JAZZMAN CHRONICLES: DISSEMINATE FREELY.
THE DISHONOR OF WOUNDED KNEE
By Jack Random
“The Sun Dance is the most enigmatic of all Lakota ceremonies. It is a blood sacrifice, a trial by fire, and a vision quest by pain and suffering. It is not, as the white man believes, a rite of passage or a test of manhood. It is a pipeline to the overworld, a sacred bond connecting mother earth to father sky, connecting all sentient beings to the Great Spirit beyond. It is the tree of life and the great wheel of the universe.”
From the novel Cries for a Vision by Jack Random.
Buffalo Man took the vow of Kablaya, the Lakota spirit guide who received the vision of the Sun Dance. A thong from the hide of a buffalo was tied to the Sun Dance Tree and its two ends were attached with wooden spikes to his chest. He would sing the ancient chants beneath a blistering sun and dance until the thongs broke free.
He prayed for the people who were massacred on a cold winter’s day at Wounded Knee. He prayed for the soldiers who killed them. He prayed for the great healing that would mend the Sacred Hoop and help his people live good and fruitful lives.
On the third day of the Sun Dance, he received a vision. He was told that the Sacred Hoop was broken on December 29, 1890. He was told that it would take seven generations to heal the wound and that the healing could not begin until the Medals of Honor bestowed on the soldiers at Wounded Knee were rescinded. Since that day, he has worked toward this end.
On Monday, June 13, the United States Senate took the belated measure of apologizing to the African American descendants of the victims of lynching. Combined with reopened cases of Emmett Till and a 1964 KKK murder of three civil rights workers, it was a powerful reminder that justice will be heard and the wounds of great wrongs require decades, even centuries to heal.
On Tuesday, June 14, J.D. Kotrla-Chipps (AKA Buffalo Man) wrote me to request assistance in fulfilling his mission. He informed me that eighteen Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to the soldiers and officers of the Seventh Calvary for their actions in the Massacre of Wounded Knee.
He did not need to recount the events of that massacre. I am certain that I do not need to retell the story here for it is familiar to every man and woman who has studied this nation’s history. To know the story is to know the greatest crime ever committed by Americans on American soil.
It is not necessary to summon the memory of the Paiute prophet Wavoka, whose fevered vision gave birth to the Ghost Dance, a dance that called forth the spirits of the ancestors and prophesied the return of the buffalo. It is not necessary to retell how the Ghost Dance spread across the plains like a raging wildfire. It is not necessary to tell how it gave birth to renewed hope in defeated peoples and desperate lives. It is not necessary to tell how it captured the hearts of brave warriors and chiefs like Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Big Foot of the Lakota nation. It is not necessary to tell how an elderly Sitting Bull was killed by turncoat Indian police acting on the fears of the bluecoat war chiefs. It is not necessary to tell how the Seventh Calvary, revenge still burning in their hearts for the demise of Custer at the Little Big Horn, tracked down and encircled Big Foot’s band to prevent them from dancing the forbidden dance, to prevent their cries from reaching the ancestors, and to block their prayers to the Great Spirit.
It is not necessary to retell how the encircled Lakota, mostly old men, women, children and infants, were disarmed before an uncertain catalyst – a dropped gun or an untimely cry of remorse – triggered the massacre of 350 defenseless Lakota Indians. It is not necessary to recount that the Lakota had been peaceful for fourteen years and that Big Foot carried the white flag of peace. It was 1890 and the first opportunity the bluecoats had to employ their Hotchkiss cannons. The rolling thunder of bullets mowed down the renegade dancers with record efficiency.
It is not necessary to draw a portrait of the mass grave or the body of Big Foot frozen in his dance of death on the barren landscape of a South Dakota winter. It is not necessary to pull once more at the strings of the reader’s heart for it has been done a thousand times by words more powerful than mine.
It is not necessary to tell the story of Wounded Knee again and yet, why do I sense that the young are happily unaware, as if the story skipped a generation of school children?
Every child in every town and city in America should be compelled to read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for until they know the story they do not know what it is to be American. Until they know and understand, as a child always understands the truth, there will always be a dark and toxic seed within the soul of the nation.
We are not asking that the land be returned to its rightful owners. We are not asking for full and just reparations. We are not asking that the sacrilegious images of the Great White Fathers be removed from the sacred mountains of the Lakota Black Hills. We are not asking that the church of the Black Robes be swept from the holy burial ground of the Wounded Knee Memorial.
We are only asking that eighteen medals of dishonor be rescinded. We ask not only for the victims of Wounded Knee and their descendants but for the perpetrators and theirs as well. Imagine having committed this crime, having its bloody spectacle etched in your memory, knowing that what was done that day would not be forgotten as long as the rivers run and clouds inhabit the sky, and being “honored” by your government for this deadly, horrendous deed.
We cannot know what ran through those soldiers’ minds that day, as the bullets flew and the bodies fell, but we do know that what any human being would feel on the day they were honored was not pride but unbearable shame. Little wonder there was no ceremony. It would surely have been spoiled by cries of horror and tears of shame.
If those soldiers were alive today, they would tell you enough is enough. They have carried the burden of hypocrisy beyond the grave. For their sake, as well as for 350 lost Lakota souls, their descendants and survivors, rescind the medals and let the healing begin.
It is the mission of a man who has buried his heart at Wounded Knee, planted his staff, and committed his life. It is not too much to ask. Indeed, it is the very least a civilized nation can do.
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION (DRY BONES PRESS).
Contact J.D. Kotrla-Chipps at www.woptura.com.