Jan 7, 2013 - Tuweni T’aPsni: They Never Died at Wounded Knee
“Tuweni Tsa Obsni” They never Died, this was our slogan on December 29th to the 31st, 2012’s first annual Survivors Run from Wounded Knee to Takini South Dakota. Descendants of survivors of The Wounded Knee Massacre, men, women, children and elders had gathered together, in Wounded Knee on the 29th, after the ceremonies that had marked the end of the Big Foot ride were completed, a staff was carried from Wounded Knee toward Takini, Runners trekked 179 miles in the cold winter air, as a reminder that the journey of some of our relatives didn’t end at the Wounded Knee Massacre sight. Some of the relatives journeyed back to Takini. Through the cold air and during the night, the only light that led their way was the moon. Some of the relatives that started the journey back to Takini, never made it back. Some were subdued by their injuries and they were still hunted, through territories that were now occupied by ranchers, settlers and small towns. They had to travel at night and stay hidden during the day. An elder in the Bridger area shared a story with me, about two young boys who were wounded at the massacre sight, traveled back to the Bridger area, only to eventually die from their wounds. This run was done in remembrance of our relatives that endured and persevered through times when a world that was known as home to our people had turned against them by political interests measured in resources of minerals, water, land and ownership.
Wounded Knee Massacre, it’s an event that is known to most Americans but from a military and governmental stand point. What led up to the Massacre was a failed arrest that took place on Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, December 15th, 1890. The Superintendant Agent James McLaughlin of the Standing Rock Agency ordered the arrest of the Lakota Hunkpapa medicine man, Chief Sitting Bull, during the apprehension of Chief Sitting Bull, tribal police officers shot and killed Sitting Bull. Over 200 Hunkpapa fled Standing Rock seeking refuge with Mnicoujou relatives on the Cheyenne River Agency. All but 38 of the Hunkpapa were talked into turning themselves into the Agency Superintendent of the Cheyenne River Agency.
During this time, there was great talk of a Sioux Uprising, militia and military forces were preparing for attacks and defense on what they considered hostile Indians as a result of the Ghost Dance being practiced by the Lakota people. This militia was running patrols up and down the reservation boundaries of the Cheyenne River Agency, on the southern side of the Cheyenne River. What magnified the situation for the Lakota people was these patrols were shooting, killing and wounding family members of the Mnicoujou people. When the Hunkpapa families made it to the camp of The Lakota Mnicoujou Chief Spotted Elk (aka Chief Big Foot), he was informed of the murder of Chief Sitting Bull and the decision was made to go to the Oglala Sioux Agency to seek shelter and refuge with the Lakota Oglala Chief Red Cloud. Chief Spotted Elk’s camp was then located just east of what we now currently know as the Bridger Community which is located on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation. In order to avoid conflict with the military and militia patrols, although Chief Spotted Elk was very ill, the decision was made to move his camp in the middle of the night, over 300 hundred men, women and children along with elders of the Mnicoujou and Hunkpapa families began the famous journey of what people now call “The Big Foot Ride”.
On December 28th, near Porcupine Butte just north east of the Wounded Knee Creek located on the Oglala Sioux Tribe Reservation, Chief Spotted Elk and his band of Mnicoujou and Hunkpapa families were intercepted by Cavalry and Indian Scouts. By this time in the journey, Chief Spotted Elk was very ill, he was laying and being pulled in the back of a wagon. The Cavalry ordered Chief Spotted Elk and his band to camp along the Wounded Knee Creek and to put up a white flag as to show the Military they weren’t hostile. Chief Spotted Elk did as they were ordered; a white flag of truce was hung in the air from his teepee poles to show the military they had no intentions of fighting. During this night, men of the 7th Cavalry were prodding and confronting the old and young men, asking them if they were at the Little Big Horn Battle, if they fought there when Custer was defeated. What they were referring to was the famous battle of the Little Big Horn, when on June 25th 1876, General George Armstrong Custer attacked bands of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho, which were gathered for a Buffalo Hunt and camped along the Little Big Horn River located south of Billings Montana. Custer and his men of the 7th Cavalry were annihilated during the attack on the bands. As the night went on the soldiers had been consuming alcohol and taunting the men, asking demanding questions. These actions carried on until day break, the intentions of the 7th Cavalry was clear, to exact revenge on the Lakota people for the loss of their General and fellow companions of the 7th Cavalry.
On December 29th, 1890 when the morning sun arrived, the men of the Lakota bands were asked to come forward with their weapons and to put them in a pile, the men did as they were told. The women, children and elders were still in the encampment. The Military had already set up their Hotchkiss guns, strategically surrounding the camp, facing them toward the encampment where the women, children and elders were patiently waiting. The military passed on a story of a deaf man refusing to give up his gun, but regardless if this is true or not, shots started to be fired, and people started to die. The Lakota men ran forward fighting with their bare hands to get back their weapons, shots were being fired into the encampment with support of the Hotchkiss guns. The Wounded Knee Massacre had begun, families were dying, women, children and elders huddled together while Cavalry men shot into the groups, the blood splatter confirmed on how the people huddled together as they were being shot to death by the military forces. Infants and children who were not yet dead had their heads bashed in by gun butts or Cavalry boots. Rape and unbridled murder had taken place of the women also; this was the famous scene that Black Elk spoke of when he said “The sacred tree is dead”. The exact number of Lakota casualties cannot be known since many successfully hid and died, during that cold blizzard, but we know the U.S. Secretary of War (now Defense) awarded twenty Medals of Honor to U.S. Army soldiers for that action.
Although this horrific scene was being played out in my mind as I watched young Lakota’s carry the staff down the road, it brought to mind, history an elder woman shared with me when I was a young boy. The grandma told me a story of salt, mainly because I had knocked a salt shaker over and the grandma had stood the salt shaker back up and told me salt reminded her of her mother. She told me her mother was a little girl in the Wounded Knee Massacre, she said her mother could remember the shooting and dying that was happening all around her, the fear that she felt. Her mother held her tight as she ran with her in her arms. Her mother then lifted her up in the air, as an arm wrapped around her, she said it was a warrior, a young man age 15 or so, he was gathering the young children as many as he could carry on his horse, other warriors were doing the same. When the young warrior was riding away, in the way she was being carried, she could still see her mother running behind her and she said something hit her mother because her chest opened up and she fell. The young girl had streams of tears coming from her eyes, she could taste the salt. The grandmother said this why salt reminded her of her mother. The grandma said the warrior dropped all the kids off in a ravine over the hill from the massacre sight and rode back into the camp. A family that was traveling took her and brought her back to Cheyenne River. The grandma said those warriors died because they were never seen or heard of again. When I think of the word Takini it reminds me of this story, those warriors had commitment to their families, so much that they rode back into a hail of bullets, they were fearless and accepted their warrior ways, honorable and notable even in death, the little girl survived because of it and so did generations of families from it.
“Takini” this word means “to die and come back again”, or basically survivor in English translation. As the history has been told, when a school for the western side of the CRST reservation was introduced to provide educational services for tribal members in the immediate area, a decision on what the school would be called had to be made. An elder, Dorothy Strikes Enemy proposed the name Takini, because the history of this area was that the relatives who survived the massacre and journey back to CRST had gathered just to the north of here. So in order for us to not forget our relatives and our history, the school and community was named Takini. Our fight as a people to survive has not ended, it will never end as long as the many congressional medals of honor that were produced as a result of massacring many families on the Wounded Knee still stand as a remembrance as to what the United States of America has perceived us in the actions carried out at the Wounded Knee Massacre. I know not all would feel that way, I know that the populations of America has more honor, maybe they just don’t know what took place with our people, maybe the books taught in schools don’t teach what took place, I can testify to this because I went through school, I learned from the same books but in order to find the truth, I went to my elders and back to my culture to find what happened to our people. In the 70’s American Indian Movement made a stand at Wounded Knee and won back our rights to practice our culture of the sweatlodge, vision quest, sundance our ceremonies that were outlawed in 1908 by the U.S. Government. Because they did what they did, we can be Lakota today. Sometimes I sit and wonder why life has been so hard for us as a people, poverty, death and violence all the ugliness that most of us have become accustomed to growing up on the reservation. What can be done to help our people heal, I feel history itself provides a solution. Maybe the Congressional medals of Honor could be rescinded and our healing as a people could begin, the historical trauma that we face whether we want it or not could see a means to an end. These medals honored those who carried out the murders at the Wounded Knee Massacre, they symbolize unhealed injuries to us Lakota people and disservice to the United States in memory of its armed services. Whether the United States would see us as human beings or not ultimately in the end we have been given a chance by relatives that survived hell but truly in a sense they never died, because we are here today, without a past there could be no future. This run is about healing, as much as it is about creating strong spiritual warriors to lift us up and carry us forward. Lakota Oyate Ki, Bliheciyapo, Lakota people make yourselves strong. Special thanks to coordinators Chase Iron Eyes and Wiyaka Chasing Hawk, wopila misu ki! A committee for the run will be formed for next year; we want to keep this strong and going forever. If anyone is interested in contacting us regarding next year’s event, or want more information regarding the run please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph J. Brings Plenty Sr.