when she took the stage at the 45th Academy Awards to speak on behalf of Marlon Brando, who had been awarded best actor for his performance in The Godfather. It is still a striking scene to watch. Amid the gaudy 70s evening wear, 26-year-old Littlefeather’s tasselled buckskin dress, moccasins, long, straight black hair and handsome face set in an expression of almost sorrowful composure, make a jarring contrast.

When the presenter, Roger Moore, attempts to hand Littlefeather Brando’s Oscar she holds out her hand as if to push it away. She explains that Brando cannot accept the award because of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry”. The crowd interrupts her, half-applauding, half-booing. “Excuse me,” she says calmly, then continues: “And on television and movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” At the time, Wounded Knee, in South Dakota, was the site of a month-long standoff between Native American activists and US authorities, sparked by the murder of a Lakota man. Littlefeather ends her speech begging that “in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity”.

At the time, nobody knew what to make of it. Not the audience, the press or the 85 million people watching on television (this was the first year the Oscars were broadcast internationally via satellite). Was it a prank? A surrealist performance piece? Littlefeather was rumoured to be a hired actor, a Mexican impostor, a stripper. “It was not a performance, it was a real presentation,” she says. “I think that’s what took people by surprise: that it was so real. It really touches people’s hearts to this day.”

It was hastily planned, says Littlefeather. Half an hour before her speech, she had been at Brando’s house on Mulholland Drive waiting for him to finish typing an eight-page speech. She arrived at the ceremony with Brando’s assistant, just minutes before best actor was announced. Howard Koch, the producer of the Academy Awards show, immediately informed her she could not read it – and she would be removed from the stage after 60 seconds. “And then it all happened so fast when it was announced that he had won. I had promised Marlon that I would not touch that statue if he won. And I had promised Koch that I would not go over 60 seconds. So there were two promises I had to keep.” As a result, she improvised her speech.

However valid Brando’s charge of the way Hollywood stereotyped Native Americans, it did not go down well that night. John Wayne, serial slaughterer of Native Americans on-screen and self-professed white supremacist off it, just happened to be in the wings during Littlefeather’s speech. “During my presentation, he was coming towards me to forcibly take me off the stage, and he had to be restrained by six security men to prevent him from doing so.” Presenting best picture soon after (also for The Godfather), Clint Eastwood quipped: “I don’t know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowboys shot in all the John Ford westerns over the years.” When Littlefeather got backstage, she says, there were people making stereotypical Native American war cries at her and miming chopping with a tomahawk. After talking to the press, she went straight back to Brando’s house where they sat together and watched the reactions to the event on television.

Littlefeather campaigning on the streets of San Francisco, c. 1990.
Littlefeather campaigning on the streets of San Francisco, c. 1990. Photograph: Kim Komenich/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

But Littlefeather is proud of the trail she blazed. She was the first woman of colour, and the first indigenous woman, to use the Academy Awards platform to make a political statement. Today they are almost expected, but in 1973 it was radical. “I didn’t use my fist [she clenches her fist]. I didn’t use swearwords. I didn’t raise my voice. But I prayed that my ancestors would help me. I went up there like a warrior woman. I went up there with the grace and the beauty and the courage and the humility of my people. I spoke from my heart.”

Littlefeather’s life up to that point had been difficult. Her father was Native American, a mix of Apache and Yaqui, and her mother was white. They met in Arizona – where mixed-race couples were still illegal – so moved to Salinas, California, working as saddle-makers and leather-stampers. “My biological parents were both mentally ill and unable to raise me,” she says. “I was a child who was abused and neglected. I was taken away from them at age three, suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs. I lived in an oxygen tent at the hospital, which kept me alive.” She was raised by her maternal grandparents, but saw her parents regularly. She recalls a time as a small child when she interrupted her father beating her mother – by hitting him with a broom. “I think that’s when I really became an activist.” Her father chased after her. “I escaped through a doorway and I ran with all my might down the road. And he got in the pickup truck, and he tried to run me over. There was a grove of trees. And it was near dark. I ran up a tree, and he couldn’t find me. I stayed up in the tree and I cried myself to sleep.”

Littlefeather was between two worlds. Since the late 19th century, there had been a concerted project in the US to “make Indian people white”, she explains, spearheaded by federal government and Christian schools for Native American children. “They wanted to make us something else. And this leads us into terrible pain, into suicide, into alcoholism, into jails.” She did not fit in at the white, Catholic school her grandparents sent her to. “There was a lot of racism. I was called the N-word.” When she was 12, she and her grandfather visited the historic Roman Catholic church Carmel Mission, where she was horrified to see the bones of a Native American person on display in the museum. “I said: ‘This is wrong. This is not an object; this is a human being.’ So I went to the priest and I told him God would never approve of this, and he called me heretic. I had no idea what that was.” In her teens, Littlefeather had a breakdown and was hospitalised for a year. She attempted suicide. “I was so confused about my own identity, and I was suffering,” she says. “I could not tell the difference between me and my pain.”

At a memorial service in California in 2000 with Lanny Pinola, a Pomo/Miwok spiritual leader.
At a memorial service in California in 2000 with Lanny Pinola, a Pomo/Miwok spiritual leader. Photograph: Ben Margot/AP

Fortunately, in the late 1960s and early 70s Native Americans were beginning to reclaim their identities and reassert their rights. After her father died, when she was 17, Littlefeather began visiting reservations in Arizona, New Mexico and California. She visited Alcatraz when it was occupied by Native American activists in the early 1970s. She travelled around the country, between camp-outs and pow-wows, learning traditions and dances, making outfits. “I really had a breakthrough, with other urban Indian people, getting back into our traditions, our heritage. The old people who came from different reservations taught us young people how to be Indian again. It was wonderful.”

By her early 20s Littlefeather was working as public service director at a San Francisco radio station, and head of the local affirmative action committee for Native Americans, studying representation in film, television and sports (they successfully campaigned for Stanford University to remove their offensive “Indian” sports team symbol). One of her neighbours was Francis Ford Coppola. “I used to hike the hills of San Francisco every day,” she says. “He’d be sitting on his porch, drinking iced tea.” She got to know him to say hello to. At the time, many celebrities were expressing interest in Native American affairs, including Jane Fonda, Anthony Quinn and Burt Lancaster. Sometimes it was sincere, at others more self-interested, she says. So, when she heard Marlon Brando speaking about Native American rights, “I wanted to know if he was for real”. She wrote a letter to him and, walking past Coppola’s house one day, said: “Hey! You directed Marlon Brando in The Godfather.” She asked him for Brando’s address. Eventually, Coppola gave it to her.

In 1973.
In 1973. Photograph: Etienne Montes/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

She heard nothing for months, but one night a man phoned her at the radio station. “He said: ‘I bet you don’t know who this is.’ And I said: ‘Sure I do.’ And he said: ‘Well, who is it?’ I said: ‘It’s Marlon Brando. It sure as hell took you long enough to call. You beat “Indian time” all to hell.’ And we started to laugh as if we’d known each other for ever.”

They talked for about an hour, she says, then called each other regularly. Before long he was inviting her to visit. She stayed with him several times. They became good friends, but were never lovers or romantically involved. “No, no, he was far too old for me. He was my mother’s age, for God’s sake! He was extremely intelligent, and always entertaining. He had a great sense of humour. He would put on tons of different voices. We used to have a great time, laughing till tears were coming out of our eyes.”

The Brando household was a busy and often heated place – with children, ex-wives and girlfriends. Brando sent her and his girlfriend Jill Banner to go and see his latest movie, Last Tango in Paris – Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversially graphic erotic drama (which would earn Brando another Oscar nomination). Littlefeather was not shocked, she says. “I just thought that it was about a man who had a very difficult relationship with women. I thought about Marlon in his early days with his mother. It was as though his life was being played out in that film.” Brando, too, had had difficult parents: his father was disapproving and unloving; his mother an alcoholic. “When he was young, they didn’t have therapy. Maybe that was why he was such a great actor – because he worked it out in his acting. He was able to share those real emotions with an audience. And maybe that was the love-hate relationship that he had with acting.”

Littlefeather’s Oscar speech drew international attention to Wounded Knee, where the US authorities had essentially imposed a media blackout. It was a key moment in the struggle for Native American rights and may well have saved lives, she suggests. It did little for her own career, however. She had had a few small roles in movies, including Freebie and the Bean and The Trial of Billy Jack. After the Oscars, she believes she was blacklisted by Hollywood. “I couldn’t get a job to save my life. I knew that J Edgar Hoover had gone around and told people in the industry not to hire me, because he would shut their talkshow or their production down. I got the word from people in the industry that that would happen to them.” She is not sure it helped Brando’s career, either. “I was a hotbed of controversy. And for any actor, I don’t know how safe that is for them, box office-wise.” They stayed in contact for a little while, but their lives naturally went separate ways. “We had our time together. We made history together.”

Sacheen Littlefeather today
Sacheen Littlefeather today

A few years later, when she was 29, Littlefeather’s lungs collapsed – a consequence of her childhood tuberculosis – and she became very ill. She found taking a holistic approach to her health helped and did a degree in holistic health and nutrition. She became a health consultant to Native American communities across the country, combining her knowledge with traditional medicine. She also reconnected with the Catholic faith, working with Mother Teresa caring for Aids patients in hospices, and led the San Francisco Kateri Circle, a Catholic group named after Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. Their religious practice is a synthesis of both traditions, she explains. “For example, we have our buffalo dances in the middle of the mass.” It has helped her resolve her identity. “This is how I saved my life, by blending the two together. The acceptance of my dominant culture’s ways and my Indian ways together, living peacefully side by side.”

Now she is one of the elders transmitting knowledge down generations. Littlefeather gestures behind her to the sofa, where she mentors young Native American people. This is the real fulfilment in her life, she says. “When I go to the spirit world, I’m going to take all these stories with me. But hopefully I can share some of these things while I’m here.” Littlefeather talks about the end of life with the same composure and dignity she exhibited that night in 1973. “I’m going to another place,” she says. “I’m going to the world of my ancestors. I’m saying goodbye to you … I’ve earned the right to be my true self.”

 For more information on the documentary Sacheen: Breaking the Silence, visit

Courtesy The Guardian

Kindle Countdown Deal coming up!

For any Kindle owner who is still looking for a copy of my book, “Red Road Across the Great Plains”, here’s some good news! A Kindle Countdown Deal, with a 51% discount, will run from June 27th, for a week, on the and sites. Grab your copy – and support the cause of the Native Americans who have suffered centuries of injustice and discrimination.

Update on my Research

As some of you might be aware, almost a year ago, I began researching what became of the two most important women in Crazy Horse’s life, after his murder – Black Buffalo Woman, and Black Shawl. It has been an arduous quest that has, so far, yielded only tantalizing clues.

Unfortunately, my research reached an electronic road-block when I discovered that the critical first nine years of Census Records (1877-1885) at the National Archives have either not been digitized or not been made available on the Internet. This meant I could only proceed further by physically visiting NARA at Kansas City, to examine the original records.

I had planned to make this visit in the Summer of 2021, but the best laid plans of mice and men…. First, the Covid19 pandemic shut NARA as well as international travel down. Secondly, I was diagnosed with cancer of the colon, requiring a total colectomy, followed by chemotherapy. Between these two exciting events, my summer travels have been laid to rest! So, it will probably have to wait for the summer of 2022…..ah, well!

Meanwhile, I happened on another promising avenue of enquiry, which I thought simply had to yield results – the Ration Tickets for the Reservation families. These should certainly have featured the women I am looking for, as they would certainly have drawn rations. As these tickets, too, had to be examined physically, I was very lucky to receive the generous, patient and expert assistance of NARA Archivist, Stephen Spence. When they were allowed back into NARA, after many months of covid-enforced closure, he promptly looked into these for me, without missing a beat. Sadly, he discovered there are very few Ration Tickets remaining, from that period, and none that pertain to our ladies. So, that brought that line of inquiry to a sad end, despite Stephen’s encouragement and support.

So, now, I am left with (a) two possible Black Shawls – one who married, had children and lived at Cheyenne River; or one who lived with her mother at Pine Ridge, till she died; so, which one is the real Black Shawl? and (b) so far, no trace of Black Buffalo Woman at all. Of course, the census rolls of those critical 9 years from Crazy Horse’s surrender onwards hold the key.

Another anomaly is the fact that Black Shawl does not appear in the Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger. So, where was she at the time of Crazy Horse’s surrender? It is likely that she was with his father, Waglula, and came to Pine Ridge after Crazy Horse had settled in. However, this needs to be verified from the records, if possible.

So, there my searches stand as of now – seemingly hauntingly close to a solution, but still just beyond reach for the moment!

50 years ago, election ushered in new era for US tribes

Fifty years ago this week the federal government’s experiment with termination was crushed

By MARK TRAHANT Indian Country Today 9 May 2021, 02:34 ABC News

Fifty years ago this week the federal government’s experiment with termination was crushed at the ballot box on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington state.

Termination was a policy that was designed to end the U.S. government’s role in Indian affairs. It would have abrogated treaties, eliminated federal funding, and “freed the Indians” from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And as a bonus, the wealth generated by millions of acres of land and the reward from rich natural resources would be up for grabs.

One side wanted to kick out the BIA and sell at least some of the reservation for a lot of money. The other side wanted to support the tribal government, and to get more financial help from the federal government.

That was the debate Colville voters had to resolve on May 8, 1971.


“Virtually all federal Indian policy can be analyzed in terms of the tension between assimilation and separatism,” wrote Charles Wilkinson and Eric Bigs in a 1977 Indian Law Review article.

The two legal scholars concluded that “termination was an outgrowth of 150 years of Indian policy preceding the termination movement, and was simply the farthest extension of the fundamental theory underlying Indian policy throughout most of those years.”

“Indeed, the termination movement’s sponsors may have been motivated by sincere concern for the welfare of the Indian people. Nevertheless, most observers have concluded that termination has failed.”

More than 100 tribes were terminated following the enactment of House Concurrent Resolution 108 on Aug. 1, 1953.

That resolution declared a congressional policy as “rapidly as possible to make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States, and to grant them all the rights and prerogatives pertaining to American citizenship.”

The first tribes chosen for this experiment were the Flathead Tribe of Montana, the Klamath Tribe of Oregon, the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, the Potawatomi Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, and those members of the Chippewa Tribe who are on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.

A law that gave states criminal and civil jurisdiction over citizens of some tribal nations, Public Law 280, was also enacted and remains in effect today. Another program recruited Native American workers to leave their reservation homes in exchange for jobs in cities, often placing these workers in seasonal jobs such as agriculture or at railroads.

The Colville Tribe had been on the termination list beginning in 1956 when legislation was enacted that put the governing body in an untenable position: To gain title to its own land, the tribe would have to submit a plan to terminate within five years.

“Though most Colvilles were reported to be against termination at that time, groups favoring a sale of the reservation and distribution of assets to members moved to take over the council in 1963,” the American Indian Press Association reported. “By 1965 they had full control of the council, and Sen. Henry M. Jackson, D-Wash., introduced legislation for them in each session of the Congress.”

And in Washington the tide was beginning to turn.

In March 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a message to Congress on Indians that proposed a national goal to end the “old debate about ‘termination’ of Indian programs and stresses self-determination; a goal that erases old attitudes of paternalism and promotes partnership self-help.”

Yet only a month later, the president signed into law a bill that terminated the Tiwa Indians of Ysleta, Texas, and the law specifically declared that the responsibility “if any” for the tribal community was now up to Texas. The United States was done.

And that was supposed to happen at Colville, too.


Colville Chairman Rodney Cawston told Indian Country Today that he remembers as a child the parents arguing about termination.

“I think that was the thing that really brought my attention to it as a child and hearing their discussions back and forth … if we terminate what would happen? If we don’t terminate what would happen? … Because if we do terminate, we’re going to lose all of our reservation lands. We will no longer have a home or children will no longer have the hunting and the fishing and gathering that we are enjoying here today.”

He said the end of tribal government would mean there would have been no mechanism in place for solving community problems.

Even as a child, he said, he recalled thinking that the loss of reservation lands would be too costly. “Well, if I can’t go out hunting, and if I can’t go out fishing, why would I want any amount of money?”

“I was really happy that it was voted down,” he recalled, because Indian people have already lost so much.

But Cawston also said he understood the motivation for those that supported termination. He said people wanted greater autonomy over their own land.

“We are rich in natural resources here and so everything was being extracted off our reservation, especially the timber, which was really damaging the water and the forest itself.”


In a lot of ways the 12 bands that make up the Colville Confederated Reservation had already gone through multiple terminations. Only 20 years after the reservation was created, Congress took away the north half of the reservation and opened it up to settlement. The government was supposed to pay for that land, but for some 14 years failed to complete its end of the bargain.

Then in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson approved a proclamation that opened more lands for settlement within the “Diminished Colville Indian Reservation.” The North Half of the reservation was never forgotten. And when the land went unused, the tribe asked for that land back. Congress said yes, but the price was the five-year termination plan.

Another practical termination was the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River that blocked salmon from reaching the tribal homelands.

“I remember a lot of our people talking about that, how devastating that was for us as a people, because we were of a salmon culture,” Cawston said. “One of the largest fishing sites in the Northwest was Kettle Falls, which is right near our reservation. And to have just all of that taken away from us by the federal government and without any consideration of us as Indian people, that that took away our culture or our religious systems, a lot of our ceremonial events.”

“I used to hear our elders talk about how people gathered at what they call the Ceremony of Tears, which was the last time the fish came up the Columbia, and they knew that life was going to change for them forever,” he said. “So this was still fairly recent … and they just couldn’t see where the federal government was making decisions in the best interest of our tribe of our people.”

More than 1,000 people traveled to Kettle Falls in June 1940 for the three-day Ceremony of Tears.


But a lot of the election in 1971 was focused more on the routine. Then-Chairman Narcisse Nicolson Jr. supported termination because he said it was time for the Colville people to end their relationship with Washington. He said the case was clear because “with only a relatively few exceptions, the tribal families of today are self-supporting.”

He added, “Lack of employment, to the degree that it exists, is largely due to character faults which cannot be cured by paternalism.”

But Lucy Covington, Frank George, Paschal Sherman, and the anti-termination candidates had a different message. They campaigned saying sovereignty was the ultimate solution to any tribal problem.

Covington worked with author Vine Deloria and Chuck Trimble to produce a newspaper called “Our Heritage,” that made the case against termination.

Covington said it was critical to quiet what she called the “present fever and fervor for termination.”

Deloria would later go on to write about termination in “Custer Died for Your Sins.”

“The Congressional policy of termination … was not conceived as a policy of murder,” he wrote. “Rather it was thought that it would provide that elusive ‘answer’ to the Indian problem. And when it proved to be no answer at all, Congress continued its policy, having found a new weapon in the ancient battle for Indian land.”

Deloria attacked the morality of the termination legislation. He wrote: “Can you imagine Henry Jackson, sponsor of the bill, walking into the offices of white businessmen in Everett, Washington, and asking them to sell him their property, with values to be determined six months after the sale?” Or what happens if the land owners under the law are declared incompetent. “They would then be judged too incompetent to handle their own money, but competent enough to vote to sell their reservation. Is it any wonder that Indians distrust white men?”


The vote on May 8 was not close.

“Terminationist Chairman Narcisse Nicholson was rejected by the local Omak district voters who gave him 109 votes against his anti-terminationist opponents Charles Quintasket, who received 228 local votes and Barbara Marchand who received 220,” reported the American Indian Press Association. The election sweep, the wire service said, meant the new tribal council was “poised to develop new programs to take advantage of all available federal projects for the reservation which had previously been turned down by the terminationists.”

No other tribe anywhere in the United States had to deal with the termination policy again. The battle was over.

In July when the new council took office, Mel Tonasket, then 30 years old, was elected as chairman. The council swiftly passed a resolution condemning termination. Other resolutions called for more federal support, closed a reservation lake to outsiders, and voted to take back law enforcement powers that had been ceded to the state of Washington under Public Law 280.

The new council claimed the inherent power of a government through an affirmation of tribal sovereignty.

The shift of policy, while debated in Washington, D.C., took root in the communities of Nespelem, Omak and even Seattle.

Sen. Jackson, a longtime supporter of termination, removed one of the policy’s architects, Senate staffer James Gamble, and replaced him with Forrest Gerard, Blackfeet. The era of self-determination was now the policy in Washington and in tribal communities across the country.


There are also stories to tell.

The Colville Tribe did so when it named its business center for Lucy Covington in 2015. The tribe tells that story in a resolution that honors her. This is extraordinary because the council is honoring dissent from within.

The resolution said the council would not support her trips to Washington to lobby against termination so “Covington & George Friedlander sold their own livestock; cattle, and precious bloodline horses descending from Chief Moses to fund her travels to Washington, D.C., in efforts to protect ancestral lands. Covington’s passion to utilize every effort to save the Colville Indian Reservation landed National recognition for her devotion to protect all tribal lands and rights.”

Eastern Washington University awarded Covington an honorary doctorate in 2015 on what would have been her 105th birthday. Her niece, Barb Aripa, accepted the award on behalf of Covington’s family and the tribal community. “I accept this on behalf of the people of the Colville Tribes, the tribes she fought for all her life until the day she died,” she said at the ceremony. “She fought so hard for everything, for the people. Not only for our tribe, but all the tribes of the United States.”

Another story comes from Laurie Arnold, an associate professor at Gonzaga University, and a Colville citizen. She’s the author of “Bartering with the Bones of Their Dead: The Colville Confederated Tribes and Termination.” She said the topic was so divisive that people really don’t talk about it. The “feelings persisted, and I think that’s part of the reason that I never heard people talk about this when I was growing up.”

The Colville termination story is important to tell because “no community is a monolith.” Yet “one unifying theme for people who sought termination was ironically the restoration of a lost land base,” she said, because “one of the legacies of termination” is that 818,000 acres of the North Half of the reservation were restored to tribal access.

Another legacy might be the story itself. Arnold’s book tells her tribe’s story. This she sees as a turn toward “community centered and informed narratives about termination.”

“When I was in graduate school and I told people, ‘I was writing about policy,’ they said, ‘Oh, why would you? It’s just white guys do that. Why would you do that?’ And I said, ’Well, who better to tell these stories?”

Outsiders might write about how a commission created policies. But they are not “writing about the experiences of it,” she said. “If I had a final word, it would be a plug for more Native students, writing about their communities, more Native scholars, Native people writing about their communities. It’s the best way to create these, you know, these infinities of stories that we have.”

Native American tribe regains island taken after 1860 massacre

Most of an island off northern California will again belong to the Wiyot Tribe, which was decimated by settlers in 1860.

Native Americans of the Wiyot Tribe paddle a dugout redwood canoe from Indian Island, in Eureka, California (Ben Margot/AP) [Daylife]
Native Americans of the Wiyot Tribe paddle a dugout redwood canoe from Indian Island, in Eureka, California (Ben Margot/AP) [Daylife]

“It’s a really good example of resilience because Wiyot people never gave up the dream,” tribal administrator Michelle Vassel said. “It’s a really good story about healing and about coming together of community.”

The tribe was decimated in 1860, when scores of elders, women and children were wiped out during a raid by settlers while the tribe’s men were away gathering supplies. Since then, the now 600-member tribe has been making small strides towards regaining the land it lost.

The tribe sold art and fry bread and took in donations to buy 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres) on the eastern tip of the island for $106,000 in 2000. Years later, the city of Eureka gave the tribe more land.

On Monday, the city will sign over the deed to the largest chunk – more than 80 hectares (200 acres) in what was the historic village of Etpidolh. No money was exchanged.

“For our city, it’s the right thing to do, and that’s why we’re doing it,” said Councilwoman Kim Bergel, who was born and raised in the county. “Certainly, it’s been far too long.”

Tribes have lost millions of acres of land through treaties broken by the US government, by force and in exchange for federal services such as healthcare and education. Rarely has it been restored, said Cris Stainbrook, president of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. Most tribes resort to buying land as it comes up for sale.

The tribe with the largest land base of any, Navajo Nation in the southwest, has purchased ranches in Colorado outside the boundary of its 70,000sq km (27,000sq miles) reservation.

Wiyot 2
Wiyot Tribe tribal chair Cheryl Seidner waves as she travels by dugout redwood canoe from Indian Island across Humboldt Bay to a deed ceremony in Eureka, California [File: Ben Margot/AP]

In New Mexico, Santa Ana Pueblo bought back a large swath of ancestral land in 2016 for an undisclosed price. Isleta Pueblo to the south added 362sq km (140sq miles) to its reservation the same year when federal officials agreed to put it into trust.

The US government offered Sioux tribes money for seizing the Black Hills more than a century ago. The tribes refused the payment and have sought the return of the land.

In California, a former Wiyot councilman unsuccessfully petitioned Eureka for part of Indian Island in the 1970s. The tribe started fundraising in 1998, watching for any properties that came up for sale.

The Wiyot knew the parcel it bought in 2000 had extensive contamination from a former shipyard that was established on the island shortly after the massacre, along with livestock grazing. That did not matter. People in the community asked what they could do to help.

The tribe and community members came together to remove boat batteries, lead paint, chemicals, scrap metal, rusty buckets, a huge engine and contaminated soil. A 1,000-year-old clamshell mound containing burial sites, tools and things left over from ceremonies was restored.

The land was deemed safe in 2014. The overall quality of water, plants and marine life have improved, the tribe says.

Vassel took the first group of children there and remembers the excitement.

“You could feel it in the air,” she said. “The feeling of coming home.”

The clean bill of health by the US Environmental Protection Agency also meant the tribe could resume a ceremony it was forced to abandon after the massacre.

The ceremony staged in 2014 to renew the world and restore balance lasted 10 days. Sea lions came up on the beach and watched dancers and singers. Egrets stooped on cypress trees.

The last day started off clear and sunny, before heavy rain sent 100 people fleeing for shelter, which Tribal Chairman Ted Hernandez took as a sign the ceremony was complete.

“We knew our ancestors were still there,” Hernandez said. “We can feel them, saying, ‘We are watching you, we know that what you are doing is correct.’ It’s a peaceful feeling.”

The tribe has been trying to revive its language and cultural practices that were driven underground after the massacre. The last person fluent in the Wiyot language died in the 1960s. Some elders who were sent to boarding school were afraid to teach Wiyot traditions to the younger generation, Hernandez said.

The massacre is a point of history third-graders learn during a ferry tour that passes Indian Island, Bergel said. Over the years, tribal members and the community have joined in a candlelight vigil around the anniversary to remember those lost.

The tribe’s reservation in Loleta is southwest of Indian Island, which can take hours to reach by boat. During the highest tide, the island can become submerged.

The city had no use for the land it declared surplus property and offered up to public agencies but had no takers. Few parcels on the island are privately owned.

The tribe imagines the island as a place where native plants can flourish and be used in ceremonies, where the community can gather and where its renewal ceremony can be practised annually. The next one is scheduled in March.

Officials attribute the relationship built between Eureka and the Wiyot to communication and understanding that they all benefit from the health of the island.

“It was never vile, us versus them,” Vassel said. “It was more about healing the community, healing the land. We all live in this community together.”


OSCAR FOR STUPIDITY & IGNORANCE : Rick Santorum says ‘there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture’

The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania made the remarks to a conservative audience as part of a broader comment on America’s early European settlers.

Rick Santorum.

Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via AP fileApril 27, 2021, 1:42 AM +04 / Updated April 27, 2021, 4:40 AM +04By Tim Fitzsimons

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum drew criticism for comments last week that “there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

In remarks to conservative group the Young America’s Foundation on Friday, Santorum argued that the culture of the United States is largely unchanged since it was birthed by “Judeo-Christian” values.

Santorum, 62, a Republican from Pennsylvania who served in the Senate from 1995 to 2007 and is now a CNN commentator, said there was “nothing here” before European settlers arrived.

“We came here and created a blank slate,” Santorum said. “We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans, but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

The reaction to Santorum’s comments, which were first transcribed and publicized by Media Matters for America, was swift.

Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called Santorum’s comments “hot garbage.”

“Televising someone with his views on Native American genocide is fundamentally no different than putting an outright Nazi on television to justify the Holocaust,” Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a statement. “Any mainstream media organization should fire him or face a boycott from more than 500 Tribal Nations and our allies from across the country and worldwide.”

Sharp said European colonizers found “thousands of complex, sophisticated, and sovereign Tribal Nations, each with millennia of distinct cultural, spiritual and technological development.”

“Over millennia, they bred, cultivated and showed the world how to utilize such plants as cotton, rubber, chocolate, corn, potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco. Imagine the history of the United States without the economic contributions of cotton and tobacco alone. It’s inconceivable,” Sharp said.

Some pointed out that Santorum’s comments simply weren’t historically accurate.

Robert P. Jones, a scholar of history and culture with the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute, called Santorum’s history an “ex nihilo myth” that “is straight up white supremacy.”

In fact, Indigenous cities and settlements spread across the American continent before the arrival of Europeans.

Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire until it was conquered and destroyed by Spanish explorers in 1521 and renamed Mexico City, is estimated to have contained over 100,000 residents at its peak.

One settlement known as Cahokia, in what is today southern Illinois, is thought to have been the largest city before Tenochtitlan, with over 10,000 residents around the year 1100, which then rivaled the population of some of Europe’s largest cities.

Cahokia Mounds In Illinois
The St. Louis skyline is seen on the horizon beyond Monks Mound at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Ill. on July 11, 2019.Daniel Acker / The Washington Post via Getty Images

“We have proof positive of massive Thanksgiving festivals at Cahokia with lots of the same ingredients that the pilgrims were treated to centuries later,” Timothy Pauketat, professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and a scholar of Cohokia, wrote in an email.

“I wonder if Santorum doesn’t appreciate that the absence of certain kinds of native culture in certain parts of the United States — say Pennsylvania — is because the native people there were exterminated.”

Historians have pointed out the links between America’s early founding period and one of the largest organized native government at that time, which coexisted alongside various European settlements: the Iroquois Confederacy or the “Six Nations.”

A House resolution passed on the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution in 1988 explicitly acknowledged this link between that Native government and America’s own founding documents.

Charles C. Mann, author of 1491, which chronicled native cultures prior to the arrival of European settlers, said in an email that “the contributions of Native Americans to US society and culture today are so various and comprehensive that it’s hard to know where to begin.”

“Up till the late 19th century, European visitors (especially rich ones) complained about how Americans were disrespectful to their social betters, American women didn’t know their place, and the society as a whole was governed by the mob,” Mann wrote.

“They frequently blamed this on the pernicious social influence of the Indians. In my view, this is quite accurate. Much of what we think of today as the ‘American spirit of freedom’ owes its inspiration to this nation’s original inhabitants,” Mann said.

Tim Fitzsimons is a reporter for NBC News. 

Lakota activist: Mount Rushmore key in move to regain land

When then-President Donald Trump visited Mount Rushmore last year for a fireworks display, Lakota activist Nick Tilsen saw an opportunity to advance the Land Back Movement By STEPHEN GROVES Associated Press 24 March 2021

On Location: March 24, 2021

It would land him in jail, facing felony charges after he organized a demonstration to block a road leading to the monument, but it also made Mount Rushmore a focal point for that effort, known as the Land Back Movement.

While Noem got her wishes last year when fireworks returned to the monument after a decade-long hiatus, Trump’s visit also allowed Tilsen to bring attention to the symbolic importance of the monument, where 60-foot (18-meter) stone carvings of former Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln tower over the Black Hills — land that was seized illegally from Lakota tribes.

“What Mount Rushmore has always represented is a system of power and oppression and white supremacy, because they take a sacred place and carved the faces of white men who are responsible for our colonization and our demise,” Tilsen said.

Noem, a close ally of Trump and potential 2024 presidential contender, has cast protecting the monument as part of a larger cultural battle over how history is told.

“Those four men are etched into Mount Rushmore are incredibly important to our history,” she told Fox News this month. “We saw a movement to tear them down earlier this year. They needed to be protected.”

Noem deployed the South Dakota National Guard for the July 3 event. Guard members advanced on the demonstration, leading to physical confrontations with protesters. Some were arrested, and Tilsen was charged with felonies and misdemeanors that carried a maximum punishment of nearly 17 years in prison.

Although Noem signed an agreement for another fireworks display this year, the National Parks Service has said it won’t allow it, citing safety concerns and tribes’ objections.

Tilsen recently reached an agreement with prosecutors that the charges would be dropped if he completes a prison diversion program. Though prosecutors say that part of the program is admitting wrongdoing and ensuring that offenses don’t happen again, Tilsen told the Associated Press he is not done pressing for changes to the monument and the Black Hills.

“For Indigenous people, racial equity means returning Indigenous lands back into Indigenous hands,” he said.

For the Lakota, the Black Hills are known as Paha Sapa — “the heart of everything that is” — and for Tilsen, they are central to racial justice.

But the monument is also closely tied to the state’s identity. Its official nickname is “the Mount Rushmore state,” and its license plates feature the stone carvings.

After one commentator called the monument a “stone idol to presidential colonizers” last month, the governor took to Twitter, writing, “The left wants to re-write our history by attacking the leaders who made America the most special country ever. It’s our duty to teach our kids the truth.”

But Tilsen said he wants to use the monument as a way to teach truth — in a way that uncovers the country’s flawed history. He wants Mount Rushmore closed, then reopened under tribal control and with a new name — the Six Grandfathers Tribal Park, for the Lakota name of the rock formation where the monument is carved.

“What ends up happening at Mount Rushmore, we actually tell the true history of this land,” he said. “We tell the history of the treaties, we tell the history of these men that are on the mountain and what their policies were like,” adding that could spark conversations about how the history is connected to current issues among Native American communities, including high rates of poverty and incarceration.

Is Tilsen’s vision to reimagine the monument realistic? It’s not clear. But he says that between a nationwide racial reckoning and the recent appointment of the country’s first Native American secretary of the interior, Deb Haaland, there is an opportunity to turn over stewardship of public lands to tribes.

“I think that we have some champions in the highest places in the government who are wanting to fight, make this happen,” he said. “And movements like ours contributing to the political landscape being very different than it was on July 3rd.”

Sacred Apache land ‘on death row’ in standoff with foreign mining titans


Tribal members in Arizona are fighting to protect a piece of land they consider their “Mount Sinai.”

March 3, 2021, 5:18 PM +04 By Christine Romo, Cynthia McFadden, Kit Ramgopal and Rich Schapiro NBC News


SUPERIOR, Ariz. – The rugged patch of land known as Oak Flat sits in the Tonto National Forest. To the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the 740-acre swath of oak groves and sheer cliffs is sacred ground, a place where they have gone for centuries to hold religious ceremonies and communicate with the Creator.

“No different than Mount Sinai,” said Wendsler Nosie Sr., former chairman of the San Carlos Apache.

But Oak Flat is on a path to destruction.

The land is scheduled to be transferred to Resolution Copper, a company controlled by two foreign mining giants, and turned into one of the largest copper mines in the country. The transfer was set in motion by an eleventh-hour provision slipped into a 2014 defense bill by Arizona’s two Republican senators at the time.

The poverty-stricken San Carlos Apache Tribe is fighting back in court, alleging the land belongs to the tribe and holds special religious significance. But even they worry the path to victory is slim. Resolution Copper has poured $2 billion into the project and has had the U.S. government on its side.

The dispute has turned into a David-vs.-Goliath-style standoff, drawing in environmental groups and reviving centuries-old questions over land rights involving American Indians.

IMAGE: Wendsler Nosie Sr.
Wendsler Nosie Sr. spends most of his days at Oak Flat, trying to defend the land from mining.

“We’re still trying to defend who we are,” said Nosie, who has been camped out at Oak Flat for more than a year as part of his mission to stop the mine.

He sees the conflict as the latest skirmish in his tribe’s long fight to maintain its ancient way of life.

The San Carlos Apache reservation, about 130 miles east of Phoenix, is among the poorest in the country. Four of every 5 families with children live below the federal poverty line, and the unemployment rate is 30 percent, according to a University of Arizona study.

The reservation is on the outskirts of Tonto National Forest, which is named for the Tonto band of Apaches who lived in the area until the U.S. Army cavalry forcibly removed them in the 1870s.

Many Apaches became prisoners of war. An untold number refused to surrender and instead jumped to their deaths at a ridge now known as Apache Leap.

The Oak Flat area has been considered a holy place for thousands of years, the home of spiritual beings known as Ga’an. Apaches go there to pray, to seek personal cleansing and to hold ceremonies that connect them to their ancestors. It is also a popular campground and hiking destination.

But Oak Flat has long been prized by mining companies. Beneath its surface lies a fortune — one of the largest copper deposits in the world.

Oak Flat has been protected under federal law since 1955, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decreed the area off-limits to mining. President Richard Nixon’s Interior Department renewed the ban in 1971, but it added a loophole that allowed for the area to be mined if it was traded to private interests.

A bill proposing to trade away the land had repeatedly failed to pass both houses of Congress since it was first introduced in 2005.

But in December 2014, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona slipped a last-minute rider into a must-pass defense spending bill. The move amounted to a bonanza for Resolution Copper, which is jointly owned by two mining titans — the Rio Tinto Group of the U.K. and BHP Billiton Ltd. of Australia.

IMAGE: Naelyn Pike
Naelyn Pike, 21, has testified in Congress and federal court about the need to save Oak Flat.

The bill transferred 2,400 acres of national forestland, including Oak Flat, to Resolution in exchange for 5,300 acres of private land owned by the mining company.

Flake declined an interview request. McCain, who died in 2018, touted the project in a 2014 op-ed in The Arizona Republic, saying that the mine would generate jobs and boost the local economy and that the land would remain open to tribal members and others until the company breaks ground.

The legislation stunned and saddened Naelyn Pike, a San Carlos Apache tribal member who first testified before Congress in opposition to the arrangement when she was 13.

“Our cultural identity is being stripped away from us,” said Pike, 21, who is Nosie’s granddaughter.

“No tree can live without its roots,” she said. “And we’re that tree.”

Engineer Vicky Peacey, senior manager of permits and approvals for Resolution Cooper, said that the company is sensitive to the tribal members’ concerns and that it has already modified its mining plans to leave Apache Leap and hundreds of other special areas untouched.

Peacey said company officials have set up a tribal monitoring program, with dozens of trained monitors from several tribes working alongside archaeologists to identify features of the landscape that hold special meaning. “Every plant, every animal, water feature, rocks,” Peacey said. “It’s really helped shape our mining plan.”

Peacey emphasized that the project would employ about 1,500 people and pump about a billion dollars into the economy every year. She also said copper is critical to combating climate change.

Copper is in high demand in the U.S. and around the world, as it is an essential component in such green energy technologies as wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars. The mine beneath Oak Flat is projected to satisfy 25 percent of U.S. demand.

“We have to find a way to balance jobs, economic benefits in these rural communities, as well as environmental protection and cultural heritage preservation,” Peacey said. “I think we can do it in this project.”

The mining company plans to extract the copper using a method known as block caving, which over time will cause the ground to collapse and create a pit that the company acknowledges will be nearly 2 miles long and 1,000 feet deep. Oak Flat, along with its petroglyph-covered walls and Apache burial sites, is set to be swallowed up in a crater deep enough to hold the Eiffel Tower.

The project has the support of many who live in the area, including the mayor of nearby Superior.

“We need for this project to move forward,” Mayor Mila Besich said, citing its economic benefits.

Deb Haaland makes history as Biden’s pick to run Interior Department

By Gregory Krieg, CNN Updated 0056 GMT (0856 HKT) December 18, 2020

(CNN)President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department marked a historic victory for an alliance of progressives and Indigenous leaders who campaigned relentlessly to elevate one of their own to a powerful federal seat that oversees natural resources, public lands and Indian affairs.A member of Pueblo of Laguna, Haaland will — if confirmed — become the first Native American Cabinet secretary. The New Mexico Democrat is also a favorite of the young, diverse progressive activists who vigorously lobbied both the Biden team and House Democratic leadership — who are holding on to a slim majority after the November elections — to select her over more familiar names with closer ties to the Democratic Party establishment.”A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland tweeted on Thursday night. “Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land. I am honored and ready to serve.”

Haaland was reelected to her second term representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District in November. And though she never generated headlines like members of her allies in “The Squad,” Haaland’s fierce advocacy for climate justice policy and Indigenous rights has made her a champion of the new left.Word of her selection — which had been rumored but had appeared to be in limbo over the last week — set off celebrations among a circle of dedicated progressives who kept close communications with Biden’s team even when some of their ideological allies warned against it.”We see our moms, our aunties and ourselves in Deb — and now we’re putting our greatest hopes as a people in her leadership,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy for Data for Progress, one of Haaland’s top advocates. “After four years of fossil fuel executives and lobbyists opening up Native lands and sacred sites to industry, the next Secretary of Interior will be a Laguna Pueblo woman who went to Standing Rock in 2016 and cooked for the people.”close dialog

Want to understand American politics?We’ve got you.Sign Me UpNo ThanksBy subscribing you agree to ourprivacy policy.Before she ran for Congress in 2018, Haaland, a single mother, joined the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline project, which was charted to pass 1,200 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline was routed under a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, leading to legal challenges and, eventually, mass demonstrations and an encampment that brought together Indigenous and environmental activists from around the country.Haaland, according to a 2019 account in the High Plains Reader, arrived at the camps from New Mexico and cooked green chili and tortillas for those around her.”I felt like we really had hit on an environmental movement that was deep and meaningful,” Haaland told the publication. “It just seemed so amazing that so many tribes came together, because tribes came from everywhere to stand with the water protectors. It was significant that so many of us came together to protect water, our natural resources.”Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez celebrated the pick and applauded the incoming administration for fulfilling a promise.”It is truly a historic and unprecedented day for all Indigenous people as Congresswoman Deb Haaland has been selected to head one of the largest federal agencies, which oversees the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and (Bureau of Indian Education), at the highest level of the federal government,” he said. “I congratulate her and I also thank the Biden-Harris team for making a statement and keeping their word to place Native Americans in high-level Cabinet positions.”Haaland endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts during the 2020 Democratic primary and, during the Biden transition team’s deliberations over the Cabinet pick, Warren expressed her support for the congresswoman directly to Biden, according to a source familiar with the push for Haaland’s nomination.Warren on Thursday praised reports of Biden’s decision.”Woo-hoo! Deb is an outstanding choice. She’ll be a terrific Secretary of the Interior—protecting public lands and natural resources, fighting climate change, and making history,” Warren tweeted.Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York also applauded the pick, describing it as a watershed moment for an increasingly diverse progressive movement.”This is a big deal. Historic appointment. A visionary Native woman in charge of federal lands. Unequivocally progressive. Green New Deal champion. Exquisitely experienced,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “@RepDebHaaland sister, you are going to do such a great job. I am so proud of you and the movement.”Clearing the way for Biden to tap Haaland, whose father was a Marine awarded the Silver Star Medal for heroics in Vietnam and whose mother served in the Navy, was a tough slog for her supporters. With the House Democratic majority slimmed down, many on the left believed that she needed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s blessing before Biden would move.It came on Wednesday.”Congresswoman Haaland knows the territory, and if she is the President-elect’s choice for Interior Secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice,” the California Democrat said in a statement. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, joined her in backing Haaland.During Haaland’s short time in Congress, she won over support from members of both parties, including GOP Rep. Don Young of Alaska, who praised her work as a vice chair on the House Committee on Natural Resources and described her as a “consensus builder.”Haaland also served as the chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. In November, 50 House Democrats — across ideological lines — signed a letter touting her for the Cabinet job.The Sunrise Movement, a leading climate activist group, moved to nudge aside another leading contender for the job, retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, whose father once ran the department.Along with Justice Democrats, NDN Collective and Data for Progress, Sunrise praised Udall for his work but argued it was time for new faces.”It would not be right for two Udalls to lead the Department of the Interior, the agency tasked with managing the nation’s public lands, natural resources and trust responsibilities to tribes, before a single Native American,” the groups wrote.”That’s not what the Democratic Party stands for, nor what you or your father have stood for in your tireless advocacy for strong Native representation at all levels of government.”Udall congratulated Haaland in a statement on Thursday, touting her “lived experience” and backing her to reverse the policies of the past four years.”She will undo the damage of the Trump administration, restore the department’s workforce and expertise, uphold our obligations to Native communities, and take the bold action needed to tackle the accelerating climate and nature crises,” Udall said.On Thursday, Sunrise’s executive director and co-founder, Varshini Prakash, celebrated the pick.”Thank you Joe Biden for listening to the unprecedented groundswell of support that united behind Deb Haaland,” she said, “there is no one better to lead the Department of the Interior.”

Lincoln community rallies to send big winter donation to Pine Ridge Reservation

Luna Stephens
Dec 13, 2020 Updated 1 hr ago

An outpouring of donations will send a moving truck full of warmth to the Pine Ridge Reservation this winter.

On Sunday morning, volunteers gathered to load coats and other supplies to be taken to the reservation in southwest South Dakota. 

The yearly donation to Pine Ridge was started by “Farmer” Bill Hawkins three years ago. This year, Hawkins and Lincoln Indian Center vice chairman Kevin Abourezk worked with Stand In For Nebraska to collect donations. They collected not only coats and other winter clothing items but also computers, guitars, art supplies and hygiene items.

Donations were collected through blue barrels set up across Lincoln, and local retailers also pitched in. Hawkins said the amount of donations has grown in the past few weeks, and he picked up 10 truckloads full of items in the past three days.

Both Abourezk and Hawkins said the decades of alcohol sales from Whiteclay to the reservation’s residents were a reason they felt like they needed to give back.

“I feel that the state still owes something back to the reservation, because of the damage that was caused there,” Abourezk said. “This is about giving back to that community that was so hurt by those beer stores for so many years.”

“I’m convinced that one of the reasons for such the incredible outpouring we’ve had this year, which is bigger than last year and that’s saying something because we took a huge truck last year, is because of Stand In For Nebraska’s involvement,” he said.

Stand In For Nebraska also worked with Susan Larson Rodenburg to secure a 26-foot moving truck from Penske to transport all of the items, and several people stepped up to pay for the gas and insurance for the trip.

The larger truck will allow everything to be taken in one seven-hour trip Monday instead of the three or four trips it would have taken with the smaller truck and trailer they had previously used, Abourezk said.

Stand In For Nebraska co-founder Carol Flora gathered with other volunteers Sunday morning to help move items. She said the donation drive aligns with the local group’s mission of advocating for justice for indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups.

The Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the poorest communities in the country, and other factors have made the conditions there more dire this year and the donations even more needed.

The reservation’s BEAR Project facility was broken into recently. Computers, guitars, gaming systems, art supplies and Christmas gifts that had been collected for children were stolen from the nonprofit, Abourezk said. Stand In For Nebraska leaders rallied to help gather donations to replace what I stole.

BEAR Project leader Eileen Janis said the need on the reservation is definitely greater this year because of the pandemic, as access to stores and money for purchasing items are scarce.

“A lot of people don’t have rides to go off the reservation, they don’t have the cash to get a lot of stuff themselves, and a lot of people were laid off, too, because of the casino closing,” she said. “So they don’t have the money to get the kinds of nice clothes that some of these donations are providing.”

Once the donations are delivered to the reservation, they will be distributed to the reservation’s district leaders and given out to families from there, Janis said.

Abourezk said he was happy to see individuals from across Lincoln working together to make the donation possible.

“It’s just been incredible, amazing, that people have been willing to do so much to make this all happen,” he said.

Sand Creek Massacre Statue To Replace Torn Down Soldier Monument At Colorado’s Capitol

A proposed clay rendering of the statue, though this model doesn't represent the final work.
A proposed clay rendering of the statue, though this model doesn’t represent the final work.

The Civil War soldier statue toppled during the summer of protests at Colorado’s Capitol will be replaced with a sculpture of an American Indian woman mourning the atrocities of the Sand Creek Massacre. 

The decision came Friday afternoon in a 7-2 vote of the Capitol Building Advisory Committee. Representatives from the tribes which suffered at Sand Creek 156 years ago spoke to the committee.

“They were wiped out,” Otto Braided Hair, of the Northern Cheyenne and a descendant of Sand Creek survivors, told the committee. “Their voices are no longer heard. Their wishes and concerns were no longer heard. Those are the people we speak for.”

Now that the location of the statue has been decided, the issue now goes before the legislature to iron out how big the monument and its pedestal will be and how it will get to Colorado from Oklahoma where a seven-inch high prototype has already been approved. 

Harvey Pratt, a Sand Creek descendant who was commissioned to create the statue by One Earth Future, said the idea to use a grieving Native American mother for the statue came to him in a dream. 

“It’s really about the women. The women carry the men in the tribes on their backs. I wanted to depict a woman,” he said. “She’s in mourning and she’s kneeling, just sitting down. She’s lost her baby and maybe her grandparents. She’s got cuts on her legs and she’s cut her finger off.”

The woman bears an empty cradleboard symbolizing the loss of her child. She is reaching north with one arm, symbolizing the direction of the tribes’ retreat. 

“She’s not asking to be spared. She’s saying ‘Remember us. don’t forget us. I’ve lost my whole family,’” Pratt explained.

Artist Harvey Pratt.

Two hundred and thirty Cheyenne and Arapahoe, mostly women, elderly and children, were slaughtered on Nov. 29, 1864, when volunteers from the 1st and 3rd Colorado Cavalry regiments ambushed them at sun-up. The soldier statue that had been at the Capitol — it now temporarily lives at History Colorado — has been intertwined with the massacre as it was designed by Capt. Jack Howland, a member of the 1st Cavalry.

The 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho had been promised a peaceful existence by the government. After the attack, Army soldiers burned the camp and took trophies from the bodies, which they displayed in a parade through Denver, where they were initially hailed as conquerors.

The massacre was a toxin to relationships and a catalyst for wars between the U.S. Army and Native Americans for years.

Pratt’s great-grandparents escaped the massacre in their bare feet, running through late-November snow and ice. He told the committee that as a child he was told to keep his shoes by the bed in case the family should have to flee in the middle of the night.

“In case something like that happened again, at least we wouldn’t be barefoot,” he said. 

A Renaissance Man and Vietnam veteran, Pratt has a multi-layered career that includes half-a-century with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. There, he created witness description drawings in over 5000 cases, such as high profile investigations as the Oklahoma City Bombing, Ted Bundy, “BTK killer” Dennis Rader and the “I-5 killer” Randall Brent Woodfield.

He also developed a process called soft tissue reconstruction and has drawn hundreds of sketches that demonstrate a missing child’s progression to adulthood.

The Civil War soldier which fell this past June had stood on the west side of the Capitol since 1909. In 1999, lawmakers worked to correct the whitewashing of history by the statue and affixed a marker that noted, “By designating Sand Creek a battle, the monument’s designers mischaracterized the actual events.”

In 2014, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper formally apologized for the Sand Creek Massacre.

As a law enforcement officer, Pratt did not agree with the destruction of property he saw during the summer of protests.

“I think there’s ways to protest. It’s just gotten plumb out of hand, he said. “I have a hard time understanding that. Based on the way I was raised and being respectful.”

He was commissioned to sculpt the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor” for the American Indian Veterans Memorial and was present at the dedication this past Veterans’ Day. 

The last month has been a culmination of years of work and sacrifice for Pratt as a lawman, a Southern Cheyenne Peace Chief and an artist.

“I think that the creator blessed me. He gave me a special skill,” Pratt told Colorado Matters. “God gives everyone a gift and not everyone pays attention to it. That was my gift. And I used it.”

By Carol McKinley November 21, 2020 CPR NEWS

In Trump v. Biden, Native American voters played a crucial role. It’s time to recognize that.

Key battleground states, like Arizona, Wisconsin and North Carolina, experienced the power of Indigenous activism and ballots.

Image: Horse riders head to the polls in Kayenta, Ariz., Nov. 3, 2020. (Sharon Chischilly/The New York Times)

Horse riders head to the polls in Kayenta, Ariz., in the Navajo Nation, on Nov. 3.Sharon Chischilly / The New York Times via Redux PicturesNov. 27, 2020, 1:32 PM +04By Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress

On Election Night, CNN broadcast a table showing the results of an exit poll that broke the national electorate down into racial demographics. It read: White — 65 percent, Latino — 13 percent, Black — 12 percent, Something else — 6 percent, Asian — 3 percent. Almost immediately, that second-to-last category, “Something Else,” provoked an online uproar among the digital denizens of Indian Country.

In this grand scramble for votes in elections that are increasingly decided by razor-thin margins, Native people are almost always overlooked or forgotten.

We were outraged that CNN had, rather clumsily, grouped the First Peoples of this land in with — well, literally everyone else. “In an election largely driven by race, the media still fails to accurately cover voters of color,” Cherokee activist Rebecca Nagle tweeted alongside a photo of the segment. “For Native Americans, we’re not even named.”

Nearly every post on the Indigenous internet was, for a hot minute, contributing to the “Something Else” discourse. “Last night I went to bed Indigenous,” said @kevin_flyingsky on TikTok. “And this morning I woke up something else!” Someone on Facebook posted a screenshot of the CNN table with “Something Else” crossed out and “Cousins” written in, instead. I even joined in, changing my name on Twitter to, you guessed it, Something Else.

As with most internet phenomena, the posts circled an important truth. Native people are often erased in the media and elections. Every two years, the national parties devote enormous resources to mobilizing their bases and persuading swing voters. Campaigns microtarget voters by geography, race, gender, age, religion, educational background, class and much more, all of which the media covers like it’s the Super Bowl. But in this grand scramble for votes in elections that are increasingly decided by razor-thin margins, Native people are almost always overlooked or forgotten.

This isn’t because Native people don’t care about elections. In Rapid City and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the nonprofit group IllumiNatives put up billboards that read: “Democracy is Indigenous.” On Election Day, citizens of the Navajo Nation paradedtheir horses to the polls. On the White Mountain Apache reservation, crown dancers led voters to the ballot box. And although data quality varies by state, Native voter turnout across the country increased significantly. Among the Navajo Nation, where more data is available, many precincts saw 40 percent to 60 percent increases in participation, according to an analysis by Arizona Democratic Party operative Keith Brekhus.

Rep. Deb Haaland: ‘Native American voters will not be intimidated’

OCT. 18, 202009:07

Yet the prevailing electoral calculus says those votes are too few to bother putting much effort into pursuing. After all, in the 2010 census, Native Americans accounted for just 1.7 percent of the U.S. population. Native people also face many barriers to voting, including state laws that can prohibit the use of tribal IDs, restrictions preventing people from using post office boxes to register (some parts of Indian reservations lack street addresses), a dearth of voting materials in Indigenous languages, long distances to polling places without transportation and much more.

Add in that many states with significant Native populations — who tend to prefer the Democratic Party by about 25 points — also happen to be Republican strongholds, and devoting attention and resources becomes an even harder sell for many campaigns. In North and South Dakota, for example, where Native Americans are more than 5 percent of the population, Democrats lost the presidential race by 34 and 26 points, respectively.

But the outcome of the 2020 election proved that line of thinking wrong. In key battleground states, like Arizona, Wisconsin and North Carolina, Native voters played an important, though underappreciated, role in shaping the outcome.

Take Wisconsin, home to about 86,000 Native Americans, which Joe Biden won by about 20,000 votes. Biden won 1,303 votes for 82 percent of the vote in Menominee County, home of the Menominee Nation — his highest vote share of any county in the state.

Or take Bayfield County in northern Wisconsin, home to the Red Cliff Ojibwe, where about 11 percent of the population is Native. Biden won there, as well, 6,147 votes to 4,617. About 1,000 votes in Menominee County and about 1,500 votes in Bayfield County look an awful lot more important when Biden’s margin of victory is in the low five figures.

Or consider the Navajo Nation, the largest Indian reservation in the United States, which stretches across parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. In Arizona, which Biden won by just 10,500 votes, it’s hard not to argue that the Native vote in general (6 percentof the state’s population) and the Navajo vote in particular (67,000people of voting age) weren’t crucial.

IMAGE: Voting in the Navajo Nation
Voters wait to enter the Shiprock Chapter House in New Mexico in the Navajo Nation to cast ballots Nov. 3.Noel Lyn Smith / The Daily Times via USA Today Network

Overall, according to Brekhus’ reading of the data, precincts on the Navajo Nation averaged about 84 percent for Biden and 14 percent for President Donald Trump. With Arizona decided by so few votes, the Navajo may legitimately claim that their ballots made the difference. Biden and other Democrats likely couldn’t have carried Arizona — its 11 Electoral College votes and its Senate seat — without them.

But we also have to talk about Robeson County, North Carolina, where members of the Lumbee tribe are 40 percent of the electorate. The Lumbee, who aren’t recognized as a tribe by the federal government, have been seeking legal affirmation of their nation and identity for decades. Ahead of the election, Trump held a rally in Robeson County promising the Lumbee recognition if he won.

Trump won 59 percent of the vote and Biden won just 40 percent, compared to 58 percent for President Barack Obama and 41 percent for Republican challenger Mitt Romney in 2012. The Lumbee, as Laguna Pueblo journalist Jenni Monet predicted, played a significant part in delivering North Carolina, its 15 Electoral College votes and a Senate seat to the Grand Old Party.

Trump, for all his faults, understood the value of the Lumbee vote, which helped him win a state that many polls had him losing. His willingness to pursue the Lumbee with explicit and concrete policies that would benefit Native people and their tribes suggests that future campaigns would be wise to do the same.

Indeed, around the country, Native people seem to vote at relatively high rates. Although candidates may have been able to plead ignorance about this in the past, wonks like University of Michigan professor Stephanie Fryberg are providing detailed survey-backed research. The Indigenous Futures Project — based on a survey of 6,400 Native people representing 401 tribes — found, for example, that 77 percent of respondents said they voted in the last election (though, to be clear, a poll isn’t a perfect proxy for the real world, because people can lie, forget or otherwise misrepresent their actions).

If nothing else, campaigns and the journalists who cover them should pay more attention to Indian Country because the stories — and memes — are just too damn good: Navajos on horseback, crown dancers in full regalia, a coordinated clapback heard round the World Wide Web. I mean, us Natives, we’re really something else, right?

Nov. 27, 2020, 1:32 PM +04 By Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress

6 Thanksgiving Myths and the Wampanoag Side of the Story

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. This illustration shows a Thanksgiving Day celebration at Plymouth Colony with a “Hot Dog” vendor in the foreground, a “Pink Firewater” booth on the upper left, where the Natives have congregated, and a large group of Pilgrims entering a stockade for a football game, “Ye Indians versus Ye Pilgrims”, which is about to begin.

Vincent Schilling Nov 15, 2017

The Thanksgiving Day Celebration Originated From a Massacre.

Considering Indian Country Today has published its fair share of the true history of Thanksgiving, in which 90 Wampanoag shared provisions with the Pilgrims in 1621, we thought we would take a bit of time delving into some of the most common misconceptions about the November holiday, especially since many Americans think it’s the only thing happening in November.

RELATED: Video: Man on the Street—Do You Know What November Is?

The Thanksgiving Day Celebration Originated From a Massacre

In 1621, though Pilgrims celebrated a feast, it was not repeated in the years to follow. In 1636, a murdered white man was found in his boat and the Pequot were blamed. In retaliation, settlers burned Pequot villages.

Additionally, English Major John Mason rallied his troops to further burn Pequot wigwams and then attacked and killed hundreds more men, women and children. According to Mason’s reports of the massacre, “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.”

The Governor of Plymouth William Bradford wrote: “Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.”

The day after the massacre, William Bradford wrote that “from that day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanks giving for subduing the Pequots” and “For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

Native Americans and the Pilgrims Were “Besties”

The above statement is straight from the mouth of a fifth-grader at Long Elementary School in Ohio, who stated the Indians (Wampanoag) and Pilgrims were not “besties” or best friends. True to this statement, the pilgrims in Massachusetts were far from friendly. Soon after arriving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Pilgrims went into Indians’ dwellings and cornfields and took whatever they wanted leaving beads behind. But that isn’t the picture that is painted by many accounts of the first Thanksgiving.

According to one colonist’s account in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen: “The next morning we found a place like a grave. We decided to dig it up. We found first a mat, and under that a fine bow… We also found bowls, trays, dishes, and things like that. We took several of the prettiest things to carry away with us, and covered the body up again.”

The Pilgrims settled in an area that was once Patuxet, a Wampanoag village, but it had been abandoned four years prior because of a deadly outbreak of a plague brought by European traders. Before 1616, the Wampanoag numbered 50,000 to 100,000, occupying 69 villages scattered throughout southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The plague, however, killed thousands, up to two-thirds, of them. Many also had been captured and sold as slaves.

This is a popular image of the first Thanksgiving, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. But this is definitely NOT what happened.

Native Americans and Pilgrims Came Together to Give Thanks and Celebrate

In 1621, when the Pilgrims were celebrating a successful harvest, they were shooting guns and cannons into the air. The Wampanoag chief and 90 warriors made their way to the settlement in full warrior mode—in response to the gunfire. As the Huffington Post’s Richard Schiffman puts it, “It remains an open question, however, whether the Wampanoag were actually invited, or if they crashed the party.”

The Pilgrims were most likely nervous—the Wampanoag outnumbered the Pilgrims two to one, but it certainly wasn’t the happy picture put forth in many history books. According to Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Ramona Peters, “It was Abraham Lincoln who used the theme of Pilgrims and Indians eating happily together. He was trying to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was like a nice unity story.”

RELATED: The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

They Ate Turkey, Sweet Potatoes and Cranberry Sauce at the First Thanksgiving

According to many historical accounts, there is no proof of turkey gobbling at the 1621 meal, but there was wild fowl (most likely geese or duck). Sweet potatoes were not yet grown in North American and cranberries are not a likely dessert food because sugar was an unaffordable luxury. Other items on the table included such things as venison, pumpkin, succotash and Indian corn.

A typical Thanksgiving dinner today includes turkey, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. But this could not have been what was served traditionally.

RELATED: 1621: The Original Surf & Turf Meal

Europeans Appreciated Squanto’s Help

Many have heard the story of the friendly Indian Squanto who learned English from fishermen and later taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and other vegetables. But what many history books don’t share is that Squanto was kidnapped as a boy and sold into slavery in Spain. After several years, Squanto struggled to get back to Cape Cod.

When he returned to his village, he discovered he was the only member of his tribe that remained—the rest were either killed in battle or died of disease during his absence.

Another myth here would be to note that Squanto did not learn English solely to help the colonists—it was a necessity to facilitate his escape so he could return home.

This 1911 illustration shows Squanto or Tisquantum teaching the Plymouth colonists to plant corn with fish. Bricker, Garland Armor. The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School. New York: Macmillan, 1911/Wikimedia Commons

Pilgrims Taught Indians About Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims did not introduce the sentiment of Thanksgiving to the Indians. According to Loewen, “Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Our modern celebrations date back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them ‘Pilgrims’ until the 1870s.”

This article was originally published on 11/28/13.

Follow Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling on Twitter at @VinceSchilling.

Indigenous people across the US want their land back — and the movement is gaining momentum

(CNN) – Around this time every year, Americans come together to share a feast commemorating a myth about its first inhabitants.An indigenous tribe did eat with the Pilgrims in 1621 and sign a treaty with the colonists that had settled on their shores — an act of survival rather one of goodwill and friendship. But the relationship would eventually break down, decimating the tribe’s population and whittling away its land.Nearly 400 years later, the descendants of the very tribe at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday are still fighting to reclaim their lands — a fight that ironically hinges on whether or not the tribe meets the federal government’s definition of “Indian.””We’re kind of stereotyped as the tribes that met the Pilgrims and that’s our whole history, like we ceased to exist in 1621,” said Robert Maxim, a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”Mashpee Wampanoag marchers head to their traditional powwow grounds to hold a rally on October 6, 2018.

Mashpee Wampanoag marchers head to their traditional powwow grounds to hold a rally on October 6, 2018.The Mashpee Wampanoag have lived in what’s now Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. Despite their storied history in the US, they weren’t recognized by the federal government until 2007. And in recent years, court rulings challenging whether the tribe’s reservation is eligible to be put in trust have posed an existential threat.Their fight is one in a broader movement by indigenous people across North America to reclaim their lands — a movement that is gaining steam as the nation grapples with injustices committed against marginalized communities.Each battle is unique. For some, reclamation is about identity: ceremonies, connections to ancestors and traditional knowledge. For others, it’s about economics: being able to hunt for food, access clean water and build homes or schools. And it can be about sovereigntyjurisdiction and governance.close dialog

Want to understand American politics?We’ve got you.Sign Me UpNo ThanksBy subscribing you agree to ourprivacy policy.Ultimately, it’s about getting indigenous lands back in indigenous hands. Though the fight is not new, activists are seizing on the moment to amplify their demands. Because finally, some non-Natives are paying attention.

Their claims to the land are in limbo

“The origin of being Indigenous is location and ties to the land,” said Randall Akee, an associate professor of public policy and American Indian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.So, the demand is simple: Give us the land back.Their claims are rooted in the US government’s dark history of removing indigenous people from their lands, whether through forced seizure or through treaties that promised them other lands or services.

After 250 years, Native American tribe regains ownership of Big Sur ancestral lands

After 250 years, Native American tribe regains ownership of Big Sur ancestral landsMaxim was born in Mashpee, Massachusetts, and raised in a nearby town. He said he’s seen so many areas that once belonged to Mashpee Wampanoag citizens now overtaken by people who don’t understand its history.In the face of everything the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has endured, it has managed to maintain its identity. So the fact that it’s now losing its connection to the land is especially frustrating, Maxim said.In 2015, the federal government declared it would place about 300 acres of land in Massachusetts into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, turning it into a reservation — a victory after decades of trying to reclaim land.The trust status meant that the land couldn’t be taken away from the Mashpee Wampanoag without the approval of the federal government. It also gave the tribe sovereignty, allowing it to build housing, a school and police department on the land.A wooden sign advises motorists of the location of Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal lands in Massachusetts. A wooden sign advises motorists of the location of Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal lands in Massachusetts.But in 2018, the Department of the Interior reversed that decision after a lawsuit brought by area residents, saying the land was ineligible for trust status because the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe wasn’t under federal jurisdiction in 1934. In March of this year, the tribe learned that the US would be taking their land out of trust.”It’s worth underscoring how absurd it is that the descendants of the tribe that met Pilgrims, who every American learns about around this time of year, couldn’t meet the definition of a ‘tribe,'” Maxim said. “It’s just a perfect illustration of how messed up, and really, anti-Native, federal Indian policy has been throughout our history.”A federal judge blocked the government from disestablishing the reservation, but the Interior Department appealed the ruling in August.Now, the tribe is in limbo.

A rare triumph in a centuries-long battle

Yet, one tribe seems to be an outlier.For thousands of years, the Wiyot people were the stewards of Duluwat Island, situated in the marshes and estuaries of what’s now Humboldt Bay along California’s northern coast. Then in 1860, a group of White settlers interrupted the tribe’s annual world renewal ceremony and massacred scores of Wiyot women, children and elders.

Members of the Wiyot tribe paddle a canoe from Duluwat Island across Humboldt Bay on June 25, 2004.Members of the Wiyot tribe paddle a canoe from Duluwat Island across Humboldt Bay on June 25, 2004.In the years since, the island had been transformed into a shipyard. By 1990, it lay vacant, scattered with scrap metal and contaminated with toxic chemicals.Last year, the Wiyot had reclaimed almost all of Duluwat Island — the culmination of decades of efforts to get back their ancestral land.When 1.5 acres on the island went up for sale, the tribe raised $106,000 to buy it back in 2000. A few years later, the city of Eureka agreed to give them back about 40 more acres. Then in 2015, the Eureka City Council voted to return the remaining 200 acres the city owned on the island, a commitment it made official last year.The return of Duluwat Island is perhaps the first time that a US municipality repatriated land to an indigenous tribe without strings attached.”It’s part of our completion story,” said Ted Hernandez, chairman of the Wiyot tribe.The Wiyot tribe celebrates the return of Duluwat Island in a ceremony in Eureka, California, on October 21, 2019. The Wiyot tribe celebrates the return of Duluwat Island in a ceremony in Eureka, California, on October 21, 2019.Since first purchasing those 1.5 acres, the Wiyot tribe has been working to restore the island back to its original state.Volunteers helped move a large engine off the island. They did away with a wall of sea batteries that was eroding the shell midden. And they worked with other partners to remove the toxic chemicals that had contaminated the soil.In 2014, they danced on the island again, completing the ceremony that had been cut short more than 150 years ago.”The island is just one part of our journey,” said Cheryl Seidner, a tribal elder and former Wiyot chairwoman. “The other part of the journey is walking on the earth and knowing that it is all sacred and that we need to take care of it and watch over it.”

Some non-Natives are trying to make amends

Even before the current political moment, some people were searching for ways to atone for the removal of indigenous people from their lands.Kim Bergel, a member of the Eureka City Council, first learned about the Wiyot massacre during a third grade field trip while on a ferry tour of Humboldt Bay. She remembers being bothered by the history of Duluwat Island as a child. But as she grew older, she came to understand the magnitude of what transpired there.Years later, Bergel found herself on the same boat with Seidner. Seidner brought up that the city should return the rest of its land on the island to the Wiyot people, and Bergel said she agreed.A photo of Duluwat Island in the morning, captured by Eureka City Councilmember Kim Bergel.A photo of Duluwat Island in the morning, captured by Eureka City Councilmember Kim Bergel.That prospect, along with other frustrations about Eureka’s dealings with the tribe, was why she ran for city council in 2014.”For me, personally, it was very important for healing in our city to do the right thing,” Bergel said.After being elected, she and fellow councilmember Natalie Arroyo began coordinating efforts with Eureka and the Wiyot tribe. By 2015, all the members of the city council were on board with giving back the rest of Eureka’s land on Duluwat Island. But because of bureaucratic hurdles, it wasn’t officially transferred until October 2019.Wiyot Tribal Chair Ted Hernandez and Eureka, California, Mayor Susan Seaman sign the deed transferring the city's land on Duluwat Island to the Tribe.Wiyot Tribal Chair Ted Hernandez and Eureka, California, Mayor Susan Seaman sign the deed transferring the city’s land on Duluwat Island to the Tribe.The day that the city returned the land to the tribe was “the best, most beautiful day of my life,” Bergel said.”After all of the horrible things that had happened, that our city was so interested in doing this and showing up, that it was a full house … it was awesome,” she said.On the other side of the country, the United Methodist Church recently returned a plot of land in Ohio to the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma.The mission church and cemetery that sat on that land in Upper Sandusky is a historical site for the Wyandotte Nation, which once inhabited the area. A Black Methodist missionary named John Stewart encountered the Wyandottes there in the early 1800’s, and soon the church went on to set up the Wyandotte Indian Mission.The Wyandotte Nation and the United Methodist Church gather at a cemetery in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.The Wyandotte Nation and the United Methodist Church gather at a cemetery in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.The Wyandottes would worship and study at that church for decades before the US government forced them to leave their homes and move west. But before they left, they entrusted the Methodists to care for the land in their absence.As the church was preparing to celebrate 200 years of missions, it met with the Wyandottes and floated the idea of returning the land as a way of honoring their centuries-long relationship, said Thomas Kemper, the church’s former general secretary of global ministries.The tribe accepted. And last year, the church gave back the land.The Methodists had a friendly relationship with the Wyandottes, Kemper said, unlike other religious institutions that attempted to erase the heritage of Indigenous people. But the church’s interactions with other Indigenous tribes were sometimes uglier.”It contributes to the healing of past wrongs — which have been done by the church to Native and Indigenous people — because it’s a concrete act,” Kemper said. “It’s not just the words, but it’s also a concrete act of giving, of returning this land, of deeding it back to the Wyandotte.”Thomas Kemper, the former general secretary of global ministries for the United Methodist Church, and Wyandotte Nation Chief Billy Friend hold a deed signifying the transfer of land to the tribe.Thomas Kemper, the former general secretary of global ministries for the United Methodist Church, and Wyandotte Nation Chief Billy Friend hold a deed signifying the transfer of land to the tribe.Wyandotte Chief Billy Friend recognized the rarity of that moment. He said the tribe plans to make repairs to the church, put the land in a trust and eventually have it deemed a historic landmark.”Very seldom do people want to give things back to us,” Friend said. “It was just an honor to see people wanting to do the right thing.”

A call to close Mount Rushmore

As more Americans reflect on and reckon with the country’s racial injustices, the nonprofit advocacy organization NDN Collective says it is partnering with groups such as the Movement for Black Lives to amplify land back movements and achieve what it calls collective liberation.For NDN Collective, it started with demanding that Mount Rushmore be closedand all public lands in the Black Hills be returned “back to the original stewards,” said Krystal Two Bulls, an Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne activist for NDN Collective.On July 3, activists from NDN Collective were among those who assembled on a highway leading to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. They were there to protest not only President Donald Trump’s visit there that day, but also the monument of Mount Rushmore itself — a demonstration that took place as protesters around the country were demanding the removal of statues and monuments honoring racist figures.Activists and tribal citizens block the road to Mount Rushmore National Monument during a protest on July 3, 2020.Activists and tribal citizens block the road to Mount Rushmore National Monument during a protest on July 3, 2020.The massive granite carving of four US presidents is situated in the Black Hills, an area considered sacred ground for the Lakota people. The Black Hills were granted to the Lakota in an 1868 treaty, a promise that the US went back on in 1877 when gold was discovered on the land.The Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that the land was taken wrongfully and that the Lakota were entitled to compensation that has since grown beyond $1 billion. But the Lakota have never collected: What they want are the Black Hills.The Mount Rushmore protest was the catalyst for the LANDBACK campaign that NDN Collective launched on Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year.The campaign is both a vehicle to continue the fight for the return of the Black Hills and a mechanism to connect land reclamation movements across the country and coordinate resources, Two Bulls said.”We are in a moment of the political climate with people really acknowledging what is and isn’t working for us,” Two Bulls said. “That converged into this moment that we’re currently in.”The momentum has been building since the early organizing of their indigenous ancestors, Two Bulls said. Now, as Americans reexamine their history, it’s reached a boiling point.

By Harmeet Kaur, CNN Updated 2324 GMT (0724 HKT) November 26, 2020

Canada : Indigenous man and granddaughter, 12, handcuffed after trying to open bank account

Maxwell Johnson, of the Heiltsuk Nation, launches two human rights complaints after arrest at Vancouver bank in December

The bank and Vancouver police have apologized for the incident. Johnson said: ‘It’s affected me quite a bit. It’s affected my motivation, my thought process, quite a bit of stuff.’
 The bank and Vancouver police have apologized for the incident. Johnson said: ‘It’s affected me quite a bit. It’s affected my motivation, my thought process, quite a bit of stuff.’ Photograph: Chris Wattie/Reuters

An Indigenous man in Canada has launched two human rights complaints after he and his 12-year old granddaughter were arrested and handcuffed as they tried to open a bank account.

Maxwell Johnson, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, visited a Vancouver branch of the Bank of Montreal in December to open an account for his granddaughter Tori-Anne.

But bank staff did not believe the two were Indigenous after failing to verify the authenticity of their government-issued Indian status cards. Staff were also suspicious about the size of a deposit in Johnson’s account, prompting an employee to call the police.

In a transcript of the call to police, released by the Heiltsuk Nation, bank staff alleged the two were committing fraud, telling police the two had presented “fake” identifications. The employee also told the dispatcher that Johnson and his granddaughter were “South Asian”.

“It gets so tiring trying to prove who you are as a First Nations person,” Johnson told the Canadian Press.

Bank staff expressed concerns after numbers in Tori-Anne’s status card didn’t match a database and they saw a recent C$30,000 deposit in Johnson’s account – part of an Aboriginal rights settlement – even though Johnson presented bank staff with his status card, birth certificate and client card.

When police officers arrived, they put both Johnson and his granddaughter in handcuffs. According to a police report, the officers believed Tori-Anne was “16 or 17”, but removed the handcuffs after they realized she was 12.

Johnson has accused the Vancouver police department and the Bank of Montreal of racism in complaints at the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

“It’s affected me quite a bit,” said Johnson. “When this happened to us, my anxiety just went through the roof. I started counselling again. It’s affected my motivation, my thought process, quite a bit of stuff.”

The bank and Vancouver police have apologized for the incident. The bank has created an Indigenous advisory council and new training for staff. Vancouver police said they are reviewing current policy, but both organizations deny the incident that race was involved.

Members of the Heiltsuk Nation, however, say Johnson is owed justice.

“From the BMO manager deciding our members didn’t belong, to the 911 call to police, to the cuffing, detention and questioning of Max and his granddaughter about how they came to be at the bank, this was a clear case of racial profiling and systemic racism,” Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation, said in a statement.

“Max and his granddaughter deserve justice for the pain this incident caused, and BMO and the VPD must take steps to ensure this never happens again.”

Leyland Cecco in Toronto Tue 24 Nov 2020 18.44 GMT

The Guardian

‘As long as you love Jesus’: The battle for Pine Ridge’s children’

Why do so many Christian missionaries descend on the Native American reservation, and how do residents feel about them?

The Holy Rosary Catholic Church on Pine Ridge Reservation; in 2012 a teacher at the adjacent Jesuit-sponsored school did not have his contract renewed after he violated a policy on maintaining appropriate boundaries with children. He was later accused of sexually assaulting children at another school [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]
By Stephen Starr
21 Oct 2020

The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota covers approximately 2.8 million acres (1.13 million hectares) and is home to almost 20,000 members of the Oglala Lakota people. Within the reservation’s borders is the Badlands National Park, a vast expanse of karst table mesa formations, and a dozen small towns and settlements.

On the quiet main street of its largest town, also named Pine Ridge, there is a new supermarket, a Taco John’s fast-food restaurant, a gas station and a Pizza Hut.

There is also the Holy Cross Episcopal Church facing the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which is a stone’s throw from the Joint Presbyterian-Lutheran Ministry and an adjacent retreat centre that is used for Christian-themed gatherings and for handing out food parcels. The churches and other Christian buildings, a hodge-podge of structures built in the 1960s and 70s, look dated and worn.

Further down the broad main street is Higher Ground, the town’s sole cafe. Last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it belted out Christian rock and pop music to a stream of largely non-Indigenous customers. Many of them were Christian missionaries – a few of the younger ones were on their first visit to the reservation but many were middle-aged and returned year after year.

A short distance further out of town is the Potter House Church and a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Churches, retreat centres and missions dominate Pine Ridge’s streetscapes and bucolic badlands. In fact, there is one church here for every 388 people – making it second only to Indianapolis in the United States (with a church for every 289 people) in terms of the number of religious organisations per capita.

The vast Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is home to the Oglala Sioux Nation [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

A history of abuse and cultural cleansing

But Christian missionaries and churches hold a grim place in the historical consciousness of Native Americans.

In the late 1800s, boarding schools were set up and run by religious orders with the sole remit of assimilating Native American children into the Christian culture of the white settlers while attempting to destroy their connections to their own culture, languages, traditions and families.

For almost a century, Indigenous children were taken from their homes and sent to one of the hundreds of boarding schools across the US and Canada. There, they suffered starvation, neglect, illnesses such as tuberculosis, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Many children did not survive the schools.

In addition, the US government policy of forcible assimilation led to thousands of Native American children being adopted by white families during the 1950s and 60s.

But despite the decades of abuse and cultural cleansing, today, Native American children still find themselves surrounded by missionaries.

Davidica Little Spotted Horse is working to shed light on missionaries’ conversion efforts on the reservation [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘They don’t see what they’re doing as wrong’

Davidica Little Spotted Horse is a 47-year-old musician who lives in Oglala, a town about 15 minutes’ drive north of Pine Ridge town. It is home to about 1,300 people and the Re*Creation & Worship Center, the Oyate Concern Missionaries and the Our Lady of the Sioux Church. With their brightly-painted wine and teal coloured roofs, the structures – some of the largest in the community – stand out against the mainly ageing trailers and mobile homes inhabited by residents.

She recalled the first time she saw missionaries on the reservation. “I was driving along with my ex-husband in Oglala. It was a Sunday morning and I saw all these cars parked together,” she said. “I asked him what was going on and he said it was a Christian service gathering. I’d never heard about this before”

She was not immediately concerned and, like many other parents in the community, allowed her children to play at the Re*Creation and Worship Center, a mission church with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God group of churches, for the simple reason that it had a playground.

But then, one day, her daughter, who was about 10 years old at the time, came home complaining of pain in her knees. She had been made to kneel on the gravel, she said.

“Then someone from our community called and told me [the centre] had a wall lined with certificates of baptisms, and they saw my kids’ names on them,” she recalled.

“I asked my kids and they said there was a small wading pool where the children were told to lie down and they were dunked in.”

“They had no idea what had happened.”

Little Spotted Horse said she confronted the centre’s leaders and was asked to leave. Her children never went back. The Re*Creation and Worship Center declined to respond to Al Jazeera’s queries about whether baptising children without their parents’ permission was or remains among its activities.

“They don’t see what they’re doing as wrong,” said Little Spotted Horse. “They think they’re entitled to do this weird stuff.” These incidents prompted Little Spotted Horse to begin investigating what churches and missionaries were doing across the reservation.

Christian propaganda material is still commonly distributed around Native communities on the reservation; this one claims Jesus is greater than the Lakota god, Tunkasila [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘Poverty porn’

She started speaking to members of her community and asking them to share their accounts of incidents with religious groups.

“About 130 people flooded forward,” she explained. “They said that there were incidents of sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse. Picking up children without permission, their parents not knowing what is going on.”

She relayed the story of a mother who allowed her child to be taken by missionaries to play with other children at a nearby religious venue, but when the child was not returned at the prearranged time, she panicked, calling the police and organising a search. The child was returned several hours later, but the missionaries left without ever explaining the reason for the delay or being spoken to by tribal police.

Little Spotted Horse also said she believes missions are using images of Native children to fundraise for their own organisations.

“Honestly, I think all the churches are here just to make money because they do the poverty porn thing – ‘Look at these poor Natives, give to us, give to us, we’re going to save them.’” She exhaled and looked down at her infant granddaughter who was trying to wriggle free from her arms.

Her activism culminated in a 2017 tribal ordinance that requires groups coming to the reservation to report to the tribal authorities and adhere to background checks and drug testing for individuals working around children. “If they don’t, we can call the cops and have them escorted off the reservation,” she said.

About 60 percent of children live under the poverty threshold on Pine Ridge Reservation, compared with 21 percent nationwide [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘Thanks for asking’

Duane Yellowhawk, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council’s law and order committee, estimated that there are 70 to 100 churches on the reservation.

“I can’t exactly say, but there’s a lot of churches around,” he said.

An additional 30 to 45 missions descend on the area every spring and summer, he explained.

The missions – which bring people from across the US to the reservation – take Lakota children swimming, camping and on other trips while introducing them to Christianity. Some missionary organisations also work on much-needed infrastructure projects, including building ramps for wheelchair users and painting homes.

But Yellowhawk said he does not believe the churches or missions are required to get permission from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council that runs the reservation before they arrive.

The situation is unclear. While the law and order committee is responsible for enforcing the ordinance, Yellowhawk said during his term he has not seen any background checks provided by Christian organisations. Little Spotted Horse, however, maintains that it is the law.

Other tribal council members contacted by Al Jazeera declined to comment on the role Christian organisations play in life on the reservation.

While a number of groups carry out important infrastructure and relief work, some reports of disturbing incidents have emerged. In March 2019, a priest with the Holy Spirit church who had previously worked on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe located 160km (100 miles) northeast of Pine Ridge was sentenced to six years in jail for sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in Rapid City, South Dakota, 65km (40 miles) northwest of Pine Ridge.

In a 2019 article, the newspaper Indian Country Today reported on the case of T, a woman from Pine Ridge who was allegedly sexually abused as a child over four years by a member of the Re*Creation and Worship Center. T declined to speak to Al Jazeera for this article, citing acute discomfort with dredging up the past.

“When she finally came forward because no one believed her, [tribal police] said they couldn’t prosecute because it was her word against the guy’s word,” said Little Spotted Horse, who is familiar with the case.

Eric Sutton, the lead pastor at the centre, told Indian Country Today of the alleged perpetrator, “I fired him as soon as I heard about the charges. The last I heard, he was in Pennsylvania.”

Queries put to Sutton by Al Jazeera via email as to whether background checks are currently being performed on volunteers working around children were answered with: “We have no comment. Thanks for asking.”

The Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Pine Ridge town centre is one of the many Christian institutions that dominate streetscapes across the reservation [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘Is Jesus Christ your saviour?’

Travelling around Pine Ridge before the pandemic forced it to close its borders to visitors for a time earlier this year, the presence of missionaries and their apparent evangelising could be seen everywhere.

At the local Pizza Hut, about a third of the customers in a one-hour period were non-Native. Many wore T-shirts bearing the names of mission groups and churches.

At the Higher Ground cafe, a middle-aged white woman spoke to two Native high school students. “Is Jesus Christ your saviour?” she asked them. She spoke intensely to the children, who disclosed which high school class they were in but otherwise remained mostly silent. “Jesus Christ never did anything wrong,” she stressed before buying them a drink, giving them some money and leaving.

Calls later made to the cafe’s owner requesting comment on missionaries’ activities on their premises did not receive a response. Emails sent to a number of mission groups asking whether Lakota children they or their volunteers interact with receive money for any reason also went unanswered.

A ban on proselytising

The Oglala Lakota Nation Wacipi and Fair celebration usually held at the pow wow grounds on the outskirts of Pine Ridge every August (but cancelled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic) is an important social, cultural and spiritual gathering for Lakota peoples from across the US. Hundreds of Lakota gather over three days to watch and take part in drum-beating, dance and regalia competitions and events. The sound of Lakota ceremonial songs fills the still South Dakota air. Next to the pow wow grounds are a rodeo event, a carnival, and a campsite where friends and families chat late into the night.

But here too, the missionaries were prominent last August. Next to the main entrance was a stand for the Jehovah’s Witnesses by which a well-dressed, young white man and a young Native woman stood. When Al Jazeera directed a question to the woman, the man interjected, asking that press questions related to their work on the reservation be directed to their website. Emails to the Jehovah’s Witnesses general counsel in New York, asking whether the organisation thought it appropriate to appear at this traditional, spiritual Lakota event, went unanswered.

The annual pow wow or ‘wacipi’ is a spiritual, family event for Pine Ridge’s residents, but here too missionaries make their presence felt [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]Of course, many of the Christian groups aim to help a community where 60 percent of the children live under the poverty threshold (compared with 21 percent nationally), where life expectancy is the lowest in the US and where, in August, a suicide emergency was declared following reports of 177 attempts by young people to take their own lives in the first eight months of this year. But at the heart of these problems and others is the intergenerational fallout of white America’s efforts to eradicate Native American identity – something that many missionary groups appear to be replicating.

Although not all organisations are strictly missionary-orientated.

The Re-Member organisation is a non-profit based 10 minutes east of Pine Ridge town that expressly points out in its volunteer preparation package that proselytising is forbidden. It also warns that clothing depicting religious imagery should be avoided.

“Although many of our volunteers do come from churches, we are very upfront in our terms and conditions, pre-trip information, and on-site orientation, that Re-Member is a not-for-profit volunteer organisation,” said Cory True, an executive director. “Re-Member insists that all volunteers adhere to our policy against any proselytising whatsoever during the course of their visit.”

According to its Facebook page, this year Re-Member installed several ramps, 14 outhouses and delivered close to 70 beds to communities on Pine Ridge, spending approximately $25,000 on construction material in the process. In addition, some of the items for sale in its online store are the work of Lakota artists.

Yet Re-Member is not a secular organisation. It was co-founded by a preacher in 1988, and many of its donors and contacts are religious institutions. None of its current officers or board of directors is Lakota.

Every year it brings about 1,200 volunteers, some as young as eight years old, to the reservation, charging adults nearly $600 per trip – money it says is used to pay for food and accommodation. It puts significant effort into fundraising and, according to public records, in 2018, it had an income of more than $515,000 through “programme service revenue” and received a similar figure in the form of “contributions and grants”.

‘As long as you say you love Jesus’

Local community activists say the presence of well-resourced Christian groups creates and feeds an unequal power dynamic and relationship of dependency with Native children. And when the weeklong mission experience ends and volunteers go home, local children are left to return to their everyday lives.

What is more, some say missionaries are outbidding local efforts to help people in need. “You have these churches coming in here, building what they call ‘poverty porn’. They got all this money to do all kinds of stuff in those communities,” said Milton Bianas, who is Oglala and works with male criminal offenders through the Oglala Sioux Tribe Victim Services. “They got more connections; they can get in there and do a lot more than we can do – as long as you say you love Jesus.”

Milton Bianas and Jenn Black Feather of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Victim Services [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]Incarceration rates among Native Americans are twice that of white and Hispanic Americans. Bianas said in many communities on Pine Ridge, his is the only tribal programme doing culturally and spiritually relevant work in the jails. “The other 10 programmes are all different denominations of Christian groups,” he explained.

Last year, Little Spotted Horse embarked on a needs-test project that, she said, will take her to every house on the reservation to, in part, document residents’ religious affiliations. She says the information would better inform people’s needs but also offer insight into whether the presence of so many Christian groups is merited. While the pandemic has halted that effort for now, as well as forcing missionaries to stay away this year, she expects to pick it back up once the COVID-19 emergency passes.

“Ninety-five percent of our reservation is traditional. Ninety-five percent of us are not Christians,” she said. “They’re going around saying we’re evil devil-worshippers, that something is wrong with us, that we don’t believe in Christianity, so they need to save us. It’s really disgusting. They want to come here to supposedly save us.”

“People here are poor,” added Little Spotted Horse. “People will go to the churches and revivals [meetings organised to recruit new converts] because they know that afterwards, they give them food.”

Still, the pandemic-fuelled travel restrictions this year that have prevented missionaries from coming to Pine Ridge have led to some positive developments.

“We haven’t had to be watching out for the kids or heard complaints from people [about the missionaries],” said Little Spotted Horse. “The Tribal Council has stepped up with aid and support for people, which goes to show that we can do this without having the missionaries here.”


Canada’s Supreme Court to consider whether Native Americans in U.S. have rights north of the border

by Amanda Coletta, The Washington Post, October 7, 2020

Richard Deseutel, a member of the Lakes Tribe in Washington State, shot an elk in British Columbia in 2010 to assert a right to the traditional hunting lands of the Sinixt people.

It was a frosty October morning when Richard Desautel aimed his Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle at a cow elk in the Arrow Lakes area of British Columbia, shot the animal dead and phoned wildlife conservation officers to report what he’d done.

That call, made a decade ago this month, set into motion a plan that was years in the making. Authorities charged Desautel, a U.S. citizen and member of the Lakes Tribe of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington state, with hunting without a license and hunting big game while not a resident of British Columbia.

It was what Desautel wanted. It gave him the opportunity to argue that he was exercising his right under Canada’s constitution to hunt for ceremonial purposes on the traditional land of his ancestors, the Sinixt, an Indigenous group that Canada declared extinct more than 60 years ago.

Now he’ll argue his case before Canada’s Supreme Court, in a proceeding that could have sweeping implications for Indigenous groups on both sides of the border. A victory could give more Native Americans in the United States the right to use their tribes’ traditional lands in Canada.

The main question before the justices is whether rights afforded to “aboriginal peoples of Canada” by the Constitution Act can extend to groups that don’t live in Canada. But for Desautel, who traveled to Ottawa for the hearing Thursday, it’s about something larger.

“For the Sinixt people, this case — and it sounds almost corny to say — is about their very identity,” said Mark Underhill, Desautel’s lawyer. “Everything is at stake for them.”

The lower courts considered centuries of history.

Desautel, 68, says he is a descendant of the Sinixt, an Indigenous group that hunted and fished in traditional lands that extended north and south of the 49th parallel before and after contact with Europeans in 1811.

British Columbia Provincial Court Judge Lisa Mrozinski wrote in a2017 ruling that a “constellation of factors” eventually led the Sinixt to “more or less” live full-time in the southern part of their territory, which became part of the United States in 1846 when the Oregon Boundary Treaty established that section of the U.S.-Canada border.

Many of the Sinixt, who had become known as the Lakes Tribe, took up residence in the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state, where Desautel lives. By the 1930s, they had stopped traveling north to hunt. The Sinixt in Canada were moved in 1902 to a reserve set up along the west side of the Upper Arrow Lake for the Arrow Lakes Band.

After the last member of the Arrow Lakes Band died, Canada in 1956 declared it “extinct” under the country’s Indian Act.

Their descendants, including Desautel, contend that their very existence proves the opposite.

Crown prosecutors argued that Desautel doesn’t hold a constitutionally protected right to hunt in Canada because he doesn’t belong to one of the groups that make up the “aboriginal peoples of Canada” — and that granting him such a right would be incompatible with Canadian sovereignty.

The Crown also said Desautel failed to prove that the Sinixt people’s tradition of hunting before contact was carried out by its modern-day successor group — a test for establishing a right under Canadian law. Prosecutors argued that they voluntarily drifted from their northern territory and traditional practices there.

Mrozinski disagreed and acquitted Desautel. Even if members of the Lakes Tribe moved south, she wrote, there’s no evidence that they gave up their claim to the rest of their traditional territory or that their move was entirely voluntary.

“Whether or not the Sinixt, or Lakes Tribe as they are known, utilized their traditional territory north of the 49th parallel after the 1930s,” she wrote, “I am left with no doubt that the land was not forgotten, that the traditions were not forgotten and that the connection to the land is ever present in the minds of the members of the Lakes Tribe.” British Columbia’s Supreme Court and its Court of Appeal dismissed the Crown’s appeals.

“Imposing a requirement that Indigenous peoples may only hold Aboriginal rights in Canada if they occupy the same geographical territory in which their ancestors exercised those rights,” Court of Appeal Justice Daphne Smith wrote in the 2019 ruling, “ignores the Aboriginal perspective, the realities of colonization and does little towards achieving the ultimate goal of reconciliation.”

The Crown appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the case is of national importance. Its ruling could have far-reaching ramifications.

In legal filings, prosecutors warned of “legal and practical difficulties” that could arise from a decision in Desautel’s favor, including the possibility that other Indigenous groups in the United States with traditional territory divided by the border could be entitled to constitutional rights in Canada. The government would then have a duty to consult with them on projects impacting their traditional lands, such as pipelines.

Several such groups applied for and have been granted intervener status — comparable to amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” standing in the U.S. courts — in the appeal to the Supreme Court. The Peskotomuhkati Nation, which has communities in New Brunswick and Maine, said in legal filings that it’s “dishonorable” to hold that U.S.-based Indigenous groups do not have rights in Canada.

“If you read the factum for the government, there’s a fear of what we call the floodgates of law,” said John Borrows, a professor of Indigenous law at the University of Victoria. “That if you allowed this example . . . then that unlocks the door to dominoes.”

Many of the major rulings that have established Indigenous rights have arisen from defenses to criminal or regulatory charges. Borrows said it would be “much better to have this done through negotiation or some other dispute resolution process that [is] more systematic.”

Shelly Boyd, a member of the Lakes Tribe who says she is descended from the Sinixt, remembers what it was like as a young girl to learn that Canada considered her “extinct.”

“I thought, ‘That doesn’t make sense. That’s what happens to dinosaurs. That’s what happens to animals,’ ” Boyd said. “The reality is that we weren’t thought of as human. . . . You’re not just treated as if you’re less than. You’re actually, in this case, declared less than, declared nothing.”

Desautel says a ruling in his favor would affirm that his decade-long battle was “a journey well spent.”

“The court decision is something that’s in the judicial system that has to be taken care of,” he said. “As for me, being here in my traditional territory, the burial ground of my ancestors, walking the path of my ancestors . . .You can’t take that away from me.”


What is an Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgement?

An Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgement is a statement that recognizes the Indigenous peoples who have been dispossessed from the homelands and territories upon which an institution was built and currently occupies and operates in. For some, an Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgement might be an unfamiliar practice, but it is a common protocol within Indigenous communities in the United States and is a standard practice in both Australia and Canada. The terms “Land” and “Territorial” are not necessarily interchangeable, and the decision as to their use should be specific and local, pertaining to those Indigenous people who are being acknowledged as well as to those legacies and responsibilities of an institution that are also being acknowledged. In this guide, a preference for land acknowledgement is made in keeping with advocacy acknowledging Lenapehoking as Lenape homeland. Within cultural institutions, these statements can be adopted in various ways. However it is vital that they be spoken as a verbal statement given at the beginning of programs or events. In addition, they can also be expressed through a text panel or plaque, and an acknowledgement on an institutional website.

Why are Indigenous Land and Territorial Acknowledgements Important?

The teaching of U.S. history, in schools, museums, and the media, has left out many voices and difficult truths in order to create an idealized nationalistic identity. The displacement of Indigenous peoples and the devastating effect that forced relocation has had on these communities has been largely hidden within the nationalist narratives. While many Indigenous nations have treaties with the United States government that designate land ownership, most only have rights to occupancy. Often the land on which Indigenous nations and communities reside is not the land to which they have ancestral ties, as many have experienced dispossession and displacement through colonization. However, the connection to homelands has endured by means of multiple and ongoing Indigenous strategies of resistance to settler colonialism. This connection is often central to cultural identity and worldview. The examples of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline and the shrinking of the Bears Ears National Monument demonstrate that relationships to place and identity persist. The settler colonial state continues to struggle in the recognition of inherent Indigenous sovereignty and respect for homelands.

Why Cultural Institutions?

Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgements pertain to all places, especially to libraries, archives, museums, and universities, because it is their ethical obligation as educational institutions to create truthful and factual representations. These acknowledgements have an educational function that makes them universally applicable, regardless of an institution’s particular focus. They are about respecting and recognizing Indigenous peoples, and their relationships to land through the protocols of naming people, elders, ancestors, and the times of past to future. Acknowledgement statements confront institutional legacies as agents of colonialism. Cultural institutions have utilized deeply colonial methods to develop mainstream representations of the “other” as territory, in addition to perpetuating and reinforcing destructive colonial narratives. Further, because of the authority of cultural institutions, these narratives have been accepted as truth, informing policies that negatively affect Indigenous peoples. The ongoing effects of settler colonialism need to be addressed.

Suggestions for Creating your Land or Territorial Acknowledgement

Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgements should be motivated by a genuine respect for Indigenous nations and communities. Reaching out to local Indigenous communities to ask how they would like to be acknowledged is crucial. This is the most respectful approach as it recognizes the sovereignty of Indigenous nations to define their own terms. Acknowledgements are a collaborative process to be formed through continuous relationships with Indigenous people. An acknowledgment begins as a spoken embodied action. It is also appropriate for institutions to adopt material versions (i.e., plaque or text panel). This practice should be integrated by institutional staff into the protocol of everyday proceedings, such as board meetings, gallery talks, and larger events. It is important and meaningful to have institutional representatives acknowledge the institutions’ legacy and to indicate reckoning and a commitment to change within the institution.

Land or territorial acknowledgement statements can take many forms. The following is an example of an acknowledgement statement that could be used within a museum setting:

We are gathered on the unceded land of the ( ) peoples. I ask you to join me in acknowledging the ( ) community, their elders both past and present, as well as future generations. (Name of institution) also acknowledges that it was founded upon exclusions and erasures of many Indigenous peoples, including those on whose land this institution is located. This acknowledgement demonstrates a commitment to beginning the process of working to dismantle the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism.

Cultural institutions have an obligation to support ongoing education as well as accurate and responsible representation. By harnessing institutional voice, there is a capacity to effect change into the future far beyond institutional walls.


● This guide was designed to complement the USDAC’s extensive #HonorNativeLand Guide, which can be found here:

● If you aren’t sure which community or communities to acknowledge, is a great initial resource.

● This guide builds upon the important work that the Lenape Center, American Indian Community House, Rick Chavolla, Emily Johnson, and the New Red Order (NRO) have been doing with regard to land acknowledgements in Lenapehoking.

● Please reference the School for Advanced Research’s “Museums+Communities: Guidelines for Collaboration”:

● Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s article, “Decolonization is not a metaphor” can help to contextualize this practice within a larger decolonization framework

Developed by: Felicia Garcia (Chumash), M.A. Museum Studies, New York University, 2018.

For further resources and information see:

Please send any comments or questions to

New Research – The Hunt for Crazy Horse’s Women!

From top left : alleged sculpture of Black Buffalo Woman; Black Shawl; possible death record of Black Shawl; the Crazy Horse monument; allegedly No Water.

With everyone locked-down because of the Coronavirus, and unable to travel or meet, I got to thinking. Not that I don’t do that otherwise! Like Wordsworth, I was savoring recollections of my Native American road-trip in the tranquility of my home, when I got to wondering whatever became of Black Buffalo Woman and Black Shawl after Crazy Horse. I won’t summarize the remarkable story of Crazy Horse here, as that would not do him justice at all, but will explain briefly who these women were.

Black Buffalo Woman was the great love of his life, and that love was more than reciprocated. Unfortunately, she was the niece of the wily Red Cloud, and he married her off to one of his one band members, No Water behind Crazy Horse’s back. One account says that he organized a war party to entice Crazy Horse away, and, on the way, No Water pretended to be ill and returned to camp, where he was quickly married to Black Buffalo Woman. Despite this, she eloped with Crazy Horse to the Slim Buttes area. No Water, usually an alcoholic and layabout, refused to accept the Lakota system that allows a woman to take or divorce a husband anytime she chooses, and chased after her. He attempted to shoot Crazy Horse, but only injured him, after which he ran away as quickly as he could, to escape the wrath of Crazy Horse’s people. Eventually, Black Buffalo Woman returned to No Water. She had 3 children with him prior to this episode, and one in less than a year after it. This last daughter was said to be unusually light haired, like Crazy Horse, and lived possibly into the 1930s. She could be Crazy Horse’s daughter, though no such claim has ever been made.

After his shooting, Crazy Horse was lovingly nursed back to full health and vigor by Black Shawl, a niece of his maternal uncle, Chief Spotted Tail of the Brule (the same man who would eventually betray him). During this period, they fell in love and got married. They eventually had a daughter, Kokipapi (They Are Afraid of Her) named that as he wanted her to be an independent, powerful woman. By all accounts, he doted on her and it was a humourously incongruous sight to see this fierce warrior, deeply feared by even the US Army, turn to putty in her hands, as he played with her. Sadly, she died, probably of whooping cough, just a couple of years later, leaving the parents utterly heart-broken. The bond between Black Shawl and Crazy Horse only got stronger with the years.

On the fateful 5th September 1877, Crazy Horse was assassinated at Fort Robinson, succumbing to the machinations of his own people, Red Cloud and Spotted Tail. As his vision had predicted, so long ago, the great War Chief whom the US Army could not defeat even once, and who defeated two of their illustrious generals, Crook and Custer, fell at the hands of his own people.

I wondered what became of Black Buffalo Woman after her return to No Water, and especially what became of her last daughter. The No Waters eventually had to change their name to Star Comes Out or Starr or Star, because of the infamy of the No Water name. Does anyone have any clues about their fate?

Black Shawl almost certainly lived to the ripe age of around 80 years, despite lifelong ill health, and probably died of the flu in the Pine Ridge Reservation. Again, history has consigned her to the dusts of oblivion the moment she moved out of the incandescent spotlight of Crazy Horse. All I have found so far is a death record that could be hers.

When travel to the US is possible again, I intend to hit the Red Road again and spend plenty of time digging through the dusty records (they have not been digitized) in the basements of the National Archives in Washington DC as well as Kansas City, MO, along with the archives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other sources.

If you know anything of these women, or know of someone who does, or know any family members who will share their history, I would be hugely grateful.

I will keep updating you here as this incredibly difficult hunt continues.

Police Killings Against Native Americans Are Off the Charts and Off the Radar

Courtesy Equal Justice Initiative

Police shootings of Native Americans are generating greater attention after recent reports reveal that Native Americans are more likely to be killed by the police than any other racial group in the United States.

“The racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement is Native Americans, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites and Asian Americans,” according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected between 1999 and 2011 shows that Native Americans, who are 0.8 percent of the United States population, comprise 1.9 percent of police killings. They are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. (Law enforcement kills African Americans at 2.8 times the rate of whites.)

“Yet these killings of Native people go almost entirely unreported by mainstream U.S. media,” writes Stephanie Woodard in a special investigation released this month. Of the 29 Native people killed by police between May 2014 and October 2015, only one received sustained coverage in any of the nation’s top 10 newspapers, and brief mentions of a second shooting misidentified the victim, Suquamish tribal member Daniel Covarrubias, as Latino. None of the other 27 deaths received any coverage.

Major media likewise failed to report on a series of Native deaths in custody in 2015, including that of Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24-year-old Sioux mother of two who died in a South Dakota jail after being denied medical care during the same month that Sandra Bland died in police custody.

Ms. Woodard reports that even the most recent and most egregious examples of resistance to civil rights for Native Americans by police, public agencies, and private citizens continue to be left out of the national conversation about race. Recent hearings held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), an independent federal agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, revealed that Native Americans today experience mistreatment, from being denied service in public places to police brutality, that “sound[s] like tales from the pre-civil-rights Deep South.”

In Northern Plains states, USCCR members personally observed staff in restaurants and stores hassling or refusing to serve Natives. In South Dakota, the commission heard testimony about a police department that found reasons to fine Natives hundreds of dollars, then “allowed” them to work off the debt on a ranch. USCCR Rocky Mountain director Malee Craft described the situation as “slave labor.”

Violence and discrimination against Native Americans are legacies of this country’s history of racial injustice. The United States has done very little to acknowledge the genocide of Native Americans or the myth of racial difference created to justify the “removal” of Native people and the forced assimilation of their children. Generations of Native American activists have challenged this country to more truthfully confront this history and its legacy, which includes not only the highest police-violence rates, but also the highest poverty and suicide rates in the country.

The latest incarnation of this activism is Native Lives Matter. On December 19, 2014, NLM founder and Lakota attorney Chase Iron Eyes and others, taking inspiration from Black Lives Matter, marched in Rapid City, South Dakota, to draw attention to police brutality against Native people. The next day, Rapid City police shot and killed Allen Locke, a Native man who had attended the protest. In the nearly two years since, activists across the country have adopted the NLM slogan as an umbrella term to advocate for a range of issues affecting Native people, from child welfare to mass incarceration, and to seek accountability for police violence against Native and non-Native people.

After 32-year-old Jacqueline Salyers, a member of the Puyallup tribe, was killed by police in Tacoma, Washington, earlier this year, her family and tribal members joined with other residents, Native and non-Native, who had lost loved ones to police violence. Under the banner “Justice for Jackie, Justice for All,” they are now advocating for a statewide ballot initiative that seeks greater police accountability for using lethal force.

Ramona Bennett, a Puyallup elder in her 70’s who was gassed, beaten, shot at, and arrested during 1970s protests for Native rights, wants recognition and accountability for Native victims of police violence like Jackie Salyers – and for victims of racial violence who have been been denied public acknowledgement and commemoration for decades. She explained that, in the late 19th century, presidential proclamations and Congressional actions broke up the Puyallup reservation and forced tribal members to move to isolated cabins on separate plots.

“Fishing and trapping were outlawed, so the men went out at night, making the cabins very dangerous,” says Bennett. “White men would come, kick the doors in, rape and murder the [women] and throw their bodies on the railroad tracks, where they’d be called ‘railroad accident deaths.’ … We discovered in our tribal enrollment office a stack of ‘railroad death’ documents from 1912 to 1917.’’

Among them was one that recorded the death of Bennett’s grandmother Jennie.

The Justice for Jackie, Justice for All effort will succeed, Bennett believes. “But I’m still out for justice for Jennie … a girl who has been dead for 104 years.”

A growing Native Lives Matter movement is drawing attention to police killings that are rarely covered by the media.

Police shootings of Native Americans are generating greater attention after recent reports reveal that Native Americans are more likely to be killed by the police than any other racial group in the United States.

“The racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement is Native Americans, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites and Asian Americans,” according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected between 1999 and 2011 shows that Native Americans, who are 0.8 percent of the United States population, comprise 1.9 percent of police killings. They are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. (Law enforcement kills African Americans at 2.8 times the rate of whites.)

“Yet these killings of Native people go almost entirely unreported by mainstream U.S. media,” writes Stephanie Woodard in a special investigation released this month. Of the 29 Native people killed by police between May 2014 and October 2015, only one received sustained coverage in any of the nation’s top 10 newspapers, and brief mentions of a second shooting misidentified the victim, Suquamish tribal member Daniel Covarrubias, as Latino. None of the other 27 deaths received any coverage.

Major media likewise failed to report on a series of Native deaths in custody in 2015, including that of Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24-year-old Sioux mother of two who died in a South Dakota jail after being denied medical care during the same month that Sandra Bland died in police custody.

Ms. Woodard reports that even the most recent and most egregious examples of resistance to civil rights for Native Americans by police, public agencies, and private citizens continue to be left out of the national conversation about race. Recent hearings held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), an independent federal agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, revealed that Native Americans today experience mistreatment, from being denied service in public places to police brutality, that “sound[s] like tales from the pre-civil-rights Deep South.”

In Northern Plains states, USCCR members personally observed staff in restaurants and stores hassling or refusing to serve Natives. In South Dakota, the commission heard testimony about a police department that found reasons to fine Natives hundreds of dollars, then “allowed” them to work off the debt on a ranch. USCCR Rocky Mountain director Malee Craft described the situation as “slave labor.”

Violence and discrimination against Native Americans are legacies of this country’s history of racial injustice. The United States has done very little to acknowledge the genocide of Native Americans or the myth of racial difference created to justify the “removal” of Native people and the forced assimilation of their children. Generations of Native American activists have challenged this country to more truthfully confront this history and its legacy, which includes not only the highest police-violence rates, but also the highest poverty and suicide rates in the country.

The latest incarnation of this activism is Native Lives Matter. On December 19, 2014, NLM founder and Lakota attorney Chase Iron Eyes and others, taking inspiration from Black Lives Matter, marched in Rapid City, South Dakota, to draw attention to police brutality against Native people. The next day, Rapid City police shot and killed Allen Locke, a Native man who had attended the protest. In the nearly two years since, activists across the country have adopted the NLM slogan as an umbrella term to advocate for a range of issues affecting Native people, from child welfare to mass incarceration, and to seek accountability for police violence against Native and non-Native people.

After 32-year-old Jacqueline Salyers, a member of the Puyallup tribe, was killed by police in Tacoma, Washington, earlier this year, her family and tribal members joined with other residents, Native and non-Native, who had lost loved ones to police violence. Under the banner “Justice for Jackie, Justice for All,” they are now advocating for a statewide ballot initiative that seeks greater police accountability for using lethal force.

Ramona Bennett, a Puyallup elder in her 70’s who was gassed, beaten, shot at, and arrested during 1970s protests for Native rights, wants recognition and accountability for Native victims of police violence like Jackie Salyers – and for victims of racial violence who have been been denied public acknowledgement and commemoration for decades. She explained that, in the late 19th century, presidential proclamations and Congressional actions broke up the Puyallup reservation and forced tribal members to move to isolated cabins on separate plots.“Fishing and trapping were outlawed, so the men went out at night, making the cabins very dangerous,” says Bennett. “White men would come, kick the doors in, rape and murder the [women] and throw their bodies on the railroad tracks, where they’d be called ‘railroad accident deaths.’ … We discovered in our tribal enrollment office a stack of ‘railroad death’ documents from 1912 to 1917.’’

Among them was one that recorded the death of Bennett’s grandmother Jennie.

The Justice for Jackie, Justice for All effort will succeed, Bennett believes. “But I’m still out for justice for Jennie … a girl who has been dead for 104 years.”

A growing Native Lives Matter movement is drawing attention to police killings that are rarely covered by the media.

The despicable lie of “Custer’s Last Stand”

Courtesy :  Warren Gray, in “Gunpowder Magazine”

Guns and Bravery: Is This What Really Happened at the Little Bighorn?

“They never fought us with swords, but with guns and revolvers…
We were better-armed than the (soldiers)…it was just like killing sheep.”

— Rain-in-the-Face interview, 1894.

“They fired with needle guns (single-shot carbines). We replied with
magazine guns, repeating rifles…They could not stand up under such a fire.”

— Sioux Chief Sitting Bull.

“The Sioux say this officer was the bravest man they had ever fought.”

— Sioux Chief Red Horse, 1881.

We’ve all heard the official government version of the tragic story of Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. What is known, beyond any doubt, is that Lieutenant Colonel (brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer, age 36, entered the Little Bighorn Valley of south-central Montana on June 25, 1876, with approximately 657 soldiers of the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, expecting to find no more than 800 hostile Indians. But they swiftly encountered a massive encampment of approximately 8,000 to 12,000 Sioux and Cheyenne natives, of whom at least 2,500 to 3,000 (according to Chief Crazy Horse) were young warriors between the ages of 15 and 37. But because of the tall, leafy, cottonwood trees along the winding banks of the Little Bighorn River, Custer’s isolated regiment could only see one-sixth of the assembled Indian village in advance.

George Custer then made the serious, tactical error of dividing his own forces not once, but four times, first leaving Company B, his slow-moving, pack train of supplies, behind, as he advanced into the valley with three large battalions, totaling more than 512 cavalrymen. Then, he sent Captain Fredrick Benteen south with 115 men on a reconnaissance mission, and eventually dispatched Major Marcus Reno to lead the attack on the village from the southeast at 3:03 PM with 177 men.

Custer himself proceeded along the ridgeline east of the river with five remaining companies and divided them once again at the head of Medicine Tail Coulee at approximately 4:00 PM, sending C, I, and L Troops forward along the ridge, while E and F Troops rode down the coulee to attack the hostile village directly across the river. Sioux Chief Rain-in-the Face later remarked that, “We knew they made a mistake when they separated.” The old expression, “Divide and conquer,” refers to dividing the enemy’sforce, never your own, and even the Indians clearly understood that.

Reno’s ill-fated attack was repulsed by the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, who outnumbered his battalion by 14 to one, and he re-crossed the Little Bighorn River at 4:00 PM, wisely taking the high ground there, where he was joined by Benteen’s battalion at 4:20 PM. At virtually the same time, Troops E and F were two-and-a-half miles away, about to cross the river to attack the huge Indian camp from the east. And this is where the official version of the story, as told by the National Park Service and the U.S. Army, differs substantially from the Army’s own initial reports, and the direct, eyewitness testimony of countless witnesses on both sides of the battle.

As Colonel W.A. Graham expertly explained in his ground-breaking book, “The Custer Myth,” in 1953, “It began in controversy and dispute, but because a devoted wife (Libbie Custer) so skillfully and forcefully painted her hero (George Custer) as a plumed knight in shining armor…and because her hero went out in a blaze of glory that became the setting for propaganda which caught and held, and still holds, the imagination of the American people, what began in controversy and dispute has ended in myth… magnified, distorted, and disproportioned by fiction, invention, imagination, and speculation. The Custer known to the average American is a myth…There is a Custer mystery…and out of this very fact grew the fictions, inventions, and fantastic legends that together form the Custer Myth.”

To snatch some semblance of victory from the jaws of a stunning defeat during the nation’s joyous centennial celebrations just two weeks after the horrific battle, the Army and most of the U.S. government literally abandoned their own after-action reports, assessments, and eyewitness testimony, in favor of perpetuating Libbie Custer’s fanciful myth that her flamboyant husband, George, “died with his boots on,” his long, blonde hair waving in the wind (even though he had cut it short before the battle), with a pistol in one hand and a saber (although no sabers were carried that day) in the other, heroically standing tall atop Last Stand Hill until the final bullet of the battle was fired.

It was a wonderful, inspiring story, a grandiose fairy tale, but totally at odds with the actual eyewitness testimony and the Army’s own reports. To foster this dazzling myth of revisionist history, Custer had to ride along the upper ridgeline with Troops C, I, and L, to eventually reach Custer Hill alive. That’s the U.S. government’s official story, and they’re stubbornly sticking to it, even today.

But before we learn what really happened, we need to take an in-depth look at the guns of the Little Bighorn, because Custer’s remaining battalion of approximately 225 men, including C, E, F, I, and L Troops, was not only severely outnumbered and outmaneuvered by the Indians, but was hopelessly outgunned, as well. The enlisted cavalrymen were mostly armed with Springfield 1873, single-shot carbines in .45-55 or .45-70-calibers, prone to jamming with soft, copper-cased ammo, with 100 rounds of ammunition per man, including 50 rounds at the ready, and a further 50 in the pack train, which had been left far behind.

Each man also carried a Colt 1873 Single-Action Army revolver, a fine weapon, with six rounds loaded, and 18 more rounds on their ammo belts. These revolvers were zeroed for 25 yards before the battle, but the Army later zeroed their Colts for 50 yards, as a result of lessons learned at the Little Bighorn. Large hunting knives were also plentiful, mainly for skinning wild game.

To travel quickly and lightly across the rough prairie, Custer had left behind three, six-barrel Colt 1866 Gatling guns in .50-70 at Fort Abraham Lincoln, North Dakota. While it would have been nice to have these rapid-fire (each averaging six rounds per second) weapons available for the battle, their loss ultimately would not have changed the inevitable outcome. Even General Nelson A. Miles, a veteran Indian-fighter, later remarked that, “I’m not surprised that poor Custer declined. They are worthless for Indian fighting.” All sabers were likewise left behind at the fort, as they were deemed too noisy, rattling and clanking during travel, and might alert the Indians to their presence.

The cavalry officers were permitted to acquire their own weapons, which were usually more expensive, and far superior in quality, to the enlisted troops’ weapons. For example, George Custer carried an 1875 Remington No. 1 Sporting Rifle in .50-70, literally a “buffalo gun,” and according to most descriptions, he wore a pair of nickel-plated, British-made, 1867 Webley RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) double-action revolvers, probably in .442-caliber, and carried an 1863 National Arms Company single-shot derringer in .41 Rimfire. He also wore a very large hunting knife, and French-manufactured, brass, Lemaire binoculars.

His brother, Captain (brevet Lieutenant Colonel) Thomas Ward (“Tom”) Custer, age 31, a two-time winner of the highly-prestigious Medal of Honor during the Civil War, has been variously described as carrying either a 15-shot, 1873 Winchester repeating rifle in .44-40, a Springfield 1873 Officer’s Model in .45-70, or a Springfield 1873 sporting rifle in .45-70. There is no absolute certainly here, but if he indeed owned the Winchester, it would have been virtually the only lever-action repeating rifle in the entire regiment. The Rain-in-the-Face, 1873 Winchester rifle may support this scenario, and I’ll describe it later.

Tom also owned three revolvers: a French Galand-Sommerville in .442-caliber, a captured, 5-shot, Confederate (British) Kerr in .44-caliber, and a double-action, Webley RIC in .442-caliber, just like George’s famous pair. The first two guns were left behind at Fort Lincoln, and he apparently took the Webley into battle with him. He also carried a large hunting knife, as did most of the officers and men.

Captain Myles Walter Keogh, an Irishman decorated for valor in the Papal War of 1861 in Italy, was armed with an 1874 Sharps Sporting Rifle in .45-70, a Webley RIC revolver in .442, engraved with his initials, “MWK,” and a very large hunting knife. First Lieutenant James Ezekiel Porter, commanding I Troop under Myles Keogh, carried a nickel-plated, Smith and Wesson Model 3 in .44-caliber.

In addition, at least five enlisted men under Major Reno’s command were armed as long-range sharpshooters with scoped rifles, most likely 1874 Sharps buffalo guns in .45-70, and four of these surviving men, Sergeant George Geiger and Privates Henry Mechlin, Otto Voit, and Charles Windolph, were each subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for their expert covering sniper fire over a 20-minute period, while 15 more soldiers braved intense, enemy gunfire to retrieve water from the river for the wounded. All 15 troopers also earned the Medal of Honor, which was the only available award for bravery at that time in U.S. history.

In contrast, the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors were far better-armed. From 1984 to 1985, excavations at the Little Bighorn Battlefield by archeologists Douglas D. Scott and Richard Fox, Jr., unearthed 2,361 bullets and shell casings, representing at least 371 different guns of 45 different types, including 69 Springfield rifles, and numerous Colt revolvers, Henry repeaters, Sharps hunting rifles, Winchesters, Remingtons, Smith and Wessons, Ballards, Starrs, and other types of firearms.

The Indians had at least 192 repeating rifles, including 124 Winchester 1866s in .44 Rimfire, favored by Sioux Chief Crazy Horse himself (who also sported a Remington .44 revolver), at least six Winchester 1873s in .44-40, and 62 or more lever-action, 15-shot, 1860 Henry rifles in .44 Henry Rimfire, whereas Custer’s men had, at most, one Winchester repeater.

In addition, the Indian warriors had countless single-shot rifles, including 27 Sharps 1874 “Buffalo Rifles” in .50-70, various carbines, bows and arrows, tomahawks, revolvers, shotguns, muskets, knives, lances, and war clubs. The cavalrymen never stood a chance against such intense and overwhelming firepower. The Indians say that Crazy Horse alone killed 16 soldiers on Custer Hill, and 15 more on Reno Hill, which may be only a slight exaggeration, but is entirely plausible.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn thus rapidly devolved into two actual engagements more than four miles apart, the Battle of Custer Hill and the Battle of Reno Hill. What is truly astonishing is that George Custer and 220 more soldiers were virtually wiped out to the last man within the brief span of 55 minutes, whereas Major Reno’s 292 men father south relentlessly fought the very same Indians for at least 14 total hours over two days, and sustained only 11-percent casualties; yet it was Reno who was scorned, maligned, and severely admonished afterward, although he was very clearly the more successful, battlefield commander.

The archeological excavations further revealed that the soldiers on Custer Hill fired only 1,000 to 1,800 rounds of ammunition during the entire, 55-minute battle there, averaging only about six rounds per man. Why were so few rounds fired over the course of nearly an hour? For one thing, numerous Indian eyewitnesses reported a large number of cavalry suicides atop Custer Hill as the situation grew more desperate with each passing minute, and many of the wounded, probably including George Custer himself were killed by their own comrades.

An after-action assessment of the positioning of the bodies and the number of shell casings around each man revealed that apparently only four soldiers truly put up a sustained and determined defense, men whose utterly heroic actions that day were more than worthy of recognition with the Medal of Honor, which they would never receive, in order to perpetuate Libbie Custer’s highly-aggrandized version of the story.

We must now return to the myth versus the reality of the battle, and discover what really transpired that fateful day. According the General Alfred H. Terry’s (Custer’s immediate commander) official report, Custer personally led Troops E and F down Medicine Tail Coulee toward the Indian village with about 90 men, boldly attacking across the Little Bighorn River, but “had unsuccessfully attempted to cross.”

This was later verified by the testimony of at least 15 Indian eyewitnesses, three of whom were Custer’s own Crow scouts, paid employees of the U.S. Army, and two cavalrymen farther downstream, Privates Peter Thompson and James Watson, all of whom saw Custer himself at the river. Thompson was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Reno Hill the next day. Conversely to these 17 eyewitnesses who personally saw Custer at the river, there were absolutely zero battlefield witnesses who saw George Custer standing, or even alive, at any time after the failed river crossing.

Major Marcus Reno himself, an actual participant in the battle, accurately confirmed this incident just four years later, writing that, “We now know that Custer headed down to the river at Medicine Tail Coulee…(and) came face-to-face with 10 Sioux warriors (actually, four Cheyenne and six Sioux), all of whom fired on him. One of the 10…claimed to have killed Custer himself. Custer, shot through the chest, was carried away on horseback by one of his men, and his brother, Tom Custer took command.”

Pretty Shield, age 20, the wife of Custer’s Crow scout, Goes Ahead, further confirmed that, “(Custer) went ahead, rode into the water of the Little Bighorn…and he died there, died in the water…the other blue soldiers ran back up the hill…the general fell in the water…The monument that white men have set up to mark the spot where Son-of-the-Morning Star (George Custer) fell down is a lie. He fell in the water.”

Indeed, White Cow Bull, aged 28, a Cheyenne Warrior, said that he killed or badly wounded an officer in buckskin clothing with a “big hat,” a “moustache,” and a “heavy rifle,” who was riding a “sorrel horse with…four white stockings.” This detailed, physical description perfectly matches only one cavalry officer and one horse on the entire battlefield, George Armstrong Custer and his Kentucky, thoroughbred, sorrel stallion, “Vic” (short for “Victory.”) “The man who seemed to be the soldier chief was firing his heavy rifle fast. I aimed my repeater at him and fired. I saw him fall out of his saddle and hit the water.” At the end of the battle, White Cow Bull climbed Custer Hill and positively identified the body of officer that he shot. It was, indeed, George A. Custer.

Colonel W.A. Graham noted in “The Custer Myth” in 1953 that, “Custer charged and was repulsed on the north bank of the Little Bighorn.”

Author David Humphries Miller, who wrote “Custer’s Fall” in 1957, personally interviewed 72 Indian eyewitnesses to the battle between 1935 and 1955 in their own, Lakota language, including White Cow Bull, age 91 in 1939, writing what was probably the best-researched book ever published about the Little Bighorn. Miller described it this way: “Just then, at midstream, the unbelievable happened. Custer, the great, invincible, soldier-chief, golden-haired hero of the effete East, self-styled swashbuckler of the Plains, Son-of-the-Morning-Star to the Crows, Long Hair to the other tribes, fell, a hostile bullet through his left breast.”

Doctor Thomas B. Marquis added in his 1976 Custer book, “Keep the Last Bullet for Yourself,” that, “General Custer was killed rather early in the battle…he was not one of the final, surviving group…The presence of Tom Custer’s body intimates that he was the final commander, after both General Custer and Captain Yates had been killed…it may be that Keogh also had been killed.”

Nathaniel Philbrick’s, “The Last Stand,” published in 2010, was glowingly described by the Los Angeles Times as “an engrossing, thoughtfully-researched and tautly-written account of a critical chapter in American history. With strong, narrative skill, offering broad context and narrow detail, Philbrick recounts a story and, in the process, dismantles old myths piece by piece.” Philbrick concluded that George Custer was shot very early in the battle, that Tom Custer probably shot his mortally-wounded brother in the head at the last minute to prevent his capture alive by the Indians, and that Tom Custer was the last soldier to die.

More recently, Phillip Thomas Tucker, Ph.D., a noted, Department of Defense historian, published “Death at the Little Bighorn” in January 2017, stating that, “A number of reliable and collaborating, Indian accounts…have revealed that (George) Custer was hit…while leading the charge across the ford.”

The overwhelming mountain of evidence clearly shows that George A. Custer bravely led the cavalry charge at Medicine Tail Coulee, but, as so often happens to soldiers at the very front of any formation in battle, he was, in fact, shot out of his saddle and mortally wounded in the chest, just below the heart, at approximately 4:21 PM, while in the middle of the Little Bighorn River.

His bugler, Corporal Henry C. Dose, and his half-Santee-Sioux, half-French-Canadian scout, Michel “Mitch” Bouyer, were also hit in the initial volley fired by four Cheyenne warriors, including White Cow Bull, who shot Custer, and Bobtailed Horse, who shot Dose. Ironically, all three men apparently lived until near the end of the battle, when Dose was killed by an Indian woman, the wife of Sioux Chief Crow Dog, at the edge of the village, Bouyer was killed near the river’s edge by Sioux warriors, although his body was never actually found (a skull believed to be his was recovered in 1984), and George Custer was shot in the left temple with a .44 or .45-caliber revolver, probably a cavalry weapon, according to the Army. George was right-handed, however, and there were no powder burns on his skin, so this was not considered a suicide.

Accurately describing the rest of the battle would take at least an entire book, but the most frequently asked question would be, “If George Custer wasn’t the last soldier standing, then who was?” There were actually two very courageous men, both of them captains, standing 430 yards apart, one atop Custer Hill and one down its southern slope, whom the Indian eyewitnesses described separately as the very last to fall.

Wooden Leg of the Northern Cheyenne said that “the last man killed” had “a big, strong body” and a “long, black moustache,” and was “down the hills, toward the river.” Two Moon added that, “One man rides up and down the line, shouting all the time…He was a brave man…He wore a buckskin shirt, and had long, black hair and moustache…He fought hard with a big knife.” This description exactly and exclusively matches that of Captain Myles Keogh, age 36, who was found with five dead, Indian ponies around his position.

Interestingly enough, Wooden Leg also saw the dead body of George Custer’s favorite, female, Scottish staghound, “Tuck,” atop Custer Hill after the battle. She apparently got away from Private (Orderly) John W. Burkman, who was left behind with the pack train before the battle began, and loyally followed Custer to the bitter end.

Keogh was the only cavalryman whose body was not mutilated at all after the battle, a clear indication of reverence and respect for his amazing courage. His famous horse, Comanche, was not killed or captured by the Indians for the same reasons, and was later found alive, literally the only surviving, cavalry eyewitness to the battle at Custer Hill. Sitting Bull called Myles Keogh “the bravest of the brave,” and incredibly, when Sitting Bull was later killed by Indian police at the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890, he was wearing one of Myles Keogh’s Papal medals (the Pro Petri Sede, or Medal for the See of Saint Peter) around his neck as a talisman of extraordinary courage and sacrifice.

But, at almost exactly the same instant that Keogh was killed, at approximately 5:16 PM, another captain in buckskins was about to meet his own fate. In 1881, Chief Red Horse of the Sioux told Colonel Garrick Mallory that, “Among the soldiers was an officer who rode a horse with four white feet (only George Custer’s personal horse, ‘Vic,’ met this description)…the Sioux say this officer was the bravest man they had ever fought…I saw this officer in the fight many times, but I did not see his body (which was likely mutilated beyond recognition)…This officer wore a large-brimmed hat and a deerskin coat (matching Tom Custer’s description perfectly.) This officer saved the lives of many soldiers by turning his horse and covering the retreat. (The) Sioux say this officer was the bravest man they ever fought.”

Wooden Leg noted that, “One wounded officer, a captain, still lived…He raised himself upon an elbow, glaring wildly at the Indians, who shrank from him, believing him returned from the spirit world. A Sioux warrior (probably Rain-in-the-Face) wrested the revolver from his nerveless hand and shot him through the head. Thus died the last of Custer’s battalion, his identity unknown.”

Captain Frederick Benteen, an actual participant in the battle, cited for bravery, observed upon finding the bodies on Custer Hill that, “Only where General Custer was found was there evidence of a stand.” This was Tom Custer’s position as acting commander, and it was here that the Indians sustained their heaviest casualties.

We must remember that, after George was seriously wounded at the river and carried to the top of the hill, Tom now had full access to George’s horse, Vic, and all of George’s weapons, giving Tom, the valiant, two-time, Medal of Honor winner, a total of two rifles, one of which was likely a rapid-fire, Winchester repeater, three fast-firing, double action, Webley revolvers, two large knives, and perhaps the best and fastest steed in the whole regiment. David Michlovitz concluded for Warfare History Network on August 27, 2015, that, “At the end, Tom fought like a demon possessed.”

Rain-in-the-Face, who had been captured, imprisoned, and beaten by Tom Custer in December 1874, before escaping in April 1875, was virtually the only Sioux warrior who actually recognized both of the Custer brothers on sight. At the very end of the Little Bighorn battle, he definitely attacked the top of Custer Hill, and saw Tom Custer, known as Little Hair to the Indians, still alive. In 1894, he confessed that, “I saw Little Hair…He knew me. I laughed at him and yelled at him…I shot him with my revolver. My gun (rifle) was gone, I don’t know where…That’s all there is to tell.”

Then, in 1905, Rain-in-the-Face made a deathbed confession, “Yes, I killed him. I was so close that the powder from my gun (revolver) blackened his face.” The famous, Sioux warrior admitted to using a revolver at the Little Bighorn, but was later photographed (about 1880 to 1883) in possession of an 1873 Winchester repeating rifle, serial number 487, manufactured in 1874, in .44-40, with the capital letter “C” crudely engraved on an oval, metal plate on the stock. Was this, in fact, Tom Custer’s gun?

Based upon a mountain of physical evidence and compelling, eyewitness testimony, on March 11, 2011, I officially and posthumously nominated Captains Tom Custer and Myles Keogh, as well as First Lieutenant James Calhoun and First Sergeant James Butler, for the Medal of Honor through formal, U.S. Army channels. Over the next two years of back-and-forth correspondence, instead of earnestly cooperating, the Army inexplicably threw every possible impediment in my way, holding these four true, American heroes to the exceptionally-stringent standards of the 1942-to-present-day version of the Medal of Honor, instead of the original, simple standards of the 1876 Medal of Honor, which was previously earned by 24 surviving, cavalry recipients under Major Reno’s command, for the very same battle.

The Army demanded “incontestable and verifiable, first-hand knowledge regarding their individual actions,” which Chief Red Horse and many others had certainly provided in the past, but the 1876 version of the medal, according to the Army’s own written criteria, was for soldiers “as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action,” which was virtually the only requirement at that time. In 1876, there was no requirement for nomination through the military chain of command, no requirement for any testimony or witnesses, and no limit on the number of medals that could be awarded to each soldier. The four men that I nominated all certainly met this official standard.

It was readily apparent that in order for the Army to award these prestigious medals, they would have to tell the truth about what really happened at the Little Bighorn, officially dispelling the enduring, Custer Myth once and for all. In the end, they declined, not once but twice (in February 2012 and January 2013), and the revisionist, fantasy history of the Battle of the Little Bighorn is still the U.S. government’s final word on the subject, despite the incredible wealth of evidence to the contrary.

President Abraham Lincoln, the commander in chief for George Custer, Tom Custer, and Myles Keogh, who all fought bravely for the Union in the Civil War, once said that, “A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.” A full century later, President John F. Kennedy stated that, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” How will this nation honor and remember “the bravest man the Sioux ever fought,” and what does that say about us as Americans?

So, let’s take just a moment to honor the greatest, unrecognized hero of the Battle of the Little Bighorn by reading the official, proposed, U.S. Army citation for Captain Tom Custer’s unprecedented, third Medal of Honor nomination: “After his regimental commander was mortally wounded, Captain Custer took command and relocated his five companies to higher ground in the face of an overwhelming, enemy onslaught. Encircled by well over 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, he boldly issued orders for the defense of the regiment, assessed his commander’s medical condition, and fought heroically until the very end of the battle under a most-galling fire, most likely the last cavalryman to fall in action.

“As the best-armed soldier in the field that day, he inflicted the greatest volume of casualties upon the surrounding Indians, making by far the most fierce and stubborn, last stand on the entire battlefield, according to the sheer volume of empty shell casings near his body, cavalry after-action assessments, and the later admissions of enemy leaders. Indian warriors described him as ‘the bravest man…the last to die,’ courageously fighting to the very end, and rising up to fire one final shot before being killed in action while valiantly defending the regimental headquarters staff at the cost of his own life. Chief Red Horse vividly described Captain Custer as ‘the bravest man the Sioux ever fought.’”

Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, eight more military qualification badges, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at:

This week is the somber anniversary of the largest mass execution in the US

Courtesy :  Leah Asmelash, CNN

The Dakota Wokiksuye Memorial Ride and Memorial Run of 2012 commemorates the Dakota warriors hanged following the Dakota War of 1862.

(CNN)On this week more than 150 years ago, dozens of Native American men were killed by the government in the largest mass execution in US history.

In the Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux Uprising, groups of Dakota (part of the Sioux group of Native American tribes) were angry with the US government over broken land treaties and late annuity payments. Times were tough, too, and Dakota families were starving.
A lithograph from 1883 depicting the execution of the 38 Dakota Indians at Mankato, Minnesota, December 26, 1862.

Dakota natives went to war against white settlers in Minnesota, which had just become a state four years prior.
The fighting lasted six weeks, according to the Minnesota History Center. More than 500 white people and 60 natives died in the fighting, the Wisconsin Historical Society reports.
The uprising ended on December 26, when 38 Dakota natives were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota, in a mass execution. The remaining natives were forced to leave Minnesota — at first being held at a camp and then being sent out of the state.
Originally, more than 300 men were sentenced to hanging by then Minnesota Gov. Alexander Ramsey. The number was reduced when President Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to the governor, listing 39 names to be hanged instead. One was later granted a reprieve.

A Voice for the Unborn Generations

A cautionary tale for our troubled times; an object lesson in the abuse of power. As is said, those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. And the history of an even greedier, even more unprincipled and immoral person like Andrew Jackson does not bear repeating. The parallels to modern times are uncanny and ominous – well worth heedful consideration. Over 150 years ago, historian Robert Winthrop warned, “Professed patriotism may be made the cover for a multitude of sins.” Many Americans are either unaware of the sere tragedy of the Native American experience or have been conditioned by decades of wildly untrue movies, and stereotypes of crime, drugs and suicide on Reservations. It is past time a Nation that never needed to be made great acknowledged the more troubling aspects of its heritage, and the long, dark shadow they cast over the present.

Even by today’s uncertain standards, Jackson was an exceptionally venal and ruthless stain on the US Presidency. The Cherokee had tried harder than any other tribe to adopt European ways, some even owning plantations and slaves, like the President himself. However, the discovery of gold resulted in their being ruthlessly dispossessed, first packed into roofless stockades, and then forced on a horrific death-march through winter blizzards, abused by soldiers, contractors and Nature, to distant Oklahoma. The genesis of this tragic exodus, reminiscent of the Holocaust, was Jackson’s infamous Indian Removal Act of 1830. When Justice Marshall, at the US Supreme Court, ruled Georgia had no right to evict the Cherokees, Jackson not only ignored it but even sent Federal troops to support Georgia’s illegal land-grab – probably the worst abuse of power in US Presidential history. The Trail of Tears killed more than a quarter of their population, mainly the elderly and children. Essentially, the survivors staggered into Tahlequah without a past or a future.

Most Native Nations suffered similar, inhuman trauma. Even the practice of Native religion was made illegal, punishable with 10 years’ imprisonment. Worse, holy Medicine Men were incarcerated in places like the Hiawatha All-Indian Insane Asylum at Canton, South Dakota. Only in 1979 was this pernicious law overturned. In their own land, they were not even permitted citizenship rights until as late as 1924 (though they were encouraged to die for their country, as soldiers).

However, perhaps the most inhumane chapter was written, in a bizarre echo of today, when their young children were forcibly separated, and sent to harsh boarding schools in distant Pennsylvania. There, missionaries punished them severely for the slightest use of their own language or customs, relentlessly drilling into their tender minds that they were Evil and that theirs was the inheritance of the Devil. The founder, General Pratt’s blatantly expounded, “Kill the Indian; save the Man.” Little wonder this brutal ‘conversion therapy’ frequently led to suicides and often-fatal attempts to escape. Unbelievably, child custody laws changed only in 1978. This horror was largely responsible for almost completely wiping out many Native languages and cultures.

Now, slowly, some “invisible warriors”, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, among others I met recently on a long, solo road-trip through the Great Plains, are trying to claw back their roots, trying to give the unborn generations back their own voice and authentic story. One such pair is the Meiti, Mark St. Pierre, and his Lakota wife, Tilda, whose fledgling Cloud Horse Art Institute is fighting incredible odds to create a film school that will not only provide employment and economic succour but, above all, give the Lakota a voice, to tell their story, especially important at a time the country is seriously examining diversity in its entertainment industry. The heroic community effort, using their own homes and personal resources that went into their first film, the romantic comedy “Mallard’s Road, ”, is truly inspiring. It is not history if written only by the victors. Having achieved so much with so little, one can only wonder at the heights they could achieve with a little mainstream support, not just financially, but in teaching, technique and distribution. They are a lone voice in the wilderness – their brave and, so far, rather lonely effort helps nurture the Nation’s precious soul.

Another such “invisible warrior”, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a few miles from the site of the epochal Wounded Knee Massacre, is Cindy Catches. She, her late husband, Peter, as well as his father, the last Holy Men of their particular Lakota ilk, created Oceti Wakan, to help revive Lakota language and culture among Native children, educating them about their religious beliefs and practices, their true heritage. They have created a 7-year Medicine Wheel curriculum, which helps give the young a strong Lakota identity, and the life skills to heal the generational trauma of the past, build towards a brighter future. 70% of students do not graduate high school, and Cindy continues to fight what is now an even lonelier battle, without her husband, long-time collaborator, and font of Native religious wisdom, to change this and help revive the unity-in-diversity that was one of the strongest, most aspirational foundations of America.

So, who am I, to opine thus? I am from half a world away, a huge admirer of America, a nation that never needed to be made great, as it has always been so, despite its blemishes. But the America I admire so deeply is not the America of a second-generation immigrant hate-monger; it is the America of the Marshall Plan; the America whose welcome to the world was, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”; the America of “We, the People”; the America that brought Apollo 13 safely home; the America of Martin Luther King Jr.; the America that, I pray, will acknowledge its true Native American heritage and stretch forth its generous hand to enable them, too, to share the great American Dream.

Author interview by the Awesome Gang Newsletter

Chandra Lahiri 
Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
Though I have written freelance articles for newspapers and magazines for many years, this was my very first book – and it was moreorless accidental! I have been a top management corporate executive for 45 years but it is only now, having retired, that I am free to pursue my lifelong passion for Native American heritage and history.

What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
“Red Road Across the Great Plains” emerged organically out of a life-changing, solo voyage of discovery that I drove two summers ago, across the Native American & Western Frontier heritage of the blood-soaked Great Plains. On my return, I realized I had such a wealth of notes that it just begged to be turned into a book!

Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Nope! I just wait for inspiration to strike – sometimes, it takes 45 years!

What authors, or books have influenced you?
Dee Brown and a whole passel of insightful writers on Native America. I have included a select bibliography at the end of my book.

What are you working on now?
Just trying to get the word out there about my book. I am doing this not for my own ego or financial gain, but to spread the word about these exceptional people and their true story.

What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
Waiting to find out!

Do you have any advice for new authors?
Its one of the toughest and steepest mountains you can possibly climb, but it is worth it! If you have a worthwhile story to tell, there are people out there willing to hear it. The only, tiny, hurdle is getting to them!

What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Just do it!

What are you reading now?
Red Road Across the Great Plains! For the 20th time!

What’s next for you as a writer?
Ummmm….I am actually waiting for the next inspiration strike!

If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
“Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown
“Rendezvous Series” by Will Blevins
“The Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King
“Crazy Horse, the Strange Man of the Oglalas” by Marie Sandoz

Author Websites and Profiles
Chandra Lahiri Website
Chandra Lahiri Amazon Profile

Chandra Lahiri’s Social Media Links
Goodreads Profile
Facebook Profile
Twitter Account
Pinterest Account

Author Interview by Joan Gleason on Twitter!



Joan Gleason
Featured Interview With Chandra Lahiri

Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?

Chandra Lahiri is an “Indian from India” who lives in the Sultanate of Oman.After many years as a global CEO, he now focuses on his lifelong passion for Native American heritage. His wife is a Special Needs Educator in Oman, and his two sons live in the USA. He loves hearing from like-minded readers, at

At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?
I started reading voraciously when I was in Junior School – ending up having to get eye glasses! I started writing freelance articles while in College, but never dreamt of writing a full-length book till this odyssey inspired me beyond resisting!

Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who Inspires you in your writings?
I love history, historical fiction and detective stories, though I will read pretty much anything. Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” probably had the most profound influence on me. But then, I also love stories about animals!

Tell us a little about your latest book?
A life-changing solo voyage of discovery across the blood-soaked Great Plains. An odyssey to momentous sites of Native American heritage. Meet the amazing “invisible warriors” fighting impossible odds to reclaim their heritage and share in the American Dream without losing their unique identity, much as their ancestors fought on the battlefields to save their way of life.
Nurturing a half-century obsession, I take the reader along on my astonishing solo road-trip through haunting places of intense tragedy and stunning triumphs, through Native American spiritual experiences that shook the atheist in me, plunging into the rough and tumble worlds that were Deadwood and Dodge City, chuckling gently over modern American idiosyncrasies. Neither a “white historian” nor a “red commentator,” I visit both sides of the Native American experience to discover exciting sparks of a brighter, more hopeful future – an unusual and enthralling odyssey effortlessly plaiting space and time.


4:37 PM · Dec 14, 2019

“…brutally honest, emotional and well written…”

The Review

Part history, part travel, author Chandra Lahiri’s novel does an amazing  job of creating a narrative that showcases the authors real life journey to these iconic, historic and sometimes tragic locations in the West and Mid-Western United States. The evenly paced read delved deeply into the violent, heartbreaking and blood-soaked history of the Native American tribes and the impact on both their culture and the white settlers as they expanded their territory further and further westward.

From the genocide that was the Trail of Tears to the Civil War and more, the author lays out the history behind the Native American people and highlights the struggles they endured. However this history is broken up naturally by the travel aspect of the author’s journey, showcasing the modern day experiences the author had while seeing first hand the locations and the history of the United States as it settled westward.

The novel is expertly written, with a voice and tone that speaks of personal experiences the author had on this trip with historic facts that are both known and tragically some that are overlooked or forgotten, for as the author points out in the book, history is written by the victors, but often history is only half true or inaccurate if only written by the victors.

The Verdict

This was a brutally honest, emotional and well written historical/travel novel. An even mix of historical research, graphs and statistics that really put the history of the Native American people and culture into perspective, with the natural observations and personal stories brought to life while on a life-changing trip like the one the author experienced, this novel has something for everyone, and is not to be missed. So if you are a fan of travel stories or are just a major history buff like myself and want to experience the emotional journey of the Native American tribes of the United States, then be sure to grab your copy of author Chandra Lahiri’s “Red Road Across The Great Plains” today!

Rating: 10/10

Anthony Avina

Author of the “Nightmare Academy” series

Elizabeth Warren introduces bill to revoke Medals of Honor awarded for Wounded Knee Massacre

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced a bill Wednesday that would posthumously revoke 20 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. soldiers who slaughtered hundreds of Native Americans — mostly women and children — at the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.

The Remove the Stain Act accompanies a House version introduced earlier this year by Democrats Paul Cook of California, Denny Heck of Washington and Deb Haaland of New Mexico.

“The horrifying acts of violence against hundreds of Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee should be condemned, not celebrated with Medals of Honor,” Warren said in a statement. “The Remove the Stain Act acknowledges a profoundly shameful event in U.S. history, and that’s why I’m joining my House colleagues in this effort to advance justice and take a step toward righting wrongs against Native peoples.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gestures as she speaks during a campaign stop in Manchester, N.H. Warren has introduced a bill that would revoke Medal of Honor for 20 U.S. soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gestures as she speaks during a campaign stop in Manchester, N.H. Warren has introduced a bill that would revoke Medal of Honor for 20 U.S. soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

The proposal is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, Kamala Harris of California and Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent. Several Native American tribes, including descendants of the victims, have backed the legislation along with veterans groups such as VoteVets and Veterans for Peace.

Wounded Knee took place on Dec. 29, 1890 when U.S. troops with the 7th Calvary began to crack down on a religious movement known as the Ghost Dance. Lakota leader Chief Big Foot and his people were confined to a camp in South Dakota and ordered to give up their weapons.

When a weapon accidentally went off, the cavalry troops opened fire and killed as many as 250 people. Congress apologized for the massacre in 1990 but did not revoke the medals, the military’s highest award.

“The Medal of Honor is the highest award our nation can bestow upon its servicemembers for acts of valor,” Heck said. “There was no valor in the killing of unarmed Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890, and the Medals of Honor given for the massacre must be rescinded.”

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota has said he does not support the effort because “we’re now guessing” about the roles of individual soldiers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Keystone Pipeline leaks 383,000 gallons of oil in North Dakota

(CNN)Part of the Keystone 1 Pipeline in North Dakota was shut down after a leak of about 9,120 barrels of oil — 383,040 gallons — was discovered, TC Energy company said in a statement.

Keystone pipeline leak

The oil leak was discovered just north of Edinburg, in the northeast part of the state, and affected about 2,500 square yards of land, the company said. A drop in pressure was detected on Tuesday, and the pipeline was immediately shut down, the company said.
The company is not sure how the leak started, but says an independent party is examining the pipeline.
“We are establishing air quality, water and wildlife monitoring and will continue monitoring throughout the response. There have been no reported injuries or impacted wildlife,” TC Energy said.
“The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available.”
The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality said the spill impacted a wetland area. “Personnel from the NDDEQ are at the site and will continue to monitor the investigation and remediation,” the department said in a news release.
The Indigenous Environmental Network, an environmental justice nonprofit group, responded to the spill with concern.
“This is exactly the kind of spill we are worried about when it comes to Keystone XL being built. It has never been if a pipeline breaks but rather when,” said Joye Braun, Indigenous Environmental Network frontline community organizer.
The organization criticized the company, saying that it hasn’t done enough to secure the infrastructure of the pipeline.

Pipeline protests

The Keystone Pipeline system stretches more than 2,600 miles from Alberta, Canada, east into Manitoba and then south to Texas.
Keystone 1 refers to phase one of the Keystone Pipeline that starts in Alberta and runs through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma. Phase one started operating in 2011.
The controversial Keystone XL pipeline would begin in Alberta and extend south to Steele City, Nebraska. The company says it hopes to start construction in 2020.
The pipelines have sparked months-long protests. In 2017, a spill exposed 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. As many as 10,000 people participated during the peak of the demonstrations.
Clashes with police at the protests turned violent at times, with one woman nearly losing her arm after an explosion in November 2016.
Courtesy : CNN

The complicated history of Gen. Vallejo

slide image

Like many Petaluma youngsters, John Sheehy was presented a glowing picture of Mariano Vallejo in school.

The local historian and author said he admired the man, who is remembered as one of the founding fathers of California, a prosperous Mexican general that colonized the North Bay Area and created a legacy that lives on throughout the region.

Over the years, however, mounting evidence about Vallejo’s treatment of Native Americans has forced many to reconsider their views of the legendary ranchero.

A permanent Petaluma Museum exhibit for Vallejo has become a source of tension for local historians that are divided on how to present his story as efforts to rearrange the display get started.

It’s an issue that elevates the question being raised around the country about how to balance modern morality with the behavior of historical figures hundreds of years ago. And beyond that, how to uplift the stories of the natives or the slaves that are rarely memorialized.

Sheehy believes the museum label for Vallejo needs to be updated, or should at least share the space with a summary of what the California Indians experienced during the era of Rancho Petaluma in the early 19th century.

“It’s time to make the invisible, visible,” Sheehy said. “We need to bring it out for our own purposes to understand. The myths existed to tell us how we came to be here, what it means to be here and how we’re going to be going forward.

“If we’ve always got these secrets in the closet that we don’t want to talk about, we’re going to be hampered going forward in having a sense of place here.”

The current exhibit label was written a decade ago by historian Skip Sommer, a Petaluma Argus-Courier columnist and former developer, who views Vallejo as “the most important man in Sonoma County history.”

Sommer, a historical author for three decades, is wary of any sweeping changes to the exhibit, and called for a balanced and evidence-based approach to ensure Vallejo’s legacy isn’t hastily undone.

“People want the truth, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “Certainly there’s lots of stones to turn over — of everybody. I just don’t want to destroy our local hero here.”

Archaeological digs by state officials, diaries from Mexican soldiers, and newly-translated Russian documents connected to the settlement at Fort Ross have revealed conflicts with Vallejo’s overarching story.

Breck Parkman, a retired archaeologist for California State Parks, who was based in Sonoma County and oversaw Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, described Vallejo as an “opportunist” savvy to the shifting political winds.

It was Vallejo’s actions during his rise to power in the 1830s that local historians are taking issue with.

Russian documents tell a story from 1838 when Vallejo rounded up 50 of his indigenous workers after losing 35 of his cattle. In response, suspecting they were stolen, he executed 35 of them, Parkman said.

The most notable issue was a decision not to vaccinate his workers at the Petaluma Adobe fort when smallpox first appeared in 1837. Vaccines had been available for decades, and evidence shows the Russians had immunized their workers at Fort Ross to preserve their operation.

Vallejo, on the other hand, opted only to inoculate his family and close allies like Chief Solano, a controversial native in his close circle. As a result, most of Vallejo’s 2,000 workers died and the Adobe never recovered, Sheehy said.

The spread of smallpox almost eradicated the Coast Miwok and Pomo populations, the indigenous groups that first inhabited parts of Sonoma County.

Parkman likens the debate over Vallejo to the discussions in the American South where monuments dedicated to Confederate commander Robert E. Lee are being torn down. Parkman is opposed to removing Vallejo statues, like the bench statue in Sonoma Plaza or the busts around Petaluma, but it’s important to recognize he’s not guilt-free, he said.

“We have the myth of Robert E. Lee, and then you have the truth and there’s those nagging questions,” Parkman said. “Same with Vallejo — we have the myth of Vallejo. I still have a certain amount of respect, but he’s not a hero.”

For Reno Franklin, the former tribal chairman of the Kashia Pomo Indians, who said he’s a direct descendant of the “genocidal acts” of Vallejo, the feelings are much more straightforward.

The Pomo Indians worked side by side with the Russian settlers at Fort Ross, and Franklin said Vallejo allowed villages to be pillaged by the Mexican government where children were taken as slaves.

It wasn’t until a visit to Fort Ross when Vallejo was tasked by the Mexican government to gauge the Russian presence along the Sonoma Coast that Franklin said he changed his approach with the California Indians, trading goods and offering labor in exchange for protection.

Throughout his life, though, he still wavered. As a member of California’s first State Senate, Sheehy said Vallejo co-authored a bill that allegedly authorized the enslavement of unemployed natives and indigenous children under forced apprenticeship.

A member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a presidentially-appointed body that shapes policies for the federal government, Franklin said it’s important to view Vallejo holistically, as the man he started as, the man he became and how he changed along the way.

“A cultureless people will always look for heroes where there are none,” Franklin said of celebrating Vallejo’s legacy. “Those people who came here and left their lands, they didn’t bring their culture with them. They brought their greed, their unprincipled actions, their murderous intent.”

Discussions continue over how to reorganize the space dedicated to Vallejo at the Petaluma Museum.

The area around his exhibit is introducing more history of the California Indians, and while Franklin believes total education reform is the key to changing the narrative of Petaluma’s controversial settlers, he conceded that this is a good start.

“It sounds like they’re doing some positive efforts to do that, and I applaud those efforts to tell a story that’s more inclusive of the tribe,” Franklin said.

—– Courtesy Argus Courier

Native American tribe regains island taken after 1860 massacre


Most of an island off northern California will again belong to the Wiyot Tribe, which was decimated by settlers in 1860.

Native Americans of the Wiyot Tribe paddle a dugout redwood canoe from Indian Island, in Eureka, California (Ben Margot/AP) [Daylife]
Native Americans of the Wiyot Tribe paddle a dugout redwood canoe from Indian Island, in Eureka, California (Ben Margot/AP) [Daylife]

An island off the coast of northern California was the site of a massacre of members of an indigenous tribe, a place that was contaminated by a shipyard and flush with invasive species. But it is also the spiritual and physical centre of the universe for the small Wiyot Tribe, and it will belong to them almost entirely on Monday after a city deeds all the land it owns on the island to the tribe.

“It’s a really good example of resilience because Wiyot people never gave up the dream,” tribal administrator Michelle Vassel said. “It’s a really good story about healing and about coming together of community.”

The tribe was decimated in 1860, when scores of elders, women and children were wiped out during a raid by settlers while the tribe’s men were away gathering supplies. Since then, the now 600-member tribe has been making small strides towards regaining the land it lost.

The tribe sold art and fry bread and took in donations to buy 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres) on the eastern tip of the island for $106,000 in 2000. Years later, the city of Eureka gave the tribe more land.

On Monday, the city will sign over the deed to the largest chunk – more than 80 hectares (200 acres) in what was the historic village of Etpidolh. No money was exchanged.

“For our city, it’s the right thing to do, and that’s why we’re doing it,” said Councilwoman Kim Bergel, who was born and raised in the county. “Certainly, it’s been far too long.”

Tribes have lost millions of acres of land through treaties broken by the US government, by force and in exchange for federal services such as healthcare and education. Rarely has it been restored, said Cris Stainbrook, president of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. Most tribes resort to buying land as it comes up for sale.

The tribe with the largest land base of any, Navajo Nation in the southwest, has purchased ranches in Colorado outside the boundary of its 70,000sq km (27,000sq miles) reservation.

Wiyot 2
Wiyot Tribe tribal chair Cheryl Seidner waves as she travels by dugout redwood canoe from Indian Island across Humboldt Bay to a deed ceremony in Eureka, California [File: Ben Margot/AP]

In New Mexico, Santa Ana Pueblo bought back a large swath of ancestral land in 2016 for an undisclosed price. Isleta Pueblo to the south added 362sq km (140sq miles) to its reservation the same year when federal officials agreed to put it into trust.

The US government offered Sioux tribes money for seizing the Black Hills more than a century ago. The tribes refused the payment and have sought the return of the land.

In California, a former Wiyot councilman unsuccessfully petitioned Eureka for part of Indian Island in the 1970s. The tribe started fundraising in 1998, watching for any properties that came up for sale.

The Wiyot knew the parcel it bought in 2000 had extensive contamination from a former shipyard that was established on the island shortly after the massacre, along with livestock grazing. That did not matter. People in the community asked what they could do to help.

The tribe and community members came together to remove boat batteries, lead paint, chemicals, scrap metal, rusty buckets, a huge engine and contaminated soil. A 1,000-year-old clamshell mound containing burial sites, tools and things left over from ceremonies was restored.

The land was deemed safe in 2014. The overall quality of water, plants and marine life have improved, the tribe says.

Vassel took the first group of children there and remembers the excitement.

“You could feel it in the air,” she said. “The feeling of coming home.”

The clean bill of health by the US Environmental Protection Agency also meant the tribe could resume a ceremony it was forced to abandon after the massacre.

The ceremony staged in 2014 to renew the world and restore balance lasted 10 days. Sea lions came up on the beach and watched dancers and singers. Egrets stooped on cypress trees.

The last day started off clear and sunny, before heavy rain sent 100 people fleeing for shelter, which Tribal Chairman Ted Hernandez took as a sign the ceremony was complete.

“We knew our ancestors were still there,” Hernandez said. “We can feel them, saying, ‘We are watching you, we know that what you are doing is correct.’ It’s a peaceful feeling.”

The tribe has been trying to revive its language and cultural practices that were driven underground after the massacre. The last person fluent in the Wiyot language died in the 1960s. Some elders who were sent to boarding school were afraid to teach Wiyot traditions to the younger generation, Hernandez said.

The massacre is a point of history third-graders learn during a ferry tour that passes Indian Island, Bergel said. Over the years, tribal members and the community have joined in a candlelight vigil around the anniversary to remember those lost.

The tribe’s reservation in Loleta is southwest of Indian Island, which can take hours to reach by boat. During the highest tide, the island can become submerged.

The city had no use for the land it declared surplus property and offered up to public agencies but had no takers. Few parcels on the island are privately owned.

The tribe imagines the island as a place where native plants can flourish and be used in ceremonies, where the community can gather and where its renewal ceremony can be practised annually. The next one is scheduled in March.

Officials attribute the relationship built between Eureka and the Wiyot to communication and understanding that they all benefit from the health of the island.

“It was never vile, us versus them,” Vassel said. “It was more about healing the community, healing the land. We all live in this community together.”




20180621_171551Days 29 & 30 :  Toksha Akhay

This is the last entry in my diary, for this epic, personal pilgrimage. I will never again have such an extraordinary adventure, in this lifetime. After 30 days, almost 5800 kilometers, 83 hours of driving, 430 liters of petrol, 6 States, 3 time zones, 5 ballpoint pens, 4 completely worn tyres and 1 speeding fine, my amazing odyssey is finally over. A lifetime of wonder is stored in my mind, for “reflection in tranquility.”

Yellowstone National Park was the perfect culmination. It is one of the most fascinating, strange and beautiful places on earth. On our penultimate day, we discovered the Canyon to Roosevelt road, easily the most exciting and diverse part of this giant Wilderness. First up, we passed the huge Yellowstone Lake, with an inexplicable, narrow strip of land, with a stand of mature trees, right out on the water, unconnected to any other land. Yes, it is an island, but a rather unusual one. The next act was Mud Volcano, an entire area of constant thermal activity, with clouds of steam billowing out of the earth, everywhere, and a strong, sulphuric smell in the air. It could serve as a precursor to Dante’s inferno! Winding along the steep mountain road, we reached snow, at just over 8000 feet, and the scenery transmutes into Switzerland. Temperatures, that day, ranged from a high of 12 degrees Celsius, to a low of 2 degrees – in summer! The next, most dramatic, act is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This simply has to be on everyone’s bucket list. Over the millennia, the rushing Yellowstone River has twisted and turned it’s eroding way, over rapids and through spectacular falls, till it has ground out a very deep gorge through this Absaroka Range. It engendered the deepest respect, in me, for the Native Americans and the intrepid Mountain Men, the fur trappers, who braved this utterly daunting river gorge in their flimsy canoes, a couple of centuries ago. They definitely were a different breed of men.

For two days, we had seen innumerable warnings about bears, and posters explaining the difference between black bears and grizzlies. Having not seen any the first couple of days, I was beginning to wonder if it was just tourist hype. On the way back from Roosevelt, a long line of cars were pulled over at the side of the road, and some Rangers were doing their best to keep traffic flowing. We had learnt that this was the surest indicator of an animal sighting, and so, hastily, pulled up too, and ran over. There were a couple of black bear cubs romping happily in the meadow grass. Their parent were, undoubtedly, around, but kept out of sight. Stoutly resisting the urge to take these bundles of cuteness home, since it might make the Rangers a bit unhappy, we moved on. The day had started out rainy and misty, but soon cleared. The change in the weather seemed to have cheered the animals too, as we soon came to another procession of crawling cars – and there, several huge, brown grizzly bears were moving leisurely about, near some light woods. Unfortunately, it was not a place we could stop safely. Feeling really thrilled, we moved on, and reached a traffic jam. A couple of Rangers stopped traffic, to allow part of a herd of bison to cross the road. They did so with admirable traffic discipline. Finally, a Ranger shooed a small, baby bison, scampering on unsteady legs, back to its mother. The show was over, barring the sighting of several grazing elks and moose, and a couple of foxes, out scrounging a food hand-out.

On our last morning, we decided to head out early, for lilliput Cody Airport, in the hope of seeing more wildlife. We virtually ignored the passing elk and bison, to which we had become a bit blasé, by now. A lone deer made a cameo appearance, before bouncing off into the trees. And then, we were truly rewarded. Just ahead, loping along the road, was a large, adult black bear. Glancing warily back at us, every so often, it continued along, right beside our car, for quite a while, allowing us a great video opportunity, before entering the trees.

Breakfast was at Buffalo Bill’s original, wooden, hunting lodge, just outside the Park gates, and then, all too soon, the mountains dumped us at Cody. The magical interlude was over.

As the aircraft banked over the serene glory of the Bay Area, making its final approach to San Francisco Airport, I reflected on the entire experience. Despite the horrors, and heroism, of the past, there is definitely a slowly dawning sense of revival among the Natives. I am confident Wakan Tanka will inspire this great, awe-inspiring country, of such heroic achievements and dynamism, to finally embrace them; and the great American Dream will, eventually, become an inclusive reality. As the dawn of a bright, new day shimmered through my aircraft’s window, it seemed an omen.

Toksha Akhay, till we meet again – in this lifetime, or the next.




Days 27 & 28  : Trail’s End – Yellowstone

Unlike the Imperial-hubris of Fraser’s “End of the Trail” sculpture, of the exhausted, defeated Native Warrior, I ride to my trail’s end, energetic and excited, eager to experience the magic of Yellowstone – after a childhood diet of Yogi Bear and Booboo Bear. After a long, lonely month, my wife now rides shotgun, in my fossil-fueled stagecoach, drawn by mechanical horses. The three hour drive to Yellowstone is, to put it mildly, spectacular. Cody is past in the blink of an eye, and up to the gate of the National Park, it is average on the wonder scale. Thereafter, the road climbs into really breathtaking scenery, with a racing mountain river keeping us company. Eventually, dramatic snowy peaks emerge, and, before you realize it, you are actually at the snow line. There is ice right next to the road – nearly in the middle of summer! Traffic, unsurprisingly, is quite heavy, but moves smoothly. At every scenic outlook, there are thoughtfully arranged pull-off areas, where you can stop and stare, in awe and wonder. After innumerable oohs and aahs, we eventually make it to Grant Village, on Yellowstone Lake, right in the heart of the nearly 9000 protected wilderness and wildlife habitat.

A pleasant and helpful Receptionist informed us that our room would be ready only at 4pm, and suggested various things we could do, or see, in the intervening three hours. We decided to have a late lunch and browse the shops in the village. When we returned at 4pm, a different Receptionist curtly informed us that our room was not ready and that check in was only at 4.30pm. When I mentioned the other lady had given us the 4pm time, she curtly barked, “Then, she informed you incorrectly.” By then it was already 4.26pm but she responded, equally curtly, “It’s not 4.30”. So, we waited. She eyed me stonily, till the four minutes passed, and then handed over the room key. On enquiring about a wi-if password, she spat, “You have to pay for it.” This is one of the very few places in the US where you do. Welcome to Yellowstone!

That behavior really dampened our spirits, but it only lasted till the next morning. Though it dawned overcast and drizzly, we did not let that affect our enthusiasm for the grizzly, and decided to head out early, to beat the crowds. And we were rewarded. Arriving at Old Faithful, the amazing, huge, incredibly punctual geyser, the sporadic rain stopped, and we were in time to grab the best ringside seats. As we waited, a condescending Brit tourist asked us if we knew we were all sitting on the world’s biggest volcano, which could erupt at any time. To his obvious chagrin, I confirmed we did, and added that it would save us all cremation expenses. He was not amused! Exactly at 10.39 am, Old Faithful built up a head of steam, and let loose with an utterly jaw-dropping thermal geyser. In size, height and intensity it was everything it had been cracked up to be. What surprised us was how quiet the eruption was. Almost like a ballet, this prima donna was accompanied by an entire troupe of subsidiary geysers, letting off steam, all around. At the end of the performance, we joined the, largely Chinese, audience, in giving Old Faithful a rousing hand of applause!

Heading to Mammoth Hot Springs, near the northern entrance to the Park, we realized the entire area is a collection of thermal basins, filled with steaming lakes, hot springs and myriad geysers. Nearing Mammoth, the rain resumed, accompanied by mist. Nothing could dampen our excitement at the wild and wonderful spectacle. Sections of the road were under repair, and awash in mud, which camouflaged our car brilliantly. On the way back, we decided to try the alternate route, via Canyon and Lake. This was a mistake, as it was just boringly lovely, compared to the stunningly lovely route via Norris. However, we finally did get to say hello (from my wife, literally!) to some wild life. Massive buffalo (actually, bison) grazed contentedly all around, completely ignoring the admiring hordes of tourists. Further down the road, we met a couple of elks, right next to the road. One posed its behind for my wife’s camera. I must confess, I avoided eye contact, having just had elk sliders for lunch.

And then, we were attacked by a grizzly bear! Just kidding. Earlier, when we stopped at a pull-off, near another motorist, he told us we had just missed seeing a grizzly, by five minutes. Perhaps, tomorrow.

Back at the Deer Lodge, we decided to drown our sorrows at missing the grizzly, with a bottle of wine. Completely forgetting that we had picked up a corked bottle, and there is no corkscrew at the Lodge! There ensued an epic battle. Nothing gets between us and our wine! Pressed into service were car keys, scissors, coffee stirrers, and considerable perseverance and ingenuity! Needless to say, the wine was drunk!


Day 25  : Glory in Sunset

Battle waged furiously, in the valley of the Rosebud River. Significantly outmanned, and considerably outgunned, Crazy Horse had, nevertheless, decided to attack General Crook’s army, in defence of their camp, over the watershed, on the Little Bighorn. At its peak, a Cheyenne Chief’s horse was killed, and he fell. His sister, watching from a nearby ridge, quickly grabbed a horse and rode fearlessly out to him. Collecting him, on the gallop, she rode back to their lines. Forever, thereafter, this battle on the Rosebud would be known as The Battle Where the Girl Saved Her Brother.

Largely with bows and arrows, or old rifles, against the Army’s massed, modern, repeating weapons, it was almost as Quixotically heroic as the Polish Army’s horsed cavalry charges against German tanks, in WWII. The world of values and spirituality, versus the world of realpolitik. Against all odds, Crazy Horse defeated General Crook, who was forced to retreat, all the way back to Fort Laramie. As a result, he would not be there to support Custer. It was later estimated that this battle cost the US Government $ 1 million for each Native warrior killed. The overall cost of the “Indian Wars” would be an astronomical $150,000 per day! Buying peace, instead, would have been a bargain. It is ironic that this defeat was inflicted on General Crook, a rare intellectual in the military, who understood, and empathized with, the Natives. Asked for the most difficult aspect of fighting the Natives, he courageously replied, “Knowing you are wrong.” Despite this, though, he probably never forgave Crazy Horse, as he allegedly supported the plot to imprison the surrendered Chief, and exile him to a wretched Florida island, an American St.Helena, leading to his assassination.

A week later, the arrogant, over-ambitious Custer, bottom of his class at West Point, blind to all realities except the fantasy of his own invincibility and glory, divided his completely exhausted troops into three detachments, and, with his 250 soldiers attacked a camp of 1500 skilled warriors. He expected to repeat his Washita tactic, wanting, at any cost, his ‘victory’ to happen in time for him to run for President. However, here, he faced not peaceful, old Black Kettle, but the genius of Crazy Horse, inspired by the visions of Sitting Bull. As Chief Gall chased Custer up Last Stand Hill, Crazy Horse anticipated his every move, completely out-generalled him, despite only 1 in 5 of his warriors having guns, cornered him, and systematically wiped both Custer and his entire command, off the face of the earth. The Achilles Heel of any military, the unbounded hubris of an unsuitable commander, invariably costs the lives of gallant soldiers.

Never before, or after, were the Lakota so united, so ably led. The quiet, modest, unmaterialistic, personally unambitious Crazy Horse, the antithesis of Custer, in every way, was the decisive factor in the battle, just as Sitting Bull’s vision was the decisive factor in uniting and inspiring the Lakota to their greatest victory. However, even in that moment of glory, the Chiefs knew it was the last splutter of the flame. America would respond with massive force, and their people were in sunset. Doubting their ability to win militarily, the Army would use its might to drive the buffalo to near extinction; the Natives to near starvation. Hunger finally won the West. These free spirits would be forced, by the greed of invaders, onto small reservations, places where, Lincoln said, “Indians live, surrounded by thieves.” Natives would not even receive citizenship rights till as late as 1924. In the end, America eradicated 80% of the Native population (compared to 63% of European Jews, that Hitler did).

Atop Last Stand Hill, I gaze out over the prairie grass and dandelions, swaying gently in the breeze. It is a scene of extraordinary tranquility. The lonely, mournful whistle of a passing locomotive adds a dirge. The lush hillside is obscenely pockmarked with stark, white headstones, marking the place each soldier fell (Custer’s is black). More recently, red granite markers have been installed at the spots Native warriors died, fighting not for some abstract need to conquer foreign lands, or take something that belonged to others, but simply to protect their families, tribes. The monument to the doubtfully glorious 7th Cavalry, the same unit responsible for the Washita and Wounded Knee massacres, stands in solitary vigil, on that summit. A monument to all the Native tribes was finally installed in 2003.

The Ranger video, and lecture, understandably, tread lightly on the Army’s “golden soldier”, ignoring his shortcomings. A throng of white Americans (where are you, brown people!) pay homage to Custer. I, the sole Injun, pay homage to Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and their warriors. Fortunately, the Crows – traditional enemies of the Lakota, and, therefore, supporters of Custer – today, operate an excellent tour of the expansive battlefield, offering a well balanced narrative. At the end, I am left to wonder at a capricious universe, that turned the Natives’ greatest hour of glory, into the blood-red sunset of their world.



Day 24  : One for the Underdog

The horses charged up the green Piney Trail Ridge, snorting and panting, urged on by the battlecries of the soldiers. The few Lakota, ahead, were clearly fleeing, in panic. An easy kill. At the summit, Captain Fetterman barely paused to consider his Commander had specifically ordered him, not once but three times, not to cross this Ridge. Fetterman contemptuously threw caution to the winds, and dashed over. After all, as he had claimed repeatedly, with just 80 troopers, he could wipe out the entire Lakota Nation – and he had exactly 80 troopers with him now. As they plunged headlong into the valley, and up a little rise, suddenly, several hundred furious warriors sprang out of hiding – exactly as the Colonel had forewarned Fetterman. In short order, the entire troop was wiped out, to the last man. Known to the Lakota as the Battle of the Hundred Hands, it was the Army’s worst defeat, till Custer outdid the ignominy, exactly ten years later. Score one – a big one – for the underdog.

What led a seasoned officer to flagrantly disobey orders and end up with all his men killed? Exactly the same factors that influenced Custer – overweening ego and unbridled ambition. Custer, too, would famously boast, “I could whip all the Indians on the Continent, with the 7th Cavalry.” He, too, would learn the error of his ways. Fetterman’s troop was divided into three, and killed, while Custer himself split his soldiers into three and had his troop wiped out, to the last man. The weighty price of hubris. It would take the Army quite some time to understand that, the Natives fought as they hunted, relying on tactics, rather than technology. Once they learnt guerrilla warfare from the Lakota, the tide would turn, and turn irrevocably. For the Natives, living, and fighting, were both absolutely individual and personal. Their highest honor was to touch a live enemy, to show one’s personal courage, rather than killing him. Hence, the understandable claim by the Army that this happened because never had the Lakota been known to fight a planned, tactical battle. They forgot that the warriors’ code was “Every day is a good day to die.”

The Fetterman Fight was led by Red Cloud. To head the decoy party, which so convincingly lured the soldiers on, he appointed a young warrior, Crazy Horse. It was the beginning of a war career that remains unmatched in the annals of American history. The Ranger video at Fort Phil Kearney, like at the Washita, does credit to the country, with its complete honesty, despite it being an embarrassing disaster for the Army. The Fort itself was burnt to the ground by Red Cloud, along with all the others on the Bozeman Trail, when the Army withdrew, after two years of failing to win Red Cloud’s War. Today, it is a poignant sight – just a field of pretty wildflowers, with rusty markers bearing mute testimony to past lives and spilt blood.

Today has been the first, long drive, after a week of lazing around the Black Hills. I left sleeping Deadwood early (its slogan, “Deadwood Alive” clearly does not refer to mornings), in search of breakfast, hopefully in the next town, Spearfish. And I searched and searched. This is probably how brunch was invented – you keep hunting for breakfast till nearly lunchtime! Though I leave the beautiful Black Hills reluctantly, I am excited to rendezvous with my wife, at Cody, Wyoming, in a few days. It has been a long, lonely month. Of course, before then, my dashing, new-look beard and mustache simply must go!

After brunch, I was back on my old friend, I-90, passing the “Center of the Nation”, at Belle Fourche. To my surprise, the geographic center of the US really is in South Dakota! Drifting through little Sundance (not, as their literature says, where the film festival is), I decided to drop by the courthouse where the Sundance Kid was tried, and the jail from which he escaped 18 months later, to join Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang, to become The Sundance Kid. Together, they would go on the biggest, and longest, crime spree in the history of the West.

As I head deeper into lovely Wyoming, full of hills and little lakes, snowy peaks begin to appear on the horizon. Traffic is very light indeed, though most are RVs. One man has decided to take his entire house along! I give that Wide Load a wiiiide berth! And I have picked up a few more choice roadside signs, to add to my collection. “Red Ass Rhubarb” gives fair warning, while “Wife Insurance” is intriguing. Then comes “Force Road” – persuasion didn’t work, huh? While most States post sharply reduced speed limits, in road work areas, warning of doubled fines, South Dakota tries to be punny, instead, “Our workers…give ‘em a brake.” I finally arrive at the very cute Story Pines Inn, and relax on the lawn, watching wild deer – till a heavy pine cone falls on my head!


Days 22 & 23 : Sin & Debauchery!

I am sidling, nervously, into a Town of Sin and Debauchery! A leisurely 45 minute drive through the exquisite beauty of the mystical Black Hills, shows me, once again, the flip side of the Frontier. As usual, I am the only Injun amid a horde of cowboys. I wonder if I am the only non-white in the whole of South Dakota! However, they treat me as I expect a horde of Injuns would treat the Lone Ranger – with benevolent indifference.

If ever there was a town whose foundations are built on pure, unadulterated, unabashed greed and venality, it is Deadwood. A hugely atmospheric little town, still thriving on, at least, one of its hereditary sins, gambling, it was once the heart of the Black Hills gold rush. Deadwood has seen it all. The gritty, eponymous HBO series has prepared me for the rawness of this once no-holds-barred, lawless and, indeed, completely illegal, ‘camp’, on land guaranteed “in perpetuity” to the Lakota, by the Treaty of Laramie. Al Swearengen did run his bordello, the Gem Theatre, across the road (today the Mineral Palace Hotel), a refuge for gamblers, cardsharps, and, in the exquisite parlance of the day, “soiled doves”. Nearby was the equally notorious Bella Union Saloon. 11 of every 16 women were ‘soiled doves’. Further down Main Street, witness to so much, is the infamous Saloon No.10, where a cowardly Jack McCall shot the legendary Wild Bill Hickok in the back, as he sat playing cards, holding what has come to be known as the Dead Man’s Hand – 2 aces and 2 eights. This street has known Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, allegedly Wild Bill’s girlfriend, celebrated Sheriff Seth Bullock, Charlie Utter, Sol Star, Wong Lee, all larger-than-life Wild West characters in their own right. They all now sleep in the Mount Moriah Cemetery. Of course, Deadwood would not be Deadwood if this famous cemetery was not also home to the graves of its celebrated brothel Madams, such as Madam Moustache. The entire town was built on alcohol, prostitution and opium, riding the heady crest of the gold rush. The law was a rough and ready thing, at best, and its enforcement both sporadic and hazardous. Guns, grit and, above all, gold. The Homestead Gold Mine finally shut in 2002, after 126 years of operation. The last brothel downed its less-than-discreet shutters as recently as 1980.

Deadwood was a tough little gulch and its residents even tougher. A devastating fire destroyed the town in 1879, but it rapidly rebuilt and rose again, phoenix-like. Seth Bullock and Sol Star’s shop was one of the victims, but they reincarnated into the Bullock Hotel, still operating today – complete with tours to meet Bullock’s ghost. Almost Divine retribution, for its sins, fire and flood destroyed Deadwood several times, over the years. But Deadwood is still here, and prospering. Today, it is no longer the town of sin, greed and lawlessness, but it does use its highly picturesque past to good effect, in promoting tourism, as a baby Las Vegas, but with history. There are regular ‘shoot-outs’ up and down Main Street, and the infamous assassination of Wild Bill Hickok is re-enacted, along with the first, sham trial of Jack McCall. Even Kevin Costner has got in on the action, after he filmed “Dances with Wolves”, buying up the Midnight Star Casino and a tour company.

As the evening shades draw in, I stroll back to my hotel, the Historic Silverado Franklin, just a few feet from where gold was first struck, in Deadwood Gulch. Rooms beside mine have hosted Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, John Wayne, Buffalo Bill Cody and other celebrities. Jolted by a flurry of gunshots, I realized it is the evening shootout, and hurry across the street to the Masonic Lodge, to watch the trial of Jack McCall. Having witnessed the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, earlier, I am keen to see its conclusion. The only ticketed event of the day’s many historic entertainments, it is staged with enthusiasm, skill and great humor. Audience members are often hauled up to the stage, to participate as witnesses, and I suddenly find myself ‘volunteered’, despite having studiously avoided eye contact with the ‘recruiter’! Though I have not acted since my schooldays, I throw myself into the part with gusto! As the trial ends, and the murderer is set free, by the jury of disreputable minor miners (average age 6 years), I walk back on to Main Street, now draped in velvety night. Looking down the street, fairly dimly-lit, even today, it is easy to see the ghosts of horses, carts and stagecoaches, clattering about, and the rowdy, boisterous crowds that were the lifeblood of Deadwood. Rarely has a town been so inaccurately named!

On a somber note, I just received word that the Medicine Man I interviewed on Day 1a4, passed away four days later. My photograph of him, in Muscat Daily, was the last of him alive. Pila maya, Catches His Enemy.


Day 21  : Choo Choo Train

I have now been on the road for three full weeks, and the tiredness seeping into my ancient bones admonishes me that I should have been home yesterday! And yet, the irresistible siren-song of the open road still has me in its thrall. I am happy to have this relaxed day, in the beautiful Black Hills, away from the searing tragedy of the Native American experience, as well as the exuberant derring-do of the frontiersmen, the indomitable spirits that built this Nation. I write this as I chug gently along on an excruciatingly cute little 1880s train, out of Keystone, heading for lunch, an hour away, at Hill City. After lunch, I shall board the open-sided Redfern coach, to meander back to Keystone. Both are tiny towns, tucked away in the Black Hills, surviving only for tourists; evaporating come winter.

I hadn’t realize that my latest Patel palace is just 2 miles from Rushmore, almost within sight of the four Big Bosses. A relaxed half hour drive from Custer, I arrive much too early to check in. This gives me time to muse on the idiosyncrasies of this great and wonderful country, that I have encountered so far.

Why, for instance, does the same road have upto three different numeric designators? And, for greater confusion, three possible suffixes – BL (Business), BYP (Bypass) and ALT (Alternate). Street names can be perennially entertaining, like the latest in my collection, “Windbreak Road”, so susceptible to alternate interpretations. There is even a “7-11 Road”. Some pique my curiosity for the backstory, like “Lame Johnny Creek.”

As the century-old, wooden coaches dash along at a blinding 20 miles an hour, I remember the Toy Train of my native Darjeeling, which, too, a brisk walker can outpace, perhaps with a nap or two. Oblivious to other passengers’ wanting to listen to the narrative on the train, two elderly ladies, from “Minne-sodah” carry on a loud, mind-numbingly inane gossip. A young father asks his little son, “So, buddy, are ya havin a good taaaahm?” Buddy, priorities crystal clear, focuses intensely on his ice-cream. Grandma ignores the No Smoking signs and puffs away – till she sees the Conductor approaching, and flicks it out of the open window, with practiced ease. Her ‘little ol granny’ expression does not slip for a second. It turns out, the train is packed with ‘Minne-sodahs’!

Breakfasts are fascinating. People do live up to their stereotypes! White Americans (men in shorts; women in sleeping pajamas) will usually greet you; Europeans, never. African Americans (usually women only, in tracksuits) will ignore you, but will be quick to apologize if they, inadvertently, get in your way. To the rare Indians (except the Patels of the motels), I am transparent; just don’t exist. The Chinese look at me as though I have stolen their babies. A thoroughly enjoyable daybreak!

The cops, though, defy stereotypes – like the one that stopped me in the heart of rural Kansas. Oops! I let that cat out of the bag, didn’t I! Waaal, Kansas has these incredibly long, straight roads, almost bereft of cars, besides the odd truck, surrounded by flat, empty fields that, I was convinced, couldn’t possibly hide a cop. So, well, I just might – might, I say! – have touched the pedal up to the occasional 120 mph. I had just, laughingly, taken pictures of a dinky little town called Gage, with its dinky Courthouse, and zipped ten miles past, when I was annoyed by a trucker ahead repeatedly flashing his braking lights. Only when I noticed the cop’s bright, flashing lights, in my mirror, did I realize he was trying to warn me there was a cop around, to slow down. As I stopped, I was excited, “Just like the movies!” The next moment, I remembered that, in those movies, the cops were always bad! I kept both hands conspicuously in view, on the steering wheel. The cop said, “Sir, I had you clocked at 91, in a 65 zone.” My shocked look didn’t quite cut it, even with me. He was very pleasant and almost apologetic, “Sir, if it was on the Interstate, I could probably have given it a pass, but on our little KS-25…,” he just shook his head, in disbelief. Since I did not contest it (knowing my actual speeds), and made his life easier by readily going back the ten miles, to that same dinky Courthouse, to pay my fine, he even gave me a discount, just like in Oman! Even the Court Clerk was apologetic and soothing. And the fine…well, let’s just say it was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow the rest of the trip! What a comeuppance that was! Kansas cops, Hollywood does you no favors!

This 20-mile stretch is the only bit left of the original Deadwood railroad, that flourished for exactly a hundred years. Ambling along, among the fragrant Ponderosa pine forests, and black granite rocks, the train eventually, despite sometimes seeming to have second thoughts about continuing the effort, trundles gently into Hill City.



Day 20  : Tasunko Witko

“My lands are where my dead lie buried,” the simple, haunting rebuff to a mocking question about where his lands are now, shortly before his murder. Tasunko Witko, Crazy Horse (more accurately, His Horses Are Crazy), The Strange Man of the Oglala, perhaps the greatest Native, or even North American, warrior ever. The man the US Army was never able to defeat, or break. There is poetic justice in this astoundingly gigantic mountain being carved (in the likeness of his spirit, since he never allowed himself to be photographed), to dominate the sacred Black Hills he fought so hard to save. A fitting response to the pettiness that named the little nearby town, State Park and county after the man who opened the gates to the despoiling of Paha Sapa, Custer. There has to be historic discomfort in the street signs carrying the name of Custer, the undeserving darling of the miners, juxtaposed with the name of his victor, Crazy Horse.

The scale of this mountain carving is truly epic, the largest ever attempted by man. All the four Presidents on Mt.Rushmore, themselves gargantum, could easily fit into part of his head, while the big bus I rode to the base of the mountain could comfortably travel through the pupil of his eye! His horse will, eventually, stand 22 stories tall. Over the last 70 years, 19 million tons of rock have been blasted out, and the work is expected to take at least another 70 years to complete. I am glad my children will live to see it. The monumental work already attracts 1.5 million visitors, just a little  less than Mt.Rushmore, and perhaps it’s greatest contribution is in making these millions aware of the Native American story, and the fact that they had heroes who were as glorious, if not more so, than any others. Absolutely deserving to be on everyone’s bucket list, the bus ride to the base of the mountain is an experience that simply cannot be described. For a more significant donation, it is even possible to take a small van right to the top – for the non-vertigo-afflicted, unlike me.

The Black Hills are exquisitely beautiful, draped in a gown thickly embroidered with dark trees, startlingly black against the backdrop of the surrounding green plains. It is easy to appreciate the Natives’ reverence for their Paha Sapa; their horror at its desecration. One can also see, if perhaps to a lesser degree, the Americans’ desperate need for its bountiful gold, which, at that time, saved it’s economy from certain recession. Gold, worth billions, has flowed from the Black Hills – with not a single dollar’s worth, in these last 150 years, going to benefit those who, even today, legally own the Hills, the Lakota. The truly sad reality is that almost all the Native lands were appropriated, under “Manifest Destiny”, “Eminent Domain”, “Civilizing the Savage”, or similar fantasies, but, in reality, for gold or oil, resources the Natives did not value at all, and never objected to the white men taking freely, so long as they could keep their buffalo, their lifestyle, their ancient cultures, an elemental defence of family, tribe, home and hearth. Undoubtedly, both could have coexisted peacefully. Why, oh why, could a genuinely great Nation, the land of the free, and home of the brave, not find it, in it’s heart, to spare the home of the bravest of the brave, or the land of those who had always been free.

I passed Mt.Rushmore, on my winding way along the often very narrow and steep, but incredibly picturesque, Highway 16A. It fully justifies it’s fame, and is undoubtedly one of the great achievements of mankind. There are several stunning views, framed by tunnels, as you approach, that I can confidently say I have never seen the like of, anywhere in the world. While it is, understandably, the focus of American patriotism and pride, the Native perspective is little known. Carved out of their most sacred hills, it is akin to placing a monsterous statue of the devil in the middle of St.Peter’s Square, at the Vatican. Two of those Presidents were slave owners and traders, while the most beloved of them, Abraham Lincoln, was responsible for the largest single hanging in US history, almost a State lynching, when 39 innocent Dakotas were killed, to appease the hysteria of white settlers in Mankato, Minnesota. Ironically, they were all recent converts to Christianity, who went to the gallows singing a Christian hymn, in their own language, which the local Press, at the time, unable to understand, labeled “heathenish, savage, Indian wailing.”

Earlier, I visited Mammoth Site at Hot Springs. A construction contractor had uncovered a treasure-trove of mammoth skeletons, and, in a rare, unselfish gesture, handed the site over for preservation. After 40 years, only a third of the site has been uncovered but already yielded over 60 skeletons, curiously all male, of woolly mammoths and, the far bigger, Columbian mammoth. Sort of puts time, and human strivings, in perspective, doesn’t it?


Days 18 & 19 :  Behold, the Holy Mountain

It is really scary! White Thunder and I are on our way to Bear Butte, the most sacred mountain of the Lakota as well as other Native Nations. Chatting along I-90, at well over 80 mph, we are right behind a long, double-decker vehicle carrier, when it suddenly wiggles crazily across the lanes, in a snake dance! A red Toyota, alongside it in the next lane, escapes being smashed into the roadside ditch, with barely inches to spare. The trucker regains control and all ends well, but it is frightening enough for me to ease off the accelerator and stay tucked, demurely, behind.

Vernell White Thunder is descended of an old, illustrious line. Originally of the Northern Cheyenne, his oldest known ancestor, following their oral tradition, was a Medicine Man who was the keeper of the tribe’s most revered Sacred Arrows, stolen from him by their foes, the Pawnee. These holy relics, akin to the Christians’ Holy Grail, in a very belated gesture of conciliation, will, soon, finally be restored to the Cheyenne by the Pawnee. White Thunder’s own father, now more Lakota than Cheyenne, was an actual Chief, and he himself is a rare, fluent Lakota speaker and practitioner of their traditional faith. Not a Medicine Man, he is, nevertheless, deeply immersed in Lakota spirituality, values and practices. I am greatly honored to have him show me Bear Butte. With my few Lakota words, picked up from my readings, he understands I am no dilettante, and opens up wholeheartedly.

As we wander, reverentially, through the rattlesnake-ridden prairie grasses, up the slopes of the Holy Mountain, I suddenly have goosebumps and the hair on my arms stirs. There is, clearly, some strange, eerie, mystic force on that mountain, something even I, the ultimate skeptic atheist, can neither explain nor deny. Like a powerful magnetic field, it, equally inexplicably, releases me the moment we are off the mountain. I have absolutely no idea what I just experienced, but that I have experienced something otherworldly is beyond question – even by me. White Thunder smiles gently at my stunned expression, as he explains the inner meaning of their rituals. I am, again, struck by similarities to Shinto and core Hinduism.

Our wanderings bring us to two Lakota, praying in a secluded glade, and, unexpectedly, he takes me over. He joins their sacred song (Lakota are expected to always join, in support, and not just spectate), though I, obviously, cannot participate. It turns out they are from Washington DC, and have been praying for days. It struck me powerfully, the whole morning, that, despite being a complete stranger, I was always made welcome by everyone, even in the midst of their sacred rituals, chatted with, and offered whatever food and drink they had. And no conversation was complete without the incomparable Native humor!

Further up the slopes, we meet one of the several men and women praying, a young Apache, with his Lakota friend, excited, nervous and scared at the same time, who has come all the way to holy Bear Butte for his first Vision Quest, the searing ritual of upto four days of total abstinence from food and water, absolutely alone, up among the higher crags of the mountain, completely naked to the elements, utterly focused on singing, dancing and praying, “crying for a vision” to guide one’s life, prayers to Mother Earth, Father Sky and the Four Directions. Capable of inducing a very deep, meditative trance, it sometimes offers a brief glimpse of one’s future, the “beyond”. Natives believe time is a continuous flow, without beginning or end, and, through such prayers from a pure heart, it is occasionally possible to “see beyond”. It requires at least a full year of preparing one’s mind and purifying one’s heart. Silently soaking in all I hear and see, on that strangest of mountains, something, perhaps long-dead, stirs within my soul, as though from a waking dream.

We head pensively back towards Rapid City. I am silent, and White Thunder gently allows me the mental space. He knows it cannot but have been an intense experience. Bear Butte, the Holy Mountain, always is, for the open hearted. Less than an hour later, I am plummeted from the deeply spiritual to the mundanely material, as the city swallows us. Rapid City is a picturesque, small city, amidst lush, low hills, full of charming lakes, parks and woods – and the remarkable Journey Museum. It is the only city I have ever visited with colorful art on the usually ugly street switchgear, and even a monument to the physically challenged. Though a jewel of a little city, a study found it the third most racist city, towards Natives, after Las Vegas and Denver. Could it be subconscious, generational angst over the actions of their forebears, akin to modern-day Germany?

Back in the motel, it is my laundry day. As I moodily watch the machine churn, the gradually darkening skies open up, with gentle rain, like a benediction. A portent of peace, harmony and conciliation to come?


Day 14 –  Medicine Man

Disaster! My phones and iPad are out of juice, and my little teepee has no electricity. My Garmin sulkingly refuses to switch on. To top that, my phone has not picked up any network on the Reservation (or even in Dodge, for that matter). Finally, the icing on the cake, my video camera shuts down two minutes into my interview with Cindy Catches! On a beautiful, crisp morning, with Kodachrome skies and birds rejoicing in lush greenery all around, my day just keeps getting worse! This is a panic-worthy situation, but I console myself that tomorrow I should have electricity to recharge. Ahhhhh!

On the second of my four days on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation, I collect two more interesting road signs – Cook Oil Road, and the Shady Rest Motel (not where I stayed!). The Heritage Centre, at the Red Cloud Indian School (why do Natives still allow themselves to be misnamed by a confused, lost Spaniard) is disappointing. There is little heritage there and the, mainly non-Native, staff unhelpful. Rather a sad tribute to Red Cloud, the awe-inspiring warrior and statesman who created the School. To prevent settlers from flooding onto the Bozeman Trail, and destroying their life-sustaining hunting grounds, he fought the US Army to a complete standstill, over two years, till they were finally compelled to abandon all those forts – which Red Cloud then systematically burnt to the ground. In later years, some believe he became more politician than statesman, but he did gain peace for his people, on his own Reservation. He is among the few war chiefs who died peacefully, of old age.

I move from war to spirituality, as I drive down the deeply rutted, mud Tobacco Road, to meet with an authentic, hereditary Medicine Man of the Lakota. Though dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he is the highly respected 38th Medicine Man of his people, following the way of the Spotted Eagle. The very elderly Peter Catches His Enemy is dying, but still agrees to see me, with his wife, Cindy, explaining. Despite his extreme frailty, he displays flashes of quiet humor. Native Americans have always been supreme masters of the spirit world, just as the Westerners are of the material. First, they explain the importance of tobacco to the Way of the Pipe. Native tobacco is actually the inside bark of the willow, and is not meant for smoking. The puffs of smoke from the Sacred Pipe travel up to the Great Spirit and establish a spiritual link for prayer, in many respects, similar to Eastern meditation. Many of the elements of their faith bear striking resemblances to core Hindu philosophy, Shinto and Bahaii. There is considerable irony in the fact that the European colonizers, the supreme materialists, forced their religion on the supreme spiritualists, claiming an absolute monopoly in the knowledge of the One Big Spirit. Sadly, the desecration continues even today, with a growing conflict with the giant Sturgis motorcycle rally wanting to build biker bars and strip joints right on the edges of the Natives’ most sacred, and last remaining, holy place, Bear Butte.

As the supreme skeptic, I question Peter on the motivation behind Lakota religious practices and he gently reminds me that their rituals are, primarily, for holistic healing. And they have, repeatedly, been proven to work. True Medicine Men do not take any money, nor gain any personal or political advantage out of the service they provide. The entire value system is based, very deeply, on virtue, love, wholeness of the spirit, service and, in a very Shinto way, being one with Nature. After all, everything has life, value, purpose. Hence, the Lakota talk of trees as “rooted people”, animals as “four legged people”, even rocks and stars as people. Mother Earth, Father Sky and the four cardinal directions (which have multiple meanings) are at the core of their beliefs. The strength of this tradition is attested to by the fact that, after several generations of forced conversion and brutal attempts to remake them in the image of the invaders, today, there is a major reversal of that flow, back to Wakan Tanka and the Way of the Pipe. The sere tragedy of the Lakota has perhaps made them echo Red Cloud’s words, “We have seen neither Him nor his Works.” Peter has been invited by the US Government, as well as countries around the world, to advise on Native holistic healing – the same Government that banned any practice of Native religion till as late as 1979. Lately, he and his wife, Cindy, have developed, under a Federal grant, a special curriculum of lessons on Lakota spirituality, to be taught to Native children, over a period of years. Perhaps the revival of the spirit will begin the revival of the Lakota. After all, the visions of long ago had prophesied this generation would do just that.

This Medicine Man’s words, and deeds, simply cannot be dismissed, like my skeptic soul would prefer. Perhaps this road-trip is turning out more of a voyage of self-discovery than I had planned.


Days 16 & 17 : Back to the Future

Today, I have been time-traveling. Much like the movie, I feel my car has zipped into time-machine mode, moving smoothly between the past, present and future. Yesterday, I drove across the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, marveling at the first blossoms of hope for their future, before crossing the mighty Missouri River, to Chamberlain, the furthest east of my road-trip. Just for the night, I slipped across from Mountain Time to Central Time. I had come to visit a single institution, the Akta Lakota Cultural Centre of St.Joseph’s Indian School. And it was well worth the many miles. It is a rich repository of Lakota artifacts, beautifully presented. The quality of the Centre, and the campus, attest to its multi-million dollar financial reserves – clearly being spent well.  

Chamberlain is a laid-back town, with not much to commend it, except it’s commanding riverine location. The parking lot of my riverbank Motel had more boats  on trailers than cars. I picked up a few more interesting road signs. There was “Bad River” – though I don’t know why it had been naughty. A passing village was Wasta – Omani influence? The advertisement for a restaurant raised a chuckle, “Mexican food so good that President Trump will want to put a wall around it.” The road itself, for about 50 miles around Chamberlain, is a beautiful, smooth red that I have not seen anywhere. Unlike the regular jointed concrete freeways, which rock the car in a gentle, rhythmic motion, like a horse, these roads are as smooth as silk. Reflecting on roads, I wonder why the same piece of road often has two or even three different identifying numbers. To confuse matters further, the same road number can have, at least, three possible suffixes – BL (Business), BYP (Bypass), ALT (Alternate)! Puzzling them out takes the monotony out of long, straight roads through endless grazing fields. For the first time, I understood what ‘big sky’ is. When you look for, what seems like, hundreds of miles, in every direction, and see not a single living thing, or geographical feature, or man-made structure, you feel you are completely alone in the universe, under a giant sky.

As I re-crossed the Missouri, I slipped not just into the next time zone, but all the way to 1880 – the amazing 1880s Town, just off the I-90, near Midland. This remarkable recreation is a collection of authentic period buildings, crammed to the rafters with genuine artifacts, artfully presented with a careful coating of dust, as well as a few painstakingly accurate reproductions. In this milieu, are housed many items from the sets of “Dances with Wolves” and other films. It even boasts a diner inside a real Santa Fe Railroad train. Of course, being middle America, it could not resist a touch of kitsch! A most rewarding journey into the past.

I think my Garmin has fallen asleep, as it instructs me, on the way to my next destination, in the middle of nowhere, to turn right – bang into a stout, wire fence! Good, old-fashioned paper maps, and intuition, finally set me right and I look up to see a most incongruous 20th Century sight. Amid those endless, empty vistas, in the midst of a herd of peacefully grazing cows, rises the sinister snout of an underground nuclear missile silo. At the height of the Cold War, over 1000 Minutemen nuclear missiles were hidden, in plain sight, under the prairie grass of these Great Plains. Superimposing Armageddon on this bucolic scene is mind-bending. Now decommissioned, a few of the silos and command centers have become tourist attractions. Looking down into the Delta-7 silo, and seeing that end-of-the-world missile crouching silently there, gives me the shivers. Especially when I recall that today’s world may be heading into another Cold War, or worse.

Moving away, my time-machine does another flip, and takes me back to 1890, to the excellent, privately-funded Wounded Knee Museum at Wall, just off the I-90. Not only do they have extensive photographs of the massacre, and associated items, but they also run an ongoing campaign to petition Congress to rescind the Medals of Honor awarded for it. Another of their campaigns is trying to force sports teams to stop misappropriating Native cultural names and symbols. I sign up to support both petitions. Abruptly, I am shot back to the present, at lunch, at the very modern-day, ultimate kitsch heaven, the famous Wall Drug Co. For lovers of this cultural ethos, it is probably like entering the Pearly Gates of Heaven!

A final, quick stop at the local Air & Space Centre gives me an opportunity to eyeball the biggest aircraft of different eras. But, above all, there sits a beautiful, beautiful Dakota, in all her glory, triggering a tidal way of nostalgic, childhood memories. This particular aircraft once flew the highly hazardous Hump, over the Himalayas, transporting supplies from Assam to China, during World War II.  

The river of time flows quietly on. A rollercoaster day slowly fades into the gloaming, as I finally reach Rapid City.



Day 15 :  Invisible Warriors

Invisible warriors! Mark St.Pierre’s brilliantly evocative name for the unsung individuals working ceaselessly to improve the lives of people on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It has taken me to my last day “on Rez” to discover this intensely passionate “troublemaker-activist” and his equally brilliant, full-blood Lakota, educationist & craftsperson wife, Tilda. Mark, a writer & film-maker, is a Canadian meiti – part Native, part French (heritage of the early fur trappers, who frequently settled into Native tribes) and a tad Irish. The couple has lived “on Rez” for over 40 years. I am deeply fortunate to have Mark take me around and give me a rare, in-depth insight into Reservation life today, and how the invisible warriors are slowly transforming it to match its beautiful, pristine environment. Progress is slow, but discernible and growing. When a people have been deprived of civil society for over a century, recovery cannot but take time.

Visiting their small film-making school, I am astounded at how much they have achieved with a small USDA grant. Their film “Who will bury our dead?” is Hollywood-quality. The Studio is living proof of how far the Lakota will stretch their extremely hard-won dollars, wrested out of an unsupportive and often deeply prejudiced bureaucracy, to achieve their dreams. The cracked windscreen and malfunctioning window of Mark’s war-weary stationwagon evidence their sheer grit and passion, channeling their own scanty dollars to support this fledgling Lakota educational venture. I see similar passion in Tony Brave, who started Native America’s only TV station, almost  two decades ago. His televising of Tribal Council meetings has gone a long way to ensuring transparency and accountability. A similar success story is the Reservation’s Kili Radio, which I enjoy listening to, on my drives. Thanks to the indomitable Mark & Tilda powerhouse, the community now has its own Chamber of Commerce and Credit Union. But it still faces the deadly rip current of opposition from the ‘dominant society’. The Post Office at Kyle opens for just 4 hours – I failed to mail my package. When an off-Reservation Bank was successfully sued for discriminating against the Lakota, they fulfilled the letter, not spirit, of the award against them, by sending in a mobile unit for just 5 hours, once a week, with severely restricted services! National media largely ignores them; International media loves to perpetuate the stereotype of the poverty, drunkenness and lawlessness on the Reservation, which, incidentally, I myself have not seen a shred of. None of their amazing success stories, their amazing fight against all the odds, their amazing, quiet resurgence. I have had a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse beyond the caricature. Where even a haircut was unavailable on the Reservation, and watching a movie involved a 2-hour drive to Rapid City, and a family outlay of around $200, today things are changing, relatively rapidly. The new cinema at Kyle charges just $7 to enjoy the latest movies; convenience stores are popping up; home ownership is zooming.

Mark takes me to meet a truly remarkable person, who starred in the film I watched, Stella Iron Cloud, a descendent of the redoubtable Santee Chief, Red Wing. She is elderly, in great pain and wheelchair-restricted, but nothing diminishes her bubbling humor, warmth and sheer, infectious joie de vivre. She generously takes time explaining her invaluable genealogy work and shares stories of her ancestors, truly Native royalty. She tells the story of her Grandmother excitedly taking her, as a little girl, along with a crowd of Lakota, to see the first movie to have Lakota dialogue and tell their story. However, just before a cavalry charge, her Grandmother abruptly took her away. When the disappointed Stella asked why, she said she could not bear to watch soldiers killing Natives again. She herself had survived Wounded Knee, only to watch out-of-control soldiers rampage through Pine Ridge, killing any survivors they chose to.

It is hardly a surprise that generational trauma is alive and flourishing among the deeply brutalized Lakota. The obsolescence of their traditional vocational skills, like hunting; their complete lack of training in new skills like farming and business; white missionaries forcibly taking their children away to boarding schools to drill into them how evil they are and how their culture is the work of the Devil; the endless discrimination against them as “savage, lazy and drunk”; the near total lack of jobs, education or prospects, all led to a shockingly steep rate of suicide, depression, alcoholism and drugs – a self-fulfilling prophecy, born of utter hopelessness. It is only now, through the tireless efforts of the invisible warriors, that the tide has begun to turn. And turn sharply.

I have now driven 2/3rds of my total mileage and half my total days on the road. As I return to Mark & Tilda’s delightful, comfy Odd Duck Inn, in the middle of nowhere, I ponder how much I have learnt, how many preconceptions have changed, how emotions have been roiled. But, above all, how inspiring have been the stories of the undefeated heroes, the invisible warriors, a generation of highly educated professionals, now truly winning the West, against unbelievable odds.


Day 13 : Requiem

Brooding banks of towering, black clouds, spreading a grim overcast across the landscape, seemed a perfect, almost Wagnerian, setting to my sombre mood, as I drove down the gravel road from my overnight Teepee on the Prairie (yes, I spent the night in an authentic Lakota teepee with no mod cons), towards the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre – the worst massacre of defenceless civilians, by the US Army, in its entire history, till My Lai, in Vietnam.

My teepee is, amazingly, on Air B&B! Tucked away in a remote part of the Pine Ridge Reservation, it took me quite a while to locate. The dusty driveway has deep wheel ruts and the teepee, up on a slight, very breezy rise, in solitary splendour, has just a cot and sleeping bag. The toilet is an outhouse without a door – air-conditioned by Nature. There are no meals or piped water – but there is wi-if! My charming hosts, the elderly half-Lakota, Gerald Weasel, and the full-blood Elmerilita Whiteface, who speaks broken English, explain that their ancestors were from Crazy Horse’s band but not his family. That family, now curiously surnamed Cloun, live in the hills around us. Not even they know just where in these Black Hills he is buried.

Stepping onto the fateful meadow beside Wounded Knee Creek, the many little wisps of mist still enshrouding the land seemed like ghosts of Chief Big Foot’s ragged, starving band of Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota, trudging wearily, in their pitiful rags, across the freezing ground, under a huge white flag, desperately seeking safety and sustenance at the Red Cloud Agency in Pine Ridge. It was 29th December 1890, and the band comprised mainly women, children and the elderly, led by a dying Chief. Just weeks earlier, the towering legend, Chief Sitting Bull, living a peaceful life on the Standing Rock Reservation, had been assassinated by Native policemen, and Big Foot’s people were fleeing the consequent turmoil, desperate for the sanctuary of Red Cloud’s reservation. Near Porcupine Butte, they were intercepted by the 7th Cavalry, under Col. Forsyth, and forced to camp at Wounded Knee. The following day, the 350 starving, destitute Lakota were surrounded by over 500 troops, 22 artillerymen and 30 Native Scouts, armed with four deadly Hotchkiss machine guns. What actually triggered the shooting is unclear, but, when the sun set that fateful day, 300 Lakota lay dead, including more than 200 old women and children. The berserk soldiers’ friendly fire also killed 25 of their own. This was the revenge of the 7th Cavalry, for their crushing defeat at the Little Bighorn – despite these Lakota never having been near it and being, clearly, non-combatants. Heaping further ignominy on themselves, the soldiers savagely mutilated and scalped the bodies, including that of Chief Big Foot. Fleeing women and children were chased as much as two miles, to be slaughtered in cold blood. The bodies were, later, dumped in a mass grave on a grassy knoll overlooking the site. The few survivors, roughly hauled to Pine Ridge, were left out in the freezing snow for hours, before being dumped in the Episcopal Church – under a huge Christmas banner, “Peace on earth and goodwill to men”.

For Wounded Knee, the Army was awarded a remarkable 20 Congressional Medals of Honour. One citation even read “For conspicuous bravery in rounding up…a stampeded pack mule”. Despite numerous calls for their revocation, these awards still stand. Even the inhuman General Miles was unhappy about this ‘battle’, though the subsequent Army Court of Inquiry merely criticized Forsyth.

The next day, the same unit of the 7th Cavalry was despatched to ‘round up’ (phraseology seemingly used equally for Longhorns and Natives) a few surviving Lakotas who had managed to escape. However, at Clay Creek, these warriors completely pinned them down, and they had to be rescued by the “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 9th. This last splutter of the Lakota flame was a final testament to their undying spirit and courage. Crazy Horse’s cousin, Black Elk, who survived, summed it best, “I did not know then how much was ended…I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there…the Nation’s hoop is broken and scattered.”

A century-old cry for justice reverberated in February 1973, when 200 Oglala Lakota of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized Wounded Knee and faced off against 500 heavily armed Federal Marshalls, supported by armoured vehicles and jets, in a tense, 71-day armed stand-off, to draw attention to the Government’s many broken treaties. Despite that remarkable gesture of defiance, AIM is generally not well regarded by most Lakota, who consider them troublemaking outsiders.

Driving pensively back to my teepee, I recalled the 1890 comment in South Dakota’s Saturday Pioneer, “Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untameable creatures from the face of the earth.”


Day 12 : Betrayal

Murder, assignation, treachery, betrayal, back-stabbing – this tragic site, at Fort Robinson, had it all, in one explosive incident. For me, this visit is pilgrimage, not tourism. This is the place one of the greatest Native American heroes, the Strange Man of the Oglala Lakota, Crazy Horse (or more accurately, His Horses are Crazy) was treacherously betrayed and murdered. The indomitable warrior the entire US Army was never able to defeat even once, finally fell to a stab in the back. I pay sombre homage, in reverence and awe, at the exact spot he was bayoneted, now marked by a simple quartz cairn. This is hallowed ground.

By May 1877, when he finally rode into the Red Cloud Reservation, to lay down weapons, Crazy Horse’s reputation had become far larger than life. An enigma, even to his own people, this loner was that rare, intellectual war leader who was able to clearly understand the battle tactics of his enemy, visualize the changes needed to his own, and inspire his followers to join battle on his terms, an unheard of achievement as Lakota warriors always fought as individuals. As a result, his successes were legendary, and easily the equal, if not superior, to those of Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Cochise, Geronimo and their like. Renowned for his extraordinary personal courage, and utter fearlessness in battle, he honed his skills fighting the Lakota’s traditional enemies, the Blackfeet, Crow, and Pawnee. Emerging from the dust of those battles, he was chosen a war leader, by the tribe.

His first major exploit against the white soldiers was decoying the reckless and arrogant Capt. William Fetterman out of Fort Phil Kearney. Despite being specifically ordered not to cross Peno Head Ridge, the egotistical soldier did so, leading his 53 infantrymen and 27 cavalry troopers straight into a Lakota ambush that resulted in the entire unit being killed on the field. Fetterman had boasted that, with 80 men, he could wipe out the entire Lakota Nation. Exactly 80 soldiers paid the price of his foolish vanity.

Along the way, when he was not at war, Crazy Horse managed to have a tempestuous affair with a married lady, Black Buffalo Woman. Later, he would marry Black Shawl, who outlived him , till 1927. Back on the battlefield, he would go on to defeat General Crook at Rosebud, and then wipe out Custer and his entire unit at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Eventually, though, primarily through the repeated exhortations of Red Cloud, he came to realize that the day of the Lakota warrior was in sunset. The buffalo were gone, Sitting Bull had moved to Canada, Red Cloud had become a politician, warriors were dwindling – the future was either peace or perish. The Lakota had already been condemned to the doldrums of history.

When Crazy Horse and his warriors finally came into Fort Robinson, voluntarily, to lay down arms, eye witnesses attested that Natives and soldiers, alike, lined the road in awe. It was, they said, more a triumphal entry than surrender. He was accompanied by one of his closest, oldest and most trusted aides, Little Big Man. Ever a man of his word, for the next four months, he lived peacefully there. However, despite being extremely modest, and completely publicity averse, his renown and the respect shown him even by the Army, aroused the jealousy of Red Cloud and even his own Uncle, Chief Spotted Tail. False rumours were spread to the soldiers, by them, that Crazy Horse was plotting a return to the warpath. As they continued to inflame the soldiers’ already extreme fear of him, additional troops were hastily brought in. When they finally moved to arrest this single, unarmed man, they felt they needed a force of not less than 400 soldiers! They found he had gone to his uncle, Spotted Tail’s Reservation. Receiving a cold welcome from his Uncle, he and his warriors were persuaded to return to Fort Robinson, where he was assured of hospitality and safety.

On the evening of 5th September 1877, they rode back to Fort Robinson. As it was late, the post commander promised a meeting the next morning and ordered him to be given lodgings. As he was led to it, however, he realized he was actually to be imprisoned in irons, in the jail. It later transpired that this was a conspiracy to capture and ship him to a swampy island in distant Florida. Instantly, Crazy Horse tried to escape, but was restrained by one of the Native Scouts, and then mortally bayoneted in the back by the accompanying soldier. As the dying Crazy Horse turned to see who had restrained him, he looked into the eyes of Little Big Man. His own, trusted childhood friend and companion of many battles, had betrayed his Chief. Exactly as Crazy Horse had foreseen, during his arduous Vision Quest, many long years ago, he died through the actions of his own people. With his last breath, a quiet greatness passed from the earth. The undefeated warrior was 35 years old.