Dec 16, 2013 - Sitting Bull is Alive, By Chase Iron Eyes
“Let us put our minds together to see what life we can build for our children.” –Sitting Bull
Today, December 15, 2013, marks the 123rd memorial/anniversary of the murder of Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota (Great Sioux Nation). My daughter asked me about the circumstances surrounding Sitting Bull’s murder. I told her how Sitting Bull was one of our people that made the conscious decision to hold on to our ways of life when our world of +123 years ago was falling apart at its very foundations. I told her how her grandfathers had signed treaties with the U.S. that were soon ignored by them and upheld by us; I told her how the buffalo had been nearly slaughtered to extinction by the United States; how we could not feed ourselves and that we had to rely on the U.S. which deliberately penned us up and controlled our existence, attempting to crush our dignity. But, I told her, our people who wanted to protect the ceremonies, like Sitting Bull, kept our ceremonies secret, like the sundance, inipi and others. I also explained that our people were given special treatment if they would forget about being Indian or Lakota and start living like the white man was living; that it was not always seen as a good thing to care about being Indian/Lakota. I told her how the U.S. agents had become nervous about the ghost dance and had ordered the Lakota police at that time to arrest Sitting Bull and that our own people had killed one of our great leaders who did nothing but love and defend his children, lands, and ways of life. My daughter is still coming to grips with this as are all of our children who are taught in this manner.
I told her that not many were like Sitting Bull in choosing to hold fast to the instructions passed down for thousands of years. I told her that many of us were given hard choices; that to many of us our world was, quite literally, ending. She was astounded that our people could give up on our ways, cut their hair, learn English, and seemingly abandon who we are. I tried to explain to her that most of us did not really have much of a choice and that it is not all bad that some of us chose to give up our arms and hang around the agencies; there were no easy choices so we can’t judge them for those choices over 100 years ago.
So, she asks, “Well, do all the Lakota sundance now?” Instead of trying to talk about colonization and other systemic, institutional reasons why we are having such a hard time, I simply told her that there are enough people that care about these ceremonies so that we can keep them alive for her generation and those to come. We are finding creative ways of seeing what life we can build for our children.
A striking example of Sitting Bull being alive today is the Sitting Bull Youth Culture Camp. This four day and night camp is held every summer at the site of his last residence and fateful murder on the Standing Rock Nation. This camp is absolutely invaluable because it gives youth the courage to be happy about being Lakota or Indian. They are free to ask each other and invited speakers about Indian identity, history, stories, ceremonies, and the like; all the youth participate in the star knowledge packed construction of the tipis in which they sleep. The Sitting Bull Youth Culture camp was started by friends on a volunteer basis. I had the privilege of helping and speaking to the youth each year except 2011. This place is where the Grand River cuts through the wooded valley surrounded by the mighty, unforgiving plains. This is where Sitting Bull lives; remnants of his log cabin are still there. Prayers are carried strong by those holding ceremonies in Sitting Bull’s land on behalf of all the universe.
Every year at the close of the camp there is not a kid that leaves unaffected. Surveys of the kids show that 100% of them felt “better about being Lakota.” And, there is no denying that feeling better about who we really are is the only way to a sustained, positive esteem. Each of us with experience relating to life on the reservation knows that camps such as these provide a vital safe place where a kid can just be a kid. So, I tell my daughter that there are people like Wastewin Young and Danielle Ewenin that will start a Sitting Bull youth culture camp from scratch, there are people like Tipiziwin Young and A.J. Agard who will dedicate their full time at the camp, which is no easy task.
So, I tell my little girl, using Sitting Bull’s words, “If a man loses something, and he goes back and look carefully for it, he will find it.” More than any time since Sitting Bull’s physical death, we are realizing that we lost something, we are going back to look for it and we are, by the grace of Creator, finding it.
Hecegla (that is enough)
Chase Iron Eyes
If you or someone you know is interested in funding the Sitting Bull Youth Culture Camp at any level, we could always use more resources. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
*This column was one of the first published works of Chase Iron Eyes, and predates Lastrealindians.com. It originally ran on TheLastRealIndian.blogspot.com.